First Look: New Acquisitions

An exhibition featuring some of Peyton Wright’s new acquisitions, including work by Alexander Calder, Karl Benjamin, Ray Parker, Emil Bisttram,  Esteban Vicente, and Joan Mitchell.

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About the Artists
(1898 - 1976)
Credited with the invention of the mobile, Alexander Calder revolutionized twentieth-century art with his innovative use of subtle air currents to animate sculpture. An accomplished painter of gouaches and sculptor in a variety of media, Calder is best known for poetic arrangements of boldly colored, irregularly shaped geometric forms that convey a sense of harmony and balance.

Calder was born in a suburb of Philadelphia to a family of artists. His grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, and father, Alexander Stirling Calder, created sculptures and public monuments, and his mother was a painter. Accustomed to traveling in pursuit of public art commissions, the family moved to Pasadena, California, in 1906. The new environment—with its expansive night sky studded with brilliant planets and stars—fascinated the young Calder. These cosmic forms strongly influenced the structure and iconography of his future work.

At a young age, Calder began using tools and found materials to create various structures and inventions. This constructive impulse led him to attend the Stevens Institute of Technology, where he received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1919. Yet by 1922 he had abandoned his new career. After a stint as a seaman, Calder began formal art study at the Art Students League in New York in 1923. During this period, Calder worked as a freelance illustrator and often visited zoos and circuses to sketch.

Calder moved to Paris in 1926, and during his seven-year stay he delighted fellow artists including Man Ray, Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Le Corbusier and Piet Mondrian and attracted the attention of art patrons with his whimsical wire figures and portrait heads. Most notably, he created small sculptures of circus animals and performers with movable parts and developed and toured a performance/demonstration dubbed the "Cirque Calder." This series culminated in the completion of his most celebrated piece, Circus (1932, Whitney Museum of American Art).

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(1922 - 1990)
Originally from South Dakota, Ray Parker entered the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1940; he earned his MFA in 1948. From 1948 to 1951 he taught painting at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. During the 1940s his paintings were heavily influenced by cubism. In the early 1950s, however, Parker became associated with the leading Abstract Expressionists of the day, including Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. Parker soon began to simplify and refine his works realizing that through abstraction, and color his paintings could convey and express emotion.Like Piet Mondrian, Stuart Davis and Jackson Pollock, Parker was a fan of jazz music; and his interest in jazz, combined with his interest in abstract expressionism, led to his improvised painting style.
(1925 - 2012)
Born on December 29, 1925, in Chicago, Benjamin joined the Pomona College faculty as artist-in-residence in 1979, following a 20-year career teaching in public elementary and middle school. He was appointed the Loren Babcock Miller Professor of Fine Arts in 1991. When he retired in 1994, he was granted emeritus status.

A school principal and his elementary students led Benjamin to painting. The principal told him that he needed to include 45 minutes of art instruction in his classes. So, according to a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, “I brought some crayons and paper, and the kids drew trucks, trees, mountains. That was boring, so I said, no trucks, no trees.’” And, according to the article, the students began to do work that really interested him.

Benjamin began to paint in the 1950s. Experimenting with oils leading him to Claremont Graduate University and a MFA degree. Benjamin is a member of the California Hard Edge group, along with Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin.

Benjamin’s paintings have been exhibited throughout the U.S. and are part of collections that include the National Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Recent exhibitions include retrospectives at the Claremont Museum of Art and the Oceanside Museum of Art, and inclusion in several Pacific Standard Time exhibitions in Southern California, including the J. Paul Getty Museum.
(1925 - 1992)
Joan Mitchell was born and received her art education in Chicago. In 1948 she visited France for a year before moving to New York, where Mitchell became a young leader in the Abstract Expressionist scene. Mitchell was well connected with New York School artists and poets.

Klaus Kertess admiringly writes of Mitchell, “She transformed the gestural painterliness of Abstract Expressionism into a vocabulary so completely her own that it could become ours as well. And her total absorption of the lessons of Matisse and van Gogh led to a mastery of color inseparable from the movement of light and paint. Her ability to reflect the flow of her consciousness in that of nature, and in paint, is all but unparalleled.”

The artist's legacy is preserved by the Joan Mitchell Foundation.
(1895 - 1976)
Hungarian-born Emil James Bisttram achieved early success as an artist, studying and teaching at several prominent art schools, including the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, Parson’s, and the Master Institute of the Roerich Museum. In 1931, Bisttram was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship which allowed him to travel to Mexico to study mural painting with Diego Rivera. In 1934, he was commissioned to paint murals for the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.).

Bisttram founded the Taos School of Art as well as the first commercial gallery in Taos. Together with Raymond Johnson and others, Bisttram started the Transcendental Painting Group in Santa Fe in 1938. He was very active in fostering the growth of the arts in New Mexico up until his death at 81.

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(1903 - 2001)
Known for his Abstract Expressionism and Color-Field paintings in oil as well as collages, Esteban Vicente attended art school in Madrid at the Academy Belles Artes before moving to New York City in 1936. There he became affiliated with the Action Painters in the 1950s including Willem and Elaine De Kooning. In "Art News" magazine, 1952, Elaine De Kooning had an article published on Esteban Vicente titled "Vicente Paints a Collage"

Vicente was also an art educator with positions at Black Mountain College, University of California at Berkeley, New York University, Yale University, Princeton University and the University of California at Los Angeles.

He had his first one-man show at the Ateneo de Madrid in 1928, and from that time entered many exhibitions in Spain including Barcelona as well as Madrid where his paintings are in the Reina Sofia Museum. In 1991 Vicente was honored by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain with the Gold Medal for Fine Arts.

Of his painting Esteban Vicente said: ...If I have to say something about the subject of my painting, I might say that it is an interior landscape. This image becomes the subject. It is always the same idea, the same image---from an accumulation of experience. I don't know if one can actually identify this image. When I say 'landscape', I mean a structure. The structure of the painting is landscape---but not the color. That's why I say they are 'inter landscapes'. " (Herskovic 346)