Paul Burlin’s I
Paul Burlin was born in New York in 1886. Though he had some training at the National Academy of Design, he later dropped out to pursue his studies informally. He achieved a great deal of early artistic success. He visited the Southwest for the first time in 1910. Paintings from this visit were received warmly in New York and exhibited in a 1911 exhibition. As a result of his early success, he was the youngest artist (at twenty-six years of age) to participate in the 1913 Armory Show – the revolutionary exhibition of avant-garde European work that can be credited with introducing modern art to the United States and stimulating the development of modernism in America. There, Burlin’s work was exhibited alongside works by such artists as Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, and Duchamp.
In 1913 Burlin returned to the Southwest to live, where he drew inspiration from the cultures and landscape. Like many modernists of the day, Burlin was fascinated by so-called “primitive” art, particularly the designs and palette of the Native cultures he encountered in New Mexico. In 1917 he met and married Natalie Curtis, a highly-regarded ethnomusicologist specializing in Native American music. Burlin was the first participant in the Armory show to live in New Mexico, and his time there had a profound impact, not only on his own work, but on the development of modernism throughout the Southwest.
In 1921, Paul and Natalie Burlin moved to Paris as part of an exodus of expatriate artists responding to the provincialism of America after World War I, exemplified by the hostile reaction to his abstract work and other modern art. In Paris, Burlin found himself in the cultural center of modern art. He studied European abstract artists, working with the Cubist Albert Gleizes, and further developed some of the intellectual and symbolic elements that he had begun in the Southwest. Later that year, Natalie was killed in an automobile accident. Burlin was devastated. He moved back to the Southwest, but found no solace there, and soon returned to Europe. He continued to live in Paris until 1932, when he moved back to the United States in the midst of the Great Depression to work for the WPA. During this time, Burlin’s work tended toward social-realism, experimenting with political and urban themes. Throughout the war, Burlin employed themes of war and persecution, drawing much of his inspiration from Picasso’s war paintings.
Burlin exhibited throughout his career, and as a member of the American Congress of Artists was active in both the Provincetown Artists Colony and the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He was represented by several prestigious New York galleries during his lifetime, including Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery and the Grace Borgenicht Gallery. A prominent retrospective of his work was sponsored by the American Federation of the Arts at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and the Whitney Museum in 1962. Burlin’s work can be found in numerous private and public collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Albuquerque Museum, and and the New Mexico Museum of Art.