The first manifestation of a renewal of the local expressionist sensibility was the emergence of several young painters who had studied at area art schools and began showing work in Boston in the late seventies and early eighties. Foremost among them was Gerry Bergstein, who graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1971 (and began to teach there in 1974). Early on, Bergstein practiced a Surrealism wed to expressionism. Before arriving at the Museum School, he had studied at the Art Students’ League in New York under artist Harry Sternberg, who, according to Bergstein, painted like Jack Levine.66 Then, in Boston, he studied with Henry Schwartz and Jan Cox, a Belgian Surrealist painter who had succeeded Zerbe as head of the Department of Painting and Drawing. Bergstein was also profoundly influenced by the Surrealists Max Ernst and Rene Magritte, Abstract Expressionists de Kooning and Gorky, and, of course, Guston.67
Bergstein distilled all these sources into a personal approach in which Surrealist techniques of free association and irrational juxtaposition were brought to bear on expressively distorted images created with an amazing facility of craft. This artist could draw and paint like an expressionist, an Abstract Expressionist, a veristic Surrealist, and a trompe-l’oeil master—and convincingly combine these styles on a single canvas.68 During the eighties, this stylistic spectrum was matched by an equally diverse range of imagery drawn from art history, self-portraiture, nature, popular culture (especially television), and the suburban cultural landscape—again, all on the same surface.69 A fine example of this visual riot is Bergstein’s Self-Portrait as a Fur Covered Volcano (1983, fig. 27), about which the artist said, “This painting was inspired by a remark from my wife who said I was a ‘fur covered volcano’ in that I often seem placid and soft on the outside while seething on the inside. … I continued to explore the spatial tensions obtained by juxtaposing thick and thin paint. I had always been interested in juxtaposition of images (Magritte). I was finding that juxtapositioning of different surfaces could be just as strange and surreal.”70
The point of Bergstein’s technique and approach to imagery is fundamentally humanistic and expressionistic. He seeks to express ineffable mental states conditioned by his own experience of the world—an admittedly chaotic and confusing world—as a model for emotionally apprehending larger issues in contemporary society, psychology, epistemology, and ontology. These weighty themes, though, are always tempered by humor. As the artist explains it, “My goal is to do for painting what Groucho Marx and Alfred Hitchcock did for movies and television. My work is a representation of the paradoxes, ironies, and absurdities of our media-bombarded culture, translated through the language of paint.”71 Elsewhere he wrote, “I still wonder how the unexplainable creation of the universe, the light-speed movement of all those subatomic particles, and billions of years of evolution could have led to squeezing the Charmin, tax returns, life insurance, the art world, and other strange results. If, as Einstein said, ‘God does not play dice with the universe,’ maybe he was playing bingo.”72
By the nineties, Bergstein’s paintings had calmed considerably. The crashing motion of style and image was replaced by more quiet compositions in which time was apprehended not as manic simultaneity but as a slow falling-away, implied by hushed colors and images of rotting fruits and falling leaves. These paintings, more romantic and less surreal, like , still rely on the artist’s complete control of painting and drawing and also deal with personal/universal humanistic themes: fecundity and barrenness, youth and age, life and death.73 But the artist traded in his idiosyncratic disgorgement of the contents of his gray matter for the time-honored poetic language of decay.
Another expressionist artist to emerge from the Museum School was Doug Anderson, who blazed upon the scene immediately after his graduation in 1979. Of all the young expressionist painters in Boston, Anderson was subject to the greatest amount of exposure and media hype, most likely because his work resonated so closely with the then very hot Neo-Expressionist developments in New York.74 A savvy art world player, Anderson was well aware of the potential of his cultural context: “I started sliding out of abstraction and was pushed also by the fact that there were a lot of painters around at the end of the 70s who were starting to reincorporate the figure and objective imagery in a very exciting way that had nothing to do with traditional realist figurative work . . . “75
Like his contemporaries in Gotham, Andersen’s work was strident, garish, and violent. His imagery was over the top—nightmarish to the point of paranoia with images of war, urban strife, and disease, yet peppered with whimsy and kitsch. Like Bergstein, he shared an interest in Surrealist juxtaposition, popular culture, and the mass media. And like all the Boston Expressionists since the forties, he was at heart a colorist. He adopted a ferocious style, with overheated hues and paint applied like liquid fire. His slick, intense surfaces were inspired by the look of glossy magazines and served a number of purposes. According to Anderson, “An imperative seems to come across through color—a warning sign or a portent; some of the work seems gaudily religious, but simultaneously rooted in consumer advertising—color functions both as a danger signal and an invitation or attempt at seduction.”76