Being and Becoming: First and Second Generation Abstract Expressionist Compositions

Abstract Expressionism remains the most important and quintessential American art movement to date and was instrumental in shifting the gravitational center of the modern art world from Paris to New York in the mid-twentieth century. Although rooted in the early abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky as well as in the late Cubist and Surrealist works of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, respectively, Abstract Expressionist compositions are immediately distinguishable from their European progenitors by their creational spontaneity, compositional indeterminacy, and emotional immediacy. The main innovation of the movement was to foreground as subject the artist’s feelings and emotions by creating visual states of being and becoming.

States of being are best exemplified in compositions whose simplicity of form and subtlety of color invite quiet meditation (e.g., Roth, de Kooning, Grillo, Parker, Dugmore, and early Springford), whereas states of becoming are most typified in works whose gestural boldness and chromatic richness exude the vital qualities of energy and dynamism (e.g., Burlin, Yamamoto, Kishi, and late Springford). Most Abstract Expressionist paintings, however, combine elements of both states of being and becoming (e.g., Burlin, Schueler, Francis, Brooks, and Bluhm), thereby producing compositions of exceeding semiotic complexity and profundity.

Artists included in the exhibition are Paul Burlin, Hans Hofmann, Vivian Springford, Jack Roth, Elaine de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Ray Parker, Hans Burkhardt, Jon Schueler, Taro Yamamoto, Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Edward Dugmore, John Grillo, Masatoyo Kishi, and Carl Holty.

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About the Artists
(1886 - 1969)
Paul Burlin (1886- 1969) was born in New York. Though he had some training at the National Academy of Design, he later dropped out to pursue his studies informally. He visited the Southwest for the first time in 1910, and paintings from this visit were received warmly in New York and shown in a 1911 exhibition. As a result of this early success, he was one of the youngest artists (at age twenty-six), along with Randall Davey, 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.

His move to Santa Fe, subsequent his participation in the Armory Show, would herald a new era of modernism in New Mexico. The Armory Show, he later recalled, had little impact on his work and yet he was affected; simultaneously unsettled and yet galvanized by the event.

Returning to the Southwest to live, he drew inspiration from the culture and the 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.

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. Later years would see him visited by visual difficulties, undergoing early cornea transplants in the mid 1960’s, and at times legally blind but,. . . still painting.

Endeavoring to calculate Burlin’s contributions to early modernism/expressionism in New Mexico one-hundred and ten years after the fact is challenging, but it can be said Burlin was not only the first Armory Show participant to arrive in New Mexico, but the earliest painter of Modernism in the region.

The exhibition and catalogue titled Transformation of Spirit to Pigment: Harmony in Chaos celebrates Paul Burlin’s mature works, ca. 1950 –1969; not only his most prolific and productive period but arguably his most poetic, with numerous canvases from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art exhibitions. The catalogue is the most extensive biographic chronology of Burlin to date, including his exhibition history, literature and publications.

We gratefully acknowledge the participation and support of the Paul Burlin Art Trust and the immediate and extended family of Paul Burlin.

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(1914 - 2003)
Vivian Springford was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and educated at the Spence School in New York City, and then the Art Students League. Born to a prominent family (her father was the former president and chairman of the board of Sevel, Inc, an early maker of refrigerators), she was pictured in The New York Times “Debutantes of the Winter Season in New York” in 1932.

Originally a portrait artist, she illustrated Albert Carr’s 1938 book Juggernaut with portraits of twenty political dictators from the Napoleanic era to the early twentieth century.

She was championed in the late 1950s by Howard DeVree, the New York Times art critic, and Harold Rosenberg helped Springford get her first show at Great Jones Gallery in 1960.

Springford provides a fascinating case study of a mid-century American woman artist. Working first in an Abstract Expressionist and then in a Color Field vocabulary, she was active in multiple facets of the New York art world from the 1950s to 1970s, during which time she had solo and group exhibitions at the Great Jones Gallery, the Preston Gallery, Women in the Arts, and the Visual Arts Coalition.

With an emphasis on gesture, dripping, and splattering, Springford’s works of the 1950s bore a clear connection to Abstract Expressionism. The primary influence of her early work came from East Asian arts and letters, particularly Chinese calligraphy, Taoism and Confucianism. She credited the Chinese-American painter Walasse Ting, whom she met in the mid-1950s, with introducing her to Asian culture. Part of what attracted her about calligraphy as a technique was the fact that it cannot be altered once a mark is made. Her use of this technique resulted in “one-shot” paintings: virtuosic works made in a single go, without alteration or revision.

By 1970 Springford had developed a manner of stain painting that was distinctively her own. Her use of thinned paint on raw or thinly-primed canvas, which she developed with her calligraphic paintings of the late 1950s, developed into more abstract and wash-like marks, with stained colored lines expanding into floods of color. This stylistic approach aligns with the Color Field painters’ exploration of stain painting as a primary mode of mark-making.

Springford once remarked that, for her, the act of painting was an “attempt to identify with the universal whole…. I want to find my own small plot or pattern of energy that will express the inner me in terms of rhythmic movement and color. The expansive center of the universe, of the stars, and of nature is my constant challenge in abstract terms.” With her technical inventiveness, formal originality, and seductive use of color, her work deserves a place in the annals of postwar American art, particularly in relation to the histories of Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painting. Following her inclusion in the Denver Art Museum's exhibition catalogue, Women of Abstract Expressionism (Joan Marter 2016), the time is right for a critical revision and appreciation of Springford’s abundant talent and tireless persistence—a story that mirrors those of so many women artists, past and present.

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(1927 - 2004)
Although he was fully two decades younger than some of the elder statesmen of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Jack Roth exhibited alongside Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, William Baziotes and others while still in his twenties. Roth was a true polymath, pursuing interests in chemistry, literature, music, mathematics and Zen Buddhism in addition to painting. Despite the rarified company he kept and his many accomplishments, Jack Roth’s contributions to 20th century modernist painting have been largely overlooked until fairly recently. Rachel Roth, his wife of fifty years, remembered him this way: “Jack was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. I’ve never said this before, but I think he was a genius, and I don’t say that lightly!”

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(1918 - 1989)
Elaine DeKooning was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York and spent her childhood studying the lives of artists and visiting the museums and galleries of New York City. After high school she attended the American Artists School and the Leonardo da Vinci School and was swept up in the cultural excitement in New York of the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1943 she married fellow artist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), one of the group of artists soon to emerge as the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. During her marriage, de Kooning continued painting; however, much of her time was devoted to ensuring the success of her husband. In the summer of 1948, de Kooning and her husband left New York for North Carolina so that he could teach at Black Mountain College. At the end of the summer, her husband left North Carolina, and de Kooning stayed behind. During that period at Black Mountain, she created a series of paintings titled "Black Mountain Abstractions." The following year, de Kooning and her husband were part of an exhibition entitled "Artists: Man and Wife" at the Sidney Janis Gallery, which featured several artist couples.

The 1950s were an artistically prosperous time for de Kooning, as she secured several solo exhibitions at notable galleries such as the Stable Gallery and the Graham Gallery, and she also participated in numerous noteworthy group shows including the Ninth Street Show in 1951, Young American Painters at the MoMA, 1956, and Artists of the NY School: 2nd Generation at the Jewish Museum, 1957. She was included in the Ten Best list in ArtNews in 1956. De Kooning came to New Mexico in 1957-58, where she was a visiting professor in the University of New Mexico's art department. The light, space, and colors of New Mexico had a lasting impact on her work.

She was an accomplished portrait artist, as well as a masterful abstract painter, as seen in the painting shown here. She also worked as an editorial associate and art critic of ArtNews magazine, and taught at many universities, including the University of New Mexico, the University of California - Davis, Yale University, the Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Wagner College, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 1985 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1988. In the 1980s, de Kooning was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her health began to deteriorate until she succumbed to the disease in 1989. Her works are found in many museum collections, including the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
(1880 - 1966)
Hans Hofmann is one of the most important figures of postwar American art. Celebrated for his exuberant, color-filled canvases, and renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists—first in his native Germany, then in New York and Provincetown—Hofmann played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism.

As a teacher he brought to America direct knowledge of the work of a celebrated group of European modernists (prior to World War I he had lived and studied in Paris) and developed his own philosophy of art, which he expressed in essays which are among the most engaging discussions of painting in the twentieth century, including "The Color Problem in Pure Painting—Its Creative Origin."

Hofmann taught art for over four decades; his impressive list of students includes Vaclav Vytlacil, Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Alfred Jensen, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. As an artist Hofmann tirelessly explored pictorial structure, spatial tensions and color relationships. In his earliest portraits done just years into the twentieth century, his interior scenes of the 1940s and his signature canvases of the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Hofmann brought to his paintings what art historian Karen Wilkin has described as a "range from loose accumulations of brushy strokes…to crisply tailored arrangements of rectangles…but that somehow seems less significant than their uniform intensity, their common pounding energy and their consistent physicality."

Hofmann was born Johann Georg Hofmann in Weissenberg, Bavaria, Germany in 1880 and raised and educated in Munich. After initial studies in science and mathematics, he began studying art in 1898. With the support of Berlin art patron Phillip Freudenberg, Hofmann was able to move to Paris in 1904, taking classes at both the Académie de la Grande Chaumière (with fellow student Henri Matisse) and the Académie Colarossi. In Paris Hofmann observed and absorbed the innovations of the most adventurous artists of the day including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Fernand Léger and Henri Matisse, many of whom he met and became friendly with. Hofmann would remain in Paris until 1914 when the advent of World War I required him to return to Germany. In 1915, unable to enroll in the military due to a respiratory ailment, Hofmann opened an innovative school for art in Munich, where he transmitted what he had learned from the avant-garde in Paris. The school’s reputation spread internationally, especially after the war, attracting students from Europe and the United States, thus beginning what was to be almost a lifetime of teaching for Hofmann.

At the invitation of Worth Ryder, one of his former students, Hofmann went to the University of California, Berkeley, to teach in the summer of 1930. He returned to Berkeley the following year, a momentous one which also saw his first American solo exhibition at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Because of the deteriorating circumstances in pre-war Germany, Hofmann made the decision to remain in the United States permanently (his wife, Maria, would join him in 1939). In 1932 he settled in New York where he again taught art, first at The Art Students League, then, a year later, at his own school (adding in 1935 summer sessions in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he also lived). For eager young Americans, most of whom had traveled little—constrained in the 1930s by the Depression and in the 1940s by World War II and its aftermath—contact with Hofmann served as an invaluable alternative for direct contact with the European sources of Modernism. 

By 1960 noted art historian Clement Greenberg called Hofmann "in all probability the most important art teacher of our time." His school would remain a vital presence in the New York art world until 1958, when the seventy-eight year old Hofmann decided to devote himself full-time to painting.

Despite his renown as a teacher, it wasn’t until 1944, at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery, that Hofmann had his first major solo exhibition in the United States. He became part of the emerging New York School, and was friendly with Pollock, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Clyfford Still, and Mark Rothko. From that time on, Hofmann exhibited widely. Hofmann’s paintings were the subject of exhibitions at major institutions such as the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art. Hofmann was also one of four artists representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1960.Three years later, The Museum of Modern Art mounted the landmark exhibition “Hans Hofmann and His Students.” 

Although Hofmann did not come to the United States until he was over fifty, he is embraced as an American painter and regarded as a key member of the Abstract Expressionists. For all his connections to that movement, and to abstraction itself, his work was nonetheless and by his own admission firmly rooted in the visible world. He combined Cubist structure and intense Fauvist color into a highly personal visual language with which he endlessly explored pictorial structures and chromatic relationships. Hofmann created volume in his compositions not by rendering or modeling but through contrasts of color, shape and surface.

Hofmann was close to 70 years old when, in a dazzling burst of energy he painted most of the large, highly recognizable canvases of the late 1950s and 1960s that assured his reputation. With their stacked, overlapping and floating rectangles and clear, saturated hues, these extraordinary paintings continued up until the end of his remarkable long career what Hofmann had first explored as an artist over six decades earlier.

His work is in the public collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA;  the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Aspen Art Museum; the Auckland Art Gallery; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Germanische Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Kunsthaus Hamburg;  the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the  Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; the Musée de Grenoble; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Tate Gallery, London; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;  and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, among others.

Recent select solo exhibitions include Hans Hofmann, Miles McEnery Gallery, New York (2021—22); Works on Paper, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Wyoming (2021); Hans Hofmann: Color and Form, American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich (2019-20); The Post-War Years: 1945—1946, Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York (2017); Push and Pull: Hans Hofmann, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley (2016); Hans Hofmann: Selected Paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2014—15).

Recent select group exhibitions include Do You Think It Needs A Cloud?, Miles McEnery Gallery, New York (2020); The Irascibles: Painters Against the Museum (New York, 1950), Fundación Juan March, Madrid (2020); Color Beyond Description: The Watercolors of Charles Hawthorne, Hans Hofmann and Paul Resika, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown (2019); Sublime Abstraction, Heather James Fine Art, Palm Desert (2017—18); Now's the Time, Sheldon Museum of Art, Nebraska (2017); Abstract Expressionism, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2016—17); Art in the Making, Freedman Art, New York (2014—15); From Abstract Expression to Colored Planes, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle (2013—15).

Biographical and exhibition/collection sources: Courtesy of Hans Hofmann Trust; Smithsonian; Artnet; Phoebe Bradford, Ocula

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(1904 - 1994)
An extremely prolific artist, Hans Burkhardt remained relatively silent in the Los Angeles art world, choosing to let his artworks express his feelings and thoughts. A forerunner of abstracted, expressionist painting, particularly amid the more conservative Los Angeles figurative painters in the late 1930s, Burkhardt nonetheless based his experimentation on a solid artistic foundation. The order and balance in Burkhardt’s compositions derive from his training as a draughtsman and his belief in the importance of underpinning painting with strong drawing skills. Following the advice of his mentor, Arshile Gorky, who had often directed the young artist, “painting is not more than drawing with paint,” Burkhardt always created sketches in pencil, pastel, or ink before beginning a canvas in oil. As a result, his compositions exhibit a strong sense of structure and design, even in their abstraction.

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(1917 - 2014)
John Grillo was a painter, sculptor, and lithographer. He was born in Lawrence, MA, and studied at the Hartford School of Fine Arts from 1935 to 1938. He relocated to San Francisco, CA, and attended the California School of Fine Arts from 1945 to 1947. In 1948, he returned to Massachusetts and studied under Hans Hofmann (German/American, 1880–1966) at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Provincetown. Grillo’s first exhibition was held at Daliel's Gallery in Berkeley, CA, in 1947, and in the following year, his second solo exhibition was held in New York at the Artists' Gallery. In 1952, Grillo had his third solo exhibit at Tanager Gallery in New York, and in 1953, three other New York galleries showcased his work: the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, and the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Grillo was a visiting artist at the University of California at Berkeley, Iowa University, Studio School of New York, and Illinois University at Carbondale. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, New School of Social Research in New York, the Pratt Institute, the University of Massachusetts and Provincetown Art Association, and Museum in Provincetown, MA. Grillo has also won several awards, including First Prize in Oil Painting and a prize for best sculpture at the Wistariahusrt Museum in Holyoke, MA. The artist’s work has been exhibited at the Katherina Rich Perlow Gallery in New York, the Cove Gallery in Wellfleet, MA, the Aaron Galleries Modern in Chicago, Robert Green Fine Arts in Mill Valley, CA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in, New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York, and the Stable Gallery in New York.

Grillo’s work can be found in public collections at The University of Texas Museum, Dartmouth College, the Bundy Art Gallery Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Portland Museum, the University of Massachusetts, and the Norfolk Museum in Virginia. The artist currently resides in Provincetown, MA.

(1916 - 1992)
The American painter Jon Schueler was often grouped with the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, although as a survey of his paintings from the mid-1950s makes clear, his body of work is much broader in its affiliations. If anything, his painting reaches back to Monet and the French Impressionists, while leaning toward the mystical realism of J. M. W. Turner, who was a lasting influence on Schueler during his last prolific decades, when he lived part-time in Scotland and often painted visions of the sea and sky in eerie contention. A leading figure among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, Schueler’s earliest paintings often contained zigzag lightning bolts, vivid displays of color, and palette-knife gestures that gave to the paintings a thickly textured aura.

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(1921 - 1999)
Norman Bluhm was an American Abstract Expressionist painter. Though he never achieved the same fame as his peers Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis, Bluhm was an influential figure in American art and is widely revered as a “painter’s painter.” His work employs a repetition of organic forms and semi-figurative moments within pure abstraction to create a rhythmic language with paint. 

Born on March 28, 1921 in Chicago, IL, Bluhm went on to study architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology in Illinois under Mies van der Rohe.  He studied briefly in Florence before moving to Paris in 1947 to continue studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After serving in World War II, Bluhm lived in Paris and developed an interest in figurative painting.

In 1956 he moved to New York, where he began painting full time. Bluhm’s earliest paintings were figural, but by the early ’50s he had moved into full abstraction, eventually taking on its characteristically looser and more gestural style. Throughout, Bluhm maintained a passion for art history and an abiding interest in contemporary practice.

From his architectural studies, Bluhm created paintings with an abiding sense of structure, balance, and compositional technique. Also influenced by the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, he sought a style even further removed from mimesis and preoccupied entirely with surface, color, and medium. Beginning with drawing and a schema, he would build layers of abstraction to explore spirituality and eroticism through paint, altogether eschewing narrative content or figuration. 

Also taking inspiration from the Impressionist masters, he once cited Jean-Baptiste-Camillie Corot and Gustave Courbet as major sources of influence: “Not in painting, in their style or in the style of their period, but in the spiritual and the light of them and certain crystal elements which Corot or Courbet each different in another way,” he said. “I tried to paint big landscapes with this kind of feeling about light." 

The critic Raphael Rubinstein has written,

“What’s…impressive about Bluhm’s canny use of art history is that he is able to recapitulate and reinterpret stellar moments from the history of Western painting without ever lapsing into pastiche, the bane of so much history-conscious art.”Soon, his work was showing at the Leo Castelli and Martha Jackson galleries in Manhattan, and Galerie Stadler in Paris. From the late 1950s until his death in 1999, Bluhm exhibited regularly in group and solo shows throughout America and abroad.

In the 1960s, Bluhm was exploring relationships between swirling, loosely applied forms and unexpected arrangements of color. He used large brushes, soaked with vibrantly hued paint, and treated his work surface with enthusiasm and energy. This method produced works that were orgiastic in their dramatic intensity—bold, organically applied pigment insouciant in its application and outlook.

Critic John Dorfman called him “the greatest Abstract Expressionist painter you’ve never heard of. Or if you have heard of him, you’re part of a select group of aficionados who appreciate the multifaceted, challenging work of a painter who refused to be pinned down to any one school or style and kept working regardless of the shifting tides of the market and art-critical opinion.”

His place in the “new generation” of Abstract Expressionists links him with John Chamberlain and Joan Mitchell.

Bluhm died on February 3, 1999 in East Wallingford, VT. Today, his works are in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., among others. 

Additional biographical sources: Artnet, Artsy

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(1923 - 1994)
California-born abstract expressionist Sam Francis (1923–1994), one of the 20th century’s leading interpreters of light and color. Sam Francis maintained studios in Bern, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo, making him the first post–World War II American painter whose reach was truly international. Throughout a long and prolific career, Francis created thousands of paintings as well as works on paper, prints, and monotypes. His work holds references to New York Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, Chinese and Japanese art, French impressionism, and his own Bay Area roots.
(1915 - 1996)
Edward Dugmore began his formal schooling in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut before studying at the Kansas City Art Institute under Thomas Hart Benton. In 1948, Dugmore took advantage of the G.I. Bill and moved out west to San Francisco to further his studies in art at the California School of Fine Arts. There he studied with Clyfford Still, who was influential on his development, both as an artist and a close friend. Dugmore also became a lifelong friend of fellow student and artist Ernest Briggs.

In 1952 Mr. Dugmore moved to New York, and during the decades that followed his work enjoyed an active exhibition schedule across a range of venues. Dugmore exhibited with along other Abstract Expressionists at the Stable Gallery there. His paintings have been in exhibitions in important museums, institutions and art galleries over the course of eight decades beginning in the 1940s.
(1924 - 2017)
Painter, printmaker, and sculptor Masatoyo Kishi - best known for mixing elements of traditional Japanese culture with Western abstraction - was born in Sakai, Japan, on March 11, 1924. He graduated with degrees in physics and mathematics from the Tokyo University of Science in 1953.

"As a Japanese artist in the 1950s in Tokyo, I didn't go to art school," said Kishi. "Japanese artists studied literature, economics, science; then you explored art."
After graduating, he pursued a short career as a mathematics teacher before he began exhibiting with Tekkei Kai, a group of abstract painters associated with the Kyoto Museum of Art.

From the late 1950s to the 1960s, he created his Opus paintings, which feature softly dripped pigments and sweeping brushwork. Using large brushes, Kishi painted his works by laying canvases horizontally and using wooden sticks to drip paint onto them.

"The paint brush is a difficult extension for me," Kishi explained. "What develops from this method is an orderly conversation between me and the canvas. I respond to each change taking place.”
In 1960, Kishi moved from Japan to San Francisco, where he lived until 1988. exhibited throughout the Bay Area and the U.S. and taught at Holy Names College in Oakland and the Dominican College in San Rafael.

 Beginning in the 1970s Kishi's focus switched to sculpture, and by the mid '70s he was working almost exclusively in the three dimensional medium. In 1998, he relocated to Grass Valley, California, where he lived and worked until his death in 2017.

“Kishi’s paintings inspire a sense of chaos and awe,” said Jessica Phillips, director of Hackett Mill. “To look at a Kishi painting is to accept a challenge of sorts, one where you find yourself completely immersed in the rhythm of the paint as you try to trace the artist's hand not to learn how or why he painted in this way but rather to gain access to the lyrical complexity that resulted from it.”

His work is found in numerous museum collections, including the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan; Oakland Museum of California; Stanford University Museum of Art; Stanford Art Gallery, Palo Alto; Barlow Building, Washington, D.C.; State University College at Potsdam, NY; and Guilford College, Greensboro, NC, among others.

biographical sources include Annex Galleries, Artforum

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