Boston Expressionism thrived in the fifties and enjoyed a great deal of support in local museums and galleries, especially The Institute of Contemporary Art, DeCordova and Dana Museum (later DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park), and the Boris Mirski Gallery.45 But nationally, none of the artists save Bloom, briefly, garnered significant attention, and the entire regional movement was ground under the heel of non-objective Abstract Expressionism and the dominance of New York as the new epicenter of global contemporary art. The Boston Expressionists—those discussed above and others (Sigmund Abeles, Leonard Baskin, Jason Berger, Alfred Duca, Reed Kay, Jack Kramer, Michael Mazur, Conger Metcalf, Joyce Reopel, Arnold Trachtman, Jack Wolfe, and Melvin Zabarsky)—stuck to their guns and bravely continued to create and exhibit Figurative Expressionist paintings, many to this day.46 In 1970, DeCordova director and expressionist sympathizer Frederick Walkey organized the exhibition Humanism in New England Art and summed up the prevailing aesthetic Zeitgeist:
Humanism is probably the dominant artistic fashion in New England—the one for which we are best known nationally; because it represents a tradition of nearly two decades and seems to be as viable today as twenty years ago…. The exhibiting artists share a profound sense of history and a dedication to tradition; they have very little in common with the “now-in” generation . . . these artists keep alive a tradition for brilliant draftsmanship, a respect for materials, and a mastery of fundamentals which gives them a freedom to express profound and subtle ideas.47
But this was strictly local. The international swan song of Figurative Expressionism, Peter Selz’s New Images of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1959, was not only excoriated by critics but also contained not a single painting by any Boston Expressionist.48 The phoenix, however, would rise from these ashes in the eighties.
The sixties and seventies saw several new but unrelated contributions to the local expressionist tradition. The first was the emergence of Dana C. Chandler (Akin Duro),49 a gifted African-American artist who had a wrenching and formative experience shortly after completing his studies at the Massachusetts College of Art. On June 5, 1967, Chandler (fig. 25) watched white police officers brutally disperse a group of African-American women who were staging a peaceful protest at a welfare office in Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood. This horrific incident, as well as the rise of the civil rights movement nationwide, prompted the artist to devote his life and work entirely to addressing the social inequities fostered by racism in America. Chandler describes his entire oeuvre as
a picture story of an unrequited love for the vision of America described in the contemporary version of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as painted by one of its Africanative American sons. I love this country, in fact I consider myself to be a super-patriot striving to make America live up to its vision of being the ‘Land of the free, home of the brave, with liberty and justice for all.’50
His chosen themes, while all centering on the African-American experience, have included oppression, economic inequity, the scourge of drugs, racial sexism, domestic violence, the societal emasculation of black men, the beauty of black women, the middle passage, slavery, apartheid, and portraits in homage to leaders in African-American history. This artistic activism puts Chandler squarely in the political tradition of expressionism that strove for social justice, as evidenced in the work of van Gogh, Barlach, Beckmann, Grosz, Kollwitz, and locally Siporin and Levine. But while all his art historical predecessors dealt with class inequality, Chandler expanded the expressionist political dialogue by dealing in no uncertain terms with racial inequality.51shows Chandler at the height of his powers and is characteristic of his bold style. This artist has always been concerned with making accessible and clear images with strong emotional impact, and he does this with vibrant colors, stark outlines, and recognizable imagery. Several of his design choices are reminiscent of posters, signage, and propaganda art. But Chandler’s work is never simplistic. In The Ghetto, for example, the clever positioning of the central monumental figure subtly marks a transition between the garbage-strewn street and a crumbling domestic interior, each painted in different scales and with separate senses of spatial illusion. Both indoors and outdoors crowd in on the man, trapping him in his bleak environment. According to the artist, “My job is to depict/report, without hatred or rage, our cancers, self-inflicted or otherwise, point to solutions, and present them to you visually. Not just to paint pretty pictures, though I can do that as well . . . “52