1 The Boston Expressionist group has also been called “The Boston School.” This latter term, however, has also been applied to the group of late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century academic painters around Frank Benson, William Paxton, and Edmund Tarbell, as well as a group of young photographers active in Boston in the seventies and eighties that included David Armstrong, Nan Goldin, and Mark Morrisroe. For clarity’s sake, in this essay “Boston Expressionists” will refer to the group of painters active in Boston in the mid-twentieth century that included Karl Zerbe, Hyman Bloom, David Aronson, and their students and close associates who painted in an expressionist manner. The history of this group has been well documented and analyzed, and I am indebted to the following sources: Pamela Allara, “The Humanist Vision: Expressionist Art in Boston, 1945-1985,” in Expressionism in Boston: 1945-1985 (Lincoln, MA: DeCordova and Dana Museum and Park, 1986), 10-48; Judith A. Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston and Its Germanic Cultural Affinities: An Alternative Modernist Discourse on Art and Identity,” Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1998; Humanism in New England Art (Lincoln, MA: DeCordova Museum, 1970); Evan Ide, Against the Grain: The Second Generation of Boston Expressionism (Durham, NH: The Art Gallery, University of New Hampshire, 2000); Gillian Levine, Stephen Prokopoff, Elizabeth Sussman, Boston Expressionism: Hyman Bloom, ]ack Levine, Karl Zerbe (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1979); Dorothy Abbot Thompson, Origins of Boston Expressionism: The Artists’ Perspective (Lincoln, MA: DeCordova and Dana Museum and Park, 1986); and Theodore F. Wolff, “The Persistence of the Expressionist Mode in Boston and Environs 1945-1985,” in Expressionism in Boston: 1945-1985 (Lincoln, MA: DeCordova and Dana Museum and Park, 1986), 6-8.
2 See Frederick S. Wight, “New England,” ARTnews 45 (November 1946): 16-2Iff; and Sydney J. Freedberg, “The Leadership of Zerbe,” ARTnews 47 (October 1948): 54. Freedberg remarked: “Like other well-known members of this group, Zerbe usually shows in New York so that, paradoxically, Boston knows the work of these painters less well than do the gallery-goers of the megalopolis.”
3 Ad Reinhardt, How to Look at Modern Art in America, ©1946 The Newspaper PM, Inc.
4 Painter Bernard Chaet recalled that “Willem de Kooning made it very clear to me in a conversation in 1954 that he and Jackson Pollock considered Bloom, whom they had discovered in Americans 1942, ‘the first Abstract Expressionist artist in America.'” Bernard Chaet, “The Boston Expressionist School: A Painter’s Recollections of the Forties,” Archives of American Art Journal 20/1 (1980). Among Bloom’s paintings in that exhibition were his extremely abstracted images of chandeliers and Christmas trees. The painter never again came so close to the total non-objectivity of Abstract Expressionism. Also see Elaine de Kooning, “Hyman Bloom Paints a Picture,” ARTnews 58 (January 1950): 30-33, 56.
5 Thomas Hess, “Hyman Bloom at Durlacher,” ARTnews 53 (April 1954): 43.
6 The term “Figurative Expressionism” is self-reflexive, developed in counterdistinction to the term “Abstract Expressionism.” Prior to Abstract Expressionism, almost all expressionism was figurative.
7 See Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 10-12; Piri Halasz, “Figuration in the 40s: The Other Expressionism,” Art in America (December 1982): lll-119ff; and Paul Schimmel et al., The Figurative Fifties: New York Figurative Expressionism (Newport Beach, CA: Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1988).
8 The most thorough account of Levine and Bloom’s childhoods, early education, and complex relationships with Zimmerman and Ross is Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 105-149.
9 Dorothy Abbot Thompson, “Biography,” in Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (Durham, NH: The Art Gallery, University of New Hampshire, 1992), 3.
10 Quoted in Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 151.
11 The work of Jack Levine is not included in this exhibition because he had been away from Boston for eight years by 1950. Levine concurred with this curatorial decision and wrote to DeCordova Director of Curatorial Affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo on November 7, 1999: “I left Boston in 1942. I regret to say I never got back. There goes half a century.”
12 Lois Tarlow, “Alternative Space: Hyman Bloom,” Art New England (March 1983): 14. Bloom was also interested in esoteric disciplines like Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, and in occult aspects of Judaism. See Levine, et al., Boston Expressionism, 18; and Dorothy Thompson, “The Spirits of Hyman Bloom: The Sources of His Imagery,” in Hyman Bloom (New York: Chameleon Books, Inc./Brockton, MA: Fuller Museum of Art, 1996), 26-31.
13 Quoted in Thompson, “The Spirits of Hyman Bloom,” 28.
14 Quoted in Tarlow, “Alternative Space: Hyman Bloom,” 15. For Bloom’s cadaver and carcass paintings, see also Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 235-252.
15 Quoted in Tarlow, “Alternative Space: Hyman Bloom,” 15. About the iconography of fish in Bloom’s work, art historian Marvin S. Sadik wrote: “The key to the meaning of these drawings is to be found in the title of one, The Law of the Fishes (1956), which is the same title used in Indian philosophy to apply to the category dealing with man’s predatory nature . . . these fish, part flesh, part skeleton, do not swim in any terrestrial ocean, but are all predatory creatures, inhabiting a metaphysical sea in which beginnings and endings seem to form an indissoluble and eternal continuum.” Marvin S. Sadik, The Drawings of Hyman Bloom (Storrs, CT: The University of Connecticut Museum of Art, 1968), unpaginated.
16 Bloom also taught briefly, at Wellesley College from 1949 to 1951 and at Harvard from 1951 to 1953.
17 Quoted in Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 313.
18 For Zerbe’s early career in Germany, sec ibid., 31-59; Levine et at., Boston Expressionism, 7-8; and Frederick S. Wight, Karl Zerbe (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1951), 4-6.
19 For the Armory Show in Boston, and Boston’s hostility towards Modernism, see Thompson, “Spirits of Hyman Bloom,” 11-13; Trevor-J. Fairbrother, TheBostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870-1930 (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), 82-86; Reinhold Heller, “The Expressionist Challenge: James Plaut and the Institute of Contemporary Art,” in Dissent: The Issue of Modern Art in Boston (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1985),
7-8; and Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., “Boston’s Style,” in Boston Collects: Contemporary Painting and Sculpture (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), 8-10.’
20 So great was Zerbe’s zeal for reform that soon after arriving at the Museum School he sanctioned a student-led attack on the plaster models of masterworks of art history, used as formal paradigms in the Beaux-Arts system. See Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 273.
21 DeCordova Museum’s founding director, Frederick Walkey, had been a student at the Museum School and recalled that Zerbe taught primarily Beckmann and Picasso, “but almost to a student his classes accepted one and rejected the other. They embraced the German Expressionist attitudes and modes of expression and rejected the Spanish-French master and his conventions.” In Humanism in New England, unpaginated.
22 This anecdote is related by Nancy Stapen, “Showcasing the Artist Who Recast Hub Scene,” The Boston Globe (February 9, 1995): 66.
23 Henry Schwartz, “Henry Schwartz-The Ear’s Palette,” in Eugene Narrett, ed., “Artists on Art and Culture,” in Art New England (June 1990): 15. Others shared Zerbe’s antipathy to Abstract Expressionism. Hyman Bloom remarked, “I tried Abstract Expressionism and came as close to it as I wanted to … but I thought that it was mostly emotional catharsis with no intellectual basis. It had no emotional control. All that thrashing around seemed infantile and beside the point.” Quoted in Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 219-220. Barbara Swan felt that many of the Boston Expressionists were unwilling to take up Abstract Expressionism for fear of setting aside their remarkable talents for drawing. See Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 30.
24 Quoted in Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 267.
25 By 1948, Zerbe found that he had developed severe allergies to the wax fumes involved in the making of encaustic, and increasingly turned to acrylic media. See ibid., 301.
26 Wight, Karl Zerbe, 9.
27 Stapen, “Showcasing the Artist,” 66.
28 Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 12-29.
29 For the role of the Germanic/Busch-Reisinger Museum, see ibid., 178; and Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 13-14.
30 For the history of the ICA in these,years, see Heller, “The Expressionist Challenge,” 16-51.
31 See Stebbins, “Boston’s Style,” 10.
32 For Aronson and Boston University, see Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 368-371; and Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 19.
33 David Aronson’s statement in Dorothy Miller, ed., Fourteen Americans (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946), 11.
34 Quoted in Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 323
35 Arthur Polonsky, “The Subject, Found and to be Discovered in My Work,” broadsheet published by the Wiggin Gallery, Boston Public Library, 1969.
36 Schwartz, “Henry Schwartz,” 14.
37 Critic Charles Giuliano remarked that these men “were frequently racists, sexists, alcoholics, and pederasts. Many of these artists and intellectuals were either admired by the Nazis or sympathetic to fascism.” Charles Giuliano, “Gallery NAGA/Boston: Bodyharp: Recent Paintings by Henry Schwartz,” Art New England (March 1989): 20. Schwartz had studied directly with Kokoschka in 1954 in Salzburg, Austria.
38 Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 30.
39 Dorothy Adlow, “Barbara Swan’s Paintings on View,” The Christian Science Monitor (March 23, 1953): 7.
40 Quoted in “Landscape Themes,” Art New England (June/July 1998): 15.
41 See Patricia Hills, Lois Tarlow: A
Retrospective (Brockton, MA: Brockton Art Museum/Fuller Memorial, 1986), 4.
42 Quoted in ibid., 2.
43 Carl Belz, Mitchell Siporin: A Retrospective (Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1976), unpaginated.
44 See also Ide, Against the Grain, unpaginated.
45 The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, seemed generally unaware of or unconcerned with the Boston Expressionists, although it has conscientiously documented, with various exhibitions, the history of art in Boston through about 1930.
expressionist leanings in later work, most notably Kay and Mazur. Others remained expressionists but became primarily involved with other media: Abeles with drawing, Baskin with printmaking and sculpture, and Duca with sculpture.
46 Some of these artists tempered their expressionist leanings in later work, most notably Kay and Mazur. Others remained expressionists but became primarily involved with other media: Abeles with drawing, Baskin with printmaking and sculpture, and Duca with sculpture.
47 Walkey in Humanism in New England Art, unpaginated.
48 See Peter Selz, New Images of Man (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1959).
49 “Akin Duro, his name in the Yoruba language, means Stand Up Man, or loosely translates into ‘you knock me down, I’ll get back up.'” James Russel, “Introduction, ” in Barry Gaither et al., Dana C. Chandler, Jr. (Akin Duro): The First 30 Years, A Retrospective (Attleboro, MA: Attleboro Museum, 1997), unpaginated.
50 In Gaither, Dana C. Chandler, unpaginated.
51 See also Russel, “Introduction,” unpaginated.
52 Quoted in Patricia Hills, Social Concern in the ’80s: A New England Perspective (Boston: Boston University Art Gallery, 1984), 11.
53 Carl Belz, Flora Natapoff (Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1974), unpaginated.
54 The bibliography on Guston is vast. The best general introductions are Philip Guston (New York: George Braziller, Inc./San Francisco: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1980) and Robert Storr, Guston (New York: Abbeville Press, 1986).
55 For the hostile reception to Guston’s 1970 show at Marlborough, see Storr, Guston, 49.
56 Quoted in Bill Berkson, “The New Gustons,” ARTnews (December 1973): 24.
57 For Guston in Boston and at Boston University, see Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 389-407; and Kim Sichel, “Philip Guston at Boston University,” in Philip Guston 1975-1980: Private and Public Battles (Boston: Boston University Art Gallery/ Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994). See also William Seitz, Philip Guston: A Selective Retrospective Exhibition 1945-1965 (Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1966); and Dore Ashton, Philip Guston: New Paintings (Boston: Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts Gallery, 1974).
58 Quoted in Jerry Talmer, “Creation is for Beauty Parlors,” New York Post (April 9, 1977).
59 Quoted in Gail Banks, “Six Boston Artists Who Are About To Make It Big,” Boston Magazine (May 1983): 141.
60 For Neo-Expressionism, see Russell Bowman, “New Figuration: Background and Definition,” in New Figuration in America (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Art Museum, 1982), 10-15; Robert P. Metzger, “Expressionism: A Historical Perspective,” in American Neo-Expressionists (Ridgefield, CT: Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), unpaginated; Marcia Tucker, “An Iconography of Recent Figurative Painting: Sex, Death, Violence, and the Apocalypse,” Artforum 20 (Summer 1982): 70-75; and two special issues of Art in America devoted to the topic: Art in America 70 (December 1982) and Art in America 70 (January 1983).
61 Marcia Tucker, Bad Painting (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1978), unpaginated.
62 For example, Boston artist Gerry Bergstein saw both Bad Painting and New Image Painting. See Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, The Surrealism of Everyday Life: Paintings by Gerry Bergstein (Lincoln, MA: DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 1989), 28. And Doug Anderson wrote: “As an artist growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I have gone to New York a lot and paid a great deal of attention to art there …” In Boston Now. Figuration (Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1982), unpaginated.
63 Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 31.
64 Wolff, “Persistence of the Expressionist Mode,” 8.
65 Pamela Allara, “Boston Expressionism Today: A Regional Response to an International Phenomenon,” Art New England (October 1985): 6. For continuities between the two generations of expressionists in Boston, see also Stebbins, “Boston’s Style,” 13.
66 See Bergstein’s statement in Boston Now: Figuration, unpaginated.
67 For Bergstein’s training and early influences, see ibid., unpaginated; Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 41-42; Lafo, Paintings by Gerry Bergstein, 5-6; and Gerry Bergstein, “General Statement in Answer to Questions about Authenticity, the “Morality” of Using Media Images Which I Find Morally Dubious and about Avoiding Mystery,” undated typescript, unpaginated.
68 For Bergstein’s tendency to combine styles, see Lafo, Paintings of Gerry Bergstein, 4; and Francine Koslow Miller, “Gerry Bergstein,” Art New England (June/July 1996), 34.
69 Bergstein was profoundly interested in, and influenced by, television. He has written, “I am interested in the relationship between real events and media events. … I am fascinated by the ludicrous juxtaposition of TV images and themes—the depiction of violence, uncertainty, and death immediately followed by commercials that assure us of security, fulfillment, and immortality if we buy the right product.” In Hills, Social Concern, 9. And elsewhere: “I’m also very interested in what TV does to us psychologically in terms of sitting down over dinner and watching the news of someone being shot while you’re at your table eating. Someone’s dying while you’re kind of enjoying the news program. So it anesthetizes us by transforming powerful events into well-packaged images which help promote the consumer culture which may have repugnant aspects but which we are nonetheless all a part of. My paintings deal with my love/hate relationship to this culture.” In Boston: Now (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1983), unpaginated.
70 Quoted in Lafo, Paintings by Gerry Bergstein, 14.
71 In Hills, Social Concern, 9.
72 Bergstein, “General Statement,” unpaginated.
73 For Bergstein’s later work, see Miller, “Gerry Bergstein,” 34; and Leila Amalfitano, “The Plate Tectonics of Painting,” in Gerry Bergstein: Paintings (Boston: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 1997), unpaginated.
74 By the mid-eighties, Anderson already enjoyed a substantial international exhibition record, and his work was included in the 1985 Whitney Biennial.
75 In Boston Now: Figuration, unpaginated.
76 In Boston: Now, unpaginated.
77 For Grey’s performance work, often in collaboration with his wife Allyson Grey, see Alex and Allyson Grey, “The Life and Art of Alex and Allyson Grey,” Tantra (1992, Issue 3): 30-31; and Carlo McCormick, “Through Darkness to Light: The Art Path of Alex Grey,” in Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1990), 19-26.
78 Alex Grey, “Artists in Their Own Words,” Museum School News (Fall 1992): 3.
79 Grey learned about human anatomy by working in a medical school morgue from 1975 to 1979, where he performed dissections, embalming, dismembering, and other preparations. See Alex and Allyson Grey, “The Life and Art,” 29. After Grey had perfected his signature style, he was hired as a medical illustrator after some physicians had seen his work. See Grey, “Artists in Their Own Words,” 4. He has also taught anatomy at New York University. See Miki Boni, “The Visionary Art of Alex Grey: Sacred Mirrors and Soul Talk,” Earth Star 13 (August/September 1991): 5.
80 Quoted in Boni, “The Visionary Art,” 5.
81 Grey’s life and work have several uncanny parallels to Bloom’s. They both observed cadavers in morgues, they both had formative mystical experiences, and they both followed spiritual paths that included reading, trance/meditation, and hallucinogens. Lois Tarlow wrote that “Bloom has experienced states of disembodied ecstasy and rapture which he feels are fairly common, especially for artists. He had these experiences before LSD and with the aid of LSD and realized that they were the same.” See Tarlow, “Hyman Bloom,” 15.
82 In 1994, the New Art Center in Newton, Massachusetts, organized an exhibition as a companion piece to a Guston show at the Boston University Art Gallery. Legacy: Nine Artists Who Studied with Philip Guston included the work of Barbara Baum, Caren Canier, Robert Collins, Grant Drumheller, John Evans, William Harsh, Jon Imber, Clifton Peacock, and Candace Walters.
83 Jon Imber, “Philip Guston: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend,” Art New England (December 1994/Januarv 1995): 33.
84 Quoted in Allara, “The Humanist Vision,” 45. Imber was so close to Guston that he inherited his teacher’s art supplies when Guston died in 1980. See Katherine French, “Introduction,” in John Stomberg, The World as Mirror: Paintings by Jon Imber 1978-1998 (Boston: Boston University’s 808 Gallery, 1999), 6.
85 Other influences discerned in Imber’s work include Beckmann, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Rouault, and Hartley. See Bookbinder, “Figurative Expressionism in Boston,” 408; Stomberg, The World as Mirror, 39-40; and Nancy Stapen, Jon Imber: Survey of Paintings 1978-1989 (Fitchburg, MA: Fitchburg Art Museum, 1990), unpaginated.
86 For this series of work, see also Stapen, Jon Imber, unpaginated; Stomberg, The World as Mirror, 38; and Nancy Stapen, “Boston: Jon Imber,” Artforum (September 1986): 138.
87 Quoted in Lois Tarlow, “Profile: Candace Walters,” Art New England (June/July 1995): 35.
88 Quoted in Boston Now: Figuration, unpaginated. For Ferrandini’s early work, see also Jeremy Foss, Robert Ferrandini (Boston: Gallery NAGA, 2000), unpaginated; and Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, Robert Ferrandini: Drawings (Boston: Gallery NAGA/ Commonwealth Art Press, 1994), unpaginated.
89 For Ferrandini and Guston, see Foss, Robert Ferrandini, unpaginated.
90 These buildings are identified in Rebecca Nemser, “Earth Angels: Three Members of the New Breed of Landscape Artist,” The Boston Phoenix (April 20, 1990). In this article, Ferrandini offers this: “I love Boston. I am rooted in this damn place and I make no bones about it. It’s in everything I do.”
91 Quoted in Lois Tarlow, “Profile: Todd McKie,” Art New England (February 1989). McKie acknowledges other specific sources: “If I’ve had art heroes at times, they’ve been imagists, people like Matisse, Picasso, and Miro.” Quoted in Carl Belz, McKie: Todd McKie and Judy Kensley McKie (Waltham, MA: Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1990), 21.
92 In Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, 8 Artists/8 Visions: 1990 (Lincoln, MA: DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 1990), unpaginated.
93 Gloria Kury, Aaron Fink: Recent Paintings (Boston: Alpha Gallery, 1989), unpaginated.
94 Timothy Harney, “Concerning the Painting After the Last Photograph,” typescript (Beverly, MA, 1990), unpaginated.
95 Maxine Yalovitz-Blankenship, “High Art and My Father’s Store,” in Lasse B. Antonsen, Maxine Yalovitz-Blankenship (New York: O. K. Harris Works of Art, 1998), unpaginated.
96 Maxine Yalovitz-Blankenship, “Artist’s Statement—The Conjuror’s Song,” typescript (August 8, 2001), unpaginated.
97 According to Walker, he has been visiting and exhibiting work in Boston since the early seventies, and Boston is the city where he has spent more of his career than any other place. Interview with John Walker at his studio, Boston University, 12 October 2001.
98 Quoted in Lois Tarlow, “Profile: John Walker,” Art New England (February/ March 2002): 24.
99 For Walker’s World War I paintings, see Kim Sichel and John R. Stomberg, A Theater of Recollection: Paintings and Prints by John Walker (Boston: Boston University Art Gallery, 1997).
100 Jiirgen Harten and David A. Ross, German Art of the Late 80s: Binationale (Diisseldorf: Stadtische Kunsthalle, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Kunstverein fur die Rheinlande und Westfalen, 1988); and David A. Ross and Jiirgen Harten, American Art of the Late 80s: The Binational (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, 1988).