Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Bluemner’

“When you feel colors, you will understand the why of their forms.”–Oscar Bluemner

I’ve written several times about Oscar Bluemner, an early and relatively obscure Modernist painter. Since stumbling across him a decade or so ago, I have an affinity to his work and much of his outlook on it. He worked mainly with color and shape but didn’t work in pure abstraction, believing that the subject must be based on the real world in order to fully communicate with the viewer. And the subject itself not nearly so important as the color and forms employed and the emotions they depicted. Those are things that ring with me.


I look at the work of a lot of artists and usually see something I can relate to in much of it.  It might be the way a color sings or the way the painting is put together or in the expressiveness of a line.  Or just in simple emotion.  But very seldom do I stumble upon the work of an artist who I immediately feel as though I am sharing the same perspective.

Such is the case with Oscar Bluemner.

I came across his work a few years back.  I saw an ad for a piece of his in an art mag and was captivated.  There was something very familiar to me in it which made me want to know more.  But I could find little about Bluemner.  This was strange because he was in the right circles where one would think he would get some attention even if only by association.  The German-born painter, who was born in 1867 and moved to the US in 1893, was part of the Modernist painters group of the early 20th century represented by Alfred Stieglitz , famed photographer/gallerist and husband of Georgia O’Keefe.   His work hung in solo shows at Stieglitz’s famed NYC gallery and in the fabled Armory Show of 1913.  You would think there would be no shortage of material on him or that his name would raise the image of some piece of his work.

But Oscar Bluemner had a knack for failing.  He was trained as an architect and designed the Bronx Borough Courthouse.  However, he was not paid for his services and the seven year court battle that ensued drove him away from  architecture and into the world of art,  where his paintings never garnered the attention or lasting reputation of his contemporaries.  He sold little and lived in abject poverty, which is said to have attributed to his wife’s early death and ultimately to his suicide in 1938.

But there is something in his work that I immediately identify with when I see it.  It’s as though I am seeing his subjects in exactly the same way as he did and would be making the same decision he made when he was paainting them.  His trees feel like my trees is the way they expressively curve and his colors are bold and bright.  His building are often windowless with a feeling of anonymity.  His suns and moons are solid presences in the sky, the focal points of many of his pieces.   In this piece to the right, Death,  he uses the alternating abnds of color to denote rows in the field as I often do and has his twisted tree rising from a small knoll in the forefront of the picture.

I find myself saying to myself that I could very easily have painted these same pictures.  It’s odd because it’s not a feeling that I’ve experienced before even with the artists whose work I think has most influenced me and with which I feel a real connection.  And it feels even odder because I didn’t become aware of Bluemner’s work until long after I had established my own vocabulary of imagery.

There are finally a few things out there online about Oscar Bluemener.  You can see more of his images now than you could even a few years back.  The Whitney in NYC had a retrospective of his work in 2005 (here’s a review) and that seemed to raise awareness of his work.  So maybe a few more people, a new generation, will finally see what I see in Bluemer’s work.


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A few years back on this blog, I wrote here a couple of times, Oscar Bluemner and Doppelganger,  about the work of  Oscar Bluemner, the German-born Modernist painter .  I feel as close to his work as any artist I have come across.  His color choices would have been my color choices.  His modeling and blocking of forms are done in a way that came easily to me, without ever knowing of him.  It all just fits my mind and eye so well that I feel a real bond with his work  Hey, I was even called Oscar a number of times through my childhood–  Oscar Myers is too easy a target for other kids not to call attention to it.

Oscar Bluemner Old Barn studyI recently came across a couple of crayon studies that Bluemner had done around 1911 that are coming up for auction.  Even these I found fascinating in that I could see myself doing these, so much that they reminded me of early works that I had done in oil crayons.  I wouldn’t be surprised to come across these in a box I have that holds this early work.  The one shown here on the right, which is being shown as a crayon drawing called Meadow in Connecticut, has an added bonus on its back.

Oscar Bluemner back of crayon workFlipping the sheet over, there are detailed directions on color placement for the painting that Bluemner was laying out in this drawing.  It points out that this is from Sheepshead Bay and in pencil on the right hand side it points out that the resulting painting was a 15″ by 20″ oil that was sold in 1916 to a Mrs. Phillip Lewis Johnson.  At least that appears to be the name listed although I could be wrong with my reading of the scrawl.  It’s a fascinating further look into the artist’s mind and creative process.

Taking this info, I was able to locate an image of the finished painting, shown below.  I can not be positive but everything indicates that it is at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the spectacular collection and art space built in Bentonville, Arkansas by Walmart heiress  Alice Walton.  This oil painting is actually listed at 14″ by 20″ so perhaps an inch has been lost over the years.  But the vivid quality of the color has not been lost .  Again, it’s wonderful to see the process of an artist whose work means a lot to you.Oscar Bluemner Old Barn at Sheepshead Bay 1911 a


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A month or so back in a post, I wrote about the late Modernist painter Oscar Bluemner and the odd feeling of connection I felt to his work.  There was something in it that seemed beyond familiar and that really intrigued me, making me want to find out more about this little known painter.  I found one book, Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, written by Barbara Haskell , the curator for a Bluemner retrospective of the same title at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in 2005.

When it arrived yesterday I opened the package and flipped through it quickly, taking in the images that all seemed so right to me.  Stopping on a page of print, the first sentence I read surprised me and made this feeling of connection with Bluemner seem even more palpable.

Bluemner considered subject matter irrelevant except as a conduit through which to convey his moods and inner consciousness, yet he also believed that art must be based on the real world in order for it to communicate with viewers.

That sentence succinctly captures much of what I try to convey about my work when I stumble through my writtten explanations.  Looking further I came across pieces of his that so meshed with my own work, particularly in my earlier phases, that it was eerie.  The colors and forms and even the sense of rhythm seemed so close.   Even the words he chose when writing about his work seemed to mirror my own.  He spoke of that same rhythm to which I often refer.  The words continuum and polarity seem to pop up frequently as well as I glimpsed through, both words that draw my antennae. 

I begin to wonder about he connection.   Perhaps it is inevitable in this wide world of ours that two widely separated minds would view thie world in the same spatial way and would emply the same colors and forms and rhythms, would try to communicate may of the same emotions and perceptions.  Perhaps we all have these creative doubles, our artistic doppelgangers, and the only exceptional thing is that I may have come across such a person and recognize it. 

I don’t know.  I have yet to read deeper into this treatise and may come across something that will make me deeply regret connecting my work in any way with his.  Judging from his life and death, he was obviously deeply flawed.  I hope that my own many flaws do not match too well with those of Bluemner.

We’ll see.

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