Los Angeles

Edward Biberman

The George Gallery

Someone with the unlikely name of Barrows Dunham Cynwyd once wrote of Biberman: “And so I am glad that Biberman chose to do in paint what Descartes did in philosophy. He won’t get fame by puzzling spectators, but I dare say he feels much more joy in lifting veils, evaporating mists, and letting the eye do what it was meant to do: see.”

It is not a statement that does justice to the artist’s retrospective (1927–1963), for the exhibition, if it does anything at all, points up in often sad fashion Biberman’s continuing struggle with the question of what the eye was meant to do.

It was 1929 when Biberman returned to New York from Europe, and one cannot escape the social implications of that disastrous year, no? the retrogressive tendencies inherent in so much of American painting. The trends involving the “ash can” idea may not have been all that stifling to many a young painter returning to or even immigrating to America, as the development of American expressionism has proved. But to Biberman, it seems to have created an environment of confusion and visual wandering between his natural drive toward expressive form and what he must have conceived as some sort of obligation to stay in the greener pastures of social comment, post-impressionism, subject matter, Americana, Mexicana, and all the stuff that Barrows Dunham Cynwyd likes to call “lifting veils” and “evaporating mists.” Wide and rather impressive exhibitions during seven years in New York did not improve the slow deterioration of his powerful beginnings. By 1934 there was almost nothing left. Two years later he moved to California where he taught, and contented himself with either academic or decorative portraiture and the like—pretty, competent and slightly saddened images that look just like all the others.

Yet many of these act only as a foil to certain canvases that, regardless of dates, contain a sheer, unadulterated visual impact. They are Winged Victory of Los Angeles (1960), a freeway rendering that has discovered a force of form similar to Brooklyn Bridge, and in some ways more impressive than some of Roger Kuntz’s versions. Cypress Trunks (1957), aside from the fact that they are cypress trunks, has a puristic aspect, an almost hard-edge tendency that clearly dotes upon the relationship between color and form that is a major aspect of some California painting. One feels, from this and other excellent paintings which seem candidly related to other styles, that Biberman’s problem was not too little talent, but too much—too widely diffused and too uncommitted to the thorough exploration of his insights, for it is not only seeing, but choice of seeing that makes an artist an artist.

Clair Wolfe