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.