Norman Bluhm

Norman BLUHM | Works and biography



Norman Bluhm was an American artist among the greatest exponents ofabstract expressionism andaction painting.

Born in Chicago in 1921, Bluhm embarked on a somewhat tortuous path to become an artist. He studied architecture atArmor Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology) below Mies van der Rohe before joining theUnited States Army Air Corps in 1941. Most scholars agree that his experience as a B-26 pilot during the war, flying missions over North Africa and Europe, had a profound effect on his later career as an artist by influencing her with the sense of space and speed.

After the end of the war, Norman Bluhm briefly returned to Chicago and in 1947 decided to devote himself to art. Study for a short time atAcademy of Fine Arts of Florence, to then settle in Paris from 1947 to 1956. There the artist attended both theGrand Chaumiere Academy that theSchool of Fine Arts and knew Alberto Giacometti and other contemporary painters. In 1956, Norman Bluhm moved to New York City and soon began exhibiting in renowned galleries such as Leo Castelli e Martha Jackson a Manhattan and Galerie Stadler in Paris. From the late 1950s until his death in 1999, the American painter exhibited regularly in group and solo exhibitions across America and abroad.

Norman Bluhm was able to reconstitute gestural abstraction into agile, color-saturated, erotic forms that evoke a wide range of associations, from fleshy nudes to Peter Paul Rubens to the sunny clouds of John the Baptist. For this he never had the due merit, also because Bluhm, unlike many of his generation, did not abandon painting nor rejected the past: he believed that all the past was at his disposal and assiduously frequented the Metropolitan Museum whenever he came to New York from East Wallingford, Vermont (where he lived from 1987 to 1999).

Norman Bluhm is also distinguished from his contemporaries, such as Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell, by his use of saturated colors and the layers of forms (or what Sillman calls mass and negative space) that he skillfully compresses in his paintings. Regardless of the depth of the artist's illusionistic space, he always draws attention to the surface of the painting, sometimes with frank and suggestive means such as drops and splashes reminiscent of pollen, milk or sperm, bursting into rounded shapes.

The curved forms of Bluhm, often marked by sinuous lines that fold in on themselves, synthesize the dynamic and languid, fleshy and fluid forms that move on the surface of the painting. By outlining her shapes with another color, she created a halo-like pulsating effect.

Norman Bluhm was keenly aware of the relationship between paintings and their architectural environment. In both formats and compositions it alludes to sacred spaces, altars and ceilings, and to the desire to elevate our mortal forms to heaven (see "Ode to Apollo", 1997, with its use of a border and decorative repetition) . He was a sensual in search of the spiritual, and his paintings extend the prelapsary joy found in the "Happiness of Living" from Henri Matisse.

His work anticipates the cascading paintings of Pat Steir, the floral paintings of Cy Twombly, the use of black and pink, purple and magenta by Judy Ledgerwood, the dense concatenations of Philip Taaffe and his embrace of the occult.

There is a hierarchical system at play in each of his paintings, but marked not by a clearly defined system of power, but by ambiguity and beauty. It is a hierarchy that does not rise through upward mobile aspirations; its movement, on the other hand, is simultaneously internal and external, a totality of imaginal movement. Its liberating architecture opens the mind's eye to the potential powers of sympathy and compassion, states in which we can more clearly experience the altruistic impulse that connects us to the world and the world to ourselves, a world pregnant with lives and energies.

Norman Bluhm passed away on February 3, 1999. He worked continuously and consistently until his death. His work invites us to the fullness of being as our birthright. It is a work that insists that the world is beautiful, terrible and desperate: it calls us to live.