Introduction

Hyman Bloom was born in Latvia in 1913.  In 1920 Hyman left for the US with his parents and brother to join his 2 older brothers who had emmigrated and settled in Boston during the year of Hyman’s birth.

Bloom’s artistic gifts were recognized early and while in 8th grade he received a scholarship to attend  classes for gifted students at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  At this time he also began studies with Harold Zimmerman, and he met fellow Zimmerman student Jack Levine, who was two years younger than Hyman.  He was “discovered” at the age of 28 by Dorothy Miller, and his very first show was a

Time Magazine’s Arts Review column from February 02, 1942 entitled “Mass Debut” would be the first review — but hardly the last — to characterize Bloom as a reclusive artist with esoteric interests :

The most striking discoveries in the Museum of Modern Art’s show were Boston’s 28-year-old Hyman Bloom and Seattle’s 31-year-old Morris Graves. Until the Museum’s Painting Curator Dorothy Miller dug him out of a hermit-like existence in a Boston slum, Latvian-born Hyman Bloom had been painting in solitary squalor in a little second-story studio.  A lover of Oriental musk who beguiles his spare moments playing on the Arabian lute, Hyman Bloom loves to paint, with exuberant Oriental color, the gloomy, bearded rabbis and synagogue scenes that he remembers from his childhood. Uninfluenced by other U.S. artists, indifferent to both money and publicity, shy, mop-headed Bloom has seldom sold a picture, never had an exhibition.

Bloom’s influences include Altdorfer, Grunewald, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Blake, Bresdin, Redon, Ensor & Soutine. His favorite painting was Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.  In 1997, Bloom and his wife Stella traveled to Europe and went to Colmar, France to view the Isenheim Altarpiece in person.  He sent Nina Bohlen this  after viewing the work.

Bloom was a self-taught scholar with deep interest in Eastern philosophy and music, as well as mysticism and Theosophy. Beginning in the 1930’s, he developed a passion for South Indian classical music. In 1960, he co-founded the PanOrient Arts Foundation along with James Rubin, and donated his large collection of rare 78 rpm recordings to the foundation.  The recordings are now held in Harvard Univesity archives.  Numerous photos from the 1950s show usually a sitar.

His interest in Eastern philosophy, mysticism and music seemed to foreshadow cultural changes that would come about in the late 1950s and into the 60’s,  when large numbers of a younger generation developed a fascination with Eastern philosphy,  Indian music and, also,  psychedelics.  Bloom was one of the first individuals in the US to take LSD (April 24th, 1954), 6 or 7 years before Timothy Leary started his own Harvard based experiments with LSD.  Bloom had many Harvard connections and   was a formal medical experiment with Dr. Max Rinkel and Dr. Clemens Benda to assess the drug’s effect on creativity.

Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning referred to Bloom as America’s first abstract expressionist

Bloom’s fame diminished after the 1950’s due to a variety of reasons:  he never moved to New York, preferring to remain in Boston, he rejected pure abstraction at a point when the New York art world was just starting to champion pure abstraction (ironically, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning referred to Bloom as “America’s first abstract expressionist”).  He stopped painting for close to a decade beginning in the early 1960s  and turned his attention exclusively to drawing, so he could more intently focus on value and composition.

Bloom’s paintings are wonderful explorations of light and color. Throughout his life he worked in large part within a relatively small set of themes, each wildly different in nature: Christmas Trees, Rabbis with Torahs, Landscapes, Fish “seascapes”, Still Lifes (pottery/gourds) and cadavers/autopsy scenes. The latter subject matter was obviously challenging, eliciting occasional outrage and charges of obscenity when the exhibitions toured the country. Bloom was unconcerned about critical response – he felt that the subject matter, while harrowing, was in fact beautiful and the feeling of boundaries transgressed perhaps added to the intensity that he always sought in a painting. There is unsettled debate as to whether these images were rooted in his family’s exposure to Jewish pogroms in the “old country” and later, the Holocaust.  What is certain is that Hyman Bloom lived a long productive life, never wavering from his artistic vision of exploring themes of physical and spiritual transformation, and in the process made substantial contributions to American art.

-Bob Alimi

 

Bloom had 13 paintings selected for the exhibition:

  • Skeleton, c. 1936. Oil on canvas, 12 x 68″.
    • Lent by Nat Sharfman, Boston.
  • The Fish, c. 1936. Oil on canvas, 16 x 40 1/8″.
  • Circus Rider, c. 1937. Oil on plywood, 2.0 x 23 1/4″.
    • Lent by Miss Margaret Prall, Berkeley, Cal.
  • The Baby,  c. 1938. Oil on canvas, 16 x 31″.
    • Lent by George Palmer, Boston.
  • The Stove,  1938. Oil on canvas, 48 x 38 3/8″.
    • Lent by the Massachusetts WPA Art Program.
  • The Christmas Tree. c. 1939. Oil on canvas, 54 x 35″.
  • The Christmas Tree. 1939. Oil on canvas, 50 x 28″.
    • Lent by the Massachusetts WPA Art Program.
  • The Christmas Tree. 1939. Oil on canvas, 52 x 31″.
    • Lent by the Massachusetts WPA Art Program.
  • The Chandelier, c. 1940. Oil on canvas, 72. x 36″.
  • The Synagogue, c. 1940. Oil on canvas, 65 1/4 x 46 1/4″.
  • The Synagogue, c. 1940. Oil on canvas, 39 x 30 1/8″.
    • Lent by the Massachusetts WPA Art Program.
  • Jew with the Torah, c. 1940. Oil on canvas, 33 x 35″.
  • The Bride,  1941. Oil on canvas, 20 x 48″.

Painting titles highlighted in bold are illustrated in the exhibition catalog (note: the catalog is entirely in black and white).

dorothy-miller-1942-catalog

 

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Excerpted from an article in the Harvard Independent by Shane Wilson:  “In another early test case described by Rinkel, he and a Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist “were very fortunate in having an outstanding contemporary American painter volunteer for an experiment with LSD.” The volunteer was Hyman Bloom, a then prominent Boston artist who had studied under Denman W. Ross, a Harvard professor emeritus. Not only were Bloom’s LSD-loosened words recorded for science; he also translated his experience into a series of pencil drawings. The scribbles charted Bloom’s hallucinatory descent. Two hours into the experiment, Rinkel said, Bloom wrote “Hindu religion” in the upper corner of a piece of paper; “in the lower part he drew monsters, commenting: ‘This face comes out like a cat-like face.’” At times, he was reduced to “making dots and dashes”; at other times, he managed to sketch out a picture of “a butchered beef or ox” that he later sold to a private collector. Seeking the opinion of an expert critic, Rinkel turned to Wilhelm R. W. Koehler, the William Dorr Boardman Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at Harvard. What Koehler said is unknown, but with or without his approbation the Fogg Art Museum eventually acquired over 60 of Bloom’s works, thanks in part to donations from his old mentor, Professor Ross. In 1966, Bloom spoke to the New York Times about his path-breaking trip, calling it “really a great experience.” “On the other hand,” he said, “it was more difficult to draw.” With Rinkel’s help, the heavily Harvard-connected Bloom had become one of the first people ever to combine art with LSD; he would not be the last. Yet while Bloom and Rinkel led the way in creative and aesthetic uses of the drug, Rinkel’s colleagues at Boston Psychopathic — and in particular uber-tripper Robert W. Hyde — were steering the hallucinogen in much more sinister directions.”

 

 

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