Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Elmer Bischoff

Two Figures at the Seashore, 1957, Elmer Bischoff
Almost fifty years ago now, back in the early 1970s when I was an undergraduate art education major at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I had two painting instructors who came of age as artists during the 1950s at the height of the Abstract Expressionist era. Both were accomplished painters, one a few years older than the other. They were not related to the famous New York School when I knew them, though one or both may have been at one time. Abstract Expressionism was such a dominant force in the 1950s that's altogether possible. In any case, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the last vestiges of the Modern Art era, Minimalism, was fading fast. They were not Minimalists, but instead had moved on to a derivative type of Abstract Expressionism referred to today a the "Figurative Movement." It was, in a nutshell, the creeping back of subjective content into Expressionism, perhaps an attempt to revive the distant past--the early decades of the 20th-century.

The abstract, pre-figurative work of Elmer Bischoff spanning about
three decades. Even his Figurative work didn't depart more than
and arm's length from the Abstract Expressionism he knew from the beginning of his career.
As a relatively naïve young student, largely self-taught at the time, and having never been exposed to much art of any kind in museums, Realism was virtually the only art I knew. I don't recall being particularly turned off by Abstract Expressionism (above). I probably didn't know enough about it to be effected one way or another; but as I saw up close more and more of the Figurative evolution of such art, I came to the conclusion I didn't much like it. And quite frankly, even though today I'm pretty familiar with most types of western art, the styles, eras, and movements, down through the ages, I must say, I still don't like the art of the Figurative Movement. One of the major practitioners of this type of art (he hated the term movement) was the California-born painter, Elmer Bischoff. I don't much like his work either (top).

The two paintings are self-portraits dating from 1955.
Bischoff was a second-generation Californian, born in 1916, who lived most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area. He was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his master's degree in May 1939. He quickly found a job teaching art at Sacramento High School for the first three years of his career. As it did virtually ever fighting man and woman involved, World War II, changed Bischoff's life. In 1941, he served as a lieutenant colonel in intelligence services in England, stationing near Oxford. He returned to the U.S. in November, 1945. In returning to San Francisco after the war, Bischoff found himself in the midst of avant-garde Abstract Expressionism as translated from the east coast New York School to what was known then as the "left" coast. He mixed and mingled with, among others, artists such as Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. In early 1946, a golden opportunity was offered Bischoff when an artist-friend suggested him for a position teaching at San Francisco's prestigious California School of Fine Arts. There Bischoff entered a rarified world which already included some of the most talented new artists of post-war America. It was there Bischoff met David Park and Richard Diebenkorn. In 1973, Bischoff was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, becoming a full member in 1985.

Interior with Cityscape, Elmer Bischoff
The art of the Bay Area Figurative Movement is distinct from Expressionism as imported from Europe. It displays the immediacy and warmth that one sees in its derivative, Abstract Expressionist painting, though not all Figurative painting was related to the New York School. Elmer Bischoff was older than Diebenkorn, and more worldly, which led him to take on an independent style in his painting. Bischoff's quietly lyrical paintings were serious in a different way from the type of painting which was being taken seriously at that time, during the rise of Abstract Expressionism. Although Bischoff did not rise to the national level of renown as did some of the others from the Bay Area Figurative Movement, as so often happens, he has been accorded a number of retrospective exhibits at major museums up and down the west coast--after his death in 1991.

Houses Along the Coast, Elmer Bischoff

Boat and Clouds, 1967, Elmer Bischoff


No comments:

Post a Comment