Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:55 AM
Art review: Reading son Baziotes' watercolors reflect an era
Sunday July 19, 2015 12:01 AM
By Ron Schira - Reading Eagle correspondent
If you goThe Allentown Art Museum is at 31 N. Fifth St., Allentown. Call 610-432-4333 or visit www.allentownartmuseum.org for hours and additional information.
ALLENTOWN - "William Baziotes: Surrealist Watercolors," showing through Aug. 23 at the Allentown Art Museum Payne Hurd Gallery, is a collection of 24 small paintings discovered years after the artist's death in a box of his belongings. Dated between 1936 to 1939, they are reported to have rarely, if ever, been seen before.
Born in Pittsburgh and reared in Reading, Baziotes (1912-1963) moved to New York City in 1933, where he attended the National Academy of Design and then worked on the New Deal Projects sponsored by the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression.
During the late 1930s he met a number of artists, most importantly the Chilean emigre Roberto Matta Echaurren, who had introduced him to Surrealism. Shortly thereafter he joined with Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and other artists to found the emerging seminal movement of Abstract Expressionism. His first solo exhibition was, remarkably, in 1944 at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery.
Although he did share the group's interest in primitive art and automatism, his work is associated more with European Surrealism, whose major proponents fled Europe to avoid the impending rise of Fascism and make New York City their new, albeit temporary, home. These paintings are expressive of that movement and plant the seeds for his later, more complex pieces.
Vertical, about 12 by 9 inches each, these dramatic images are spontaneous in their execution and elicit circus performers, figures on a beach, howling monsters and/or otherwise grotesque caricatures of inhumane existence.
The threat of war and the violence of the times found its release in these works and echo Picasso's screaming horse from Guernica and Miro's "Aid Spain" posters. Both of these artists have profoundly influenced these pieces, particularly his women on a beach from Picasso's Dinard period and two distorted bull heads.
For other examples, "Howling Creature" or "Yellow Creature" are screaming their hearts out at the sky, symbolically beseeching a higher power to intervene and stop the tyrannical cruelty of dictatorial regimes.
"Yellow Creature on a Tightrope" or "Dancing on a Ball" each express the state of precarious and dangerous balance the world was experiencing, just as "Funeral" evokes what become the true spoils of war.
I am impressed with how well these works held up against time, notably on paper, as the colors and surfaces appear next to unblemished. It also appears to me that they may have all been completed in one pass since they are so close in size, style and color scheme.
On loan from the Susan Teller Gallery in New York City, this impressive exhibition of Baziotes' early work offers insight toward understanding his enigmatic later work; the pieces are painted lightly but the subject matter is dark in a bold, tragicomic irony. Anybody interested in his art should see this show.
Contact Ron Schira: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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