San Francisco

“The Drawings of Hyman Bloom”

University of Connecticut Museum of Art

“The Drawings of Hyman Bloom,” organized and circulated by the University of Connecticut Museum of Art brought to the San Francisco Bay Area a varied and extensive introductory survey of distinguished graphic work by an artist whose reputation in the eastern United States—particularly along the Boston-New York-Philadelphia axis—is already solidly established, and for whom over the past decade drawing has tended to emerge as the predominant vehicle of a distinctive style.

Although born in 1913, a subject of the late Czar Nicholas II in what is now (Soviet) Lithuania, Hyman Bloom was only seven years old when his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Boston where he grew up and where, early in his secondary schooling, his precocity as a potential artist was discovered and encouraged by one of his public school teachers. Having had unusually good fortune in the excellent teachers and disciplines which he encountered in availing himself of the elementary art curricula of local settlement houses and museum children’s classes, Bloom advanced rapidly and was soon a protégé of Denman Ross at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum. Public recognition first came to Bloom along Boston’s Newbury Street “gallery row” where he was initially identified with a painting style markedly influenced by the work of Chaim Soutine.

Characteristically of the reputed conservatism of the Boston cultural climate, neither the great nonobjective art idioms, at first imported and later indigenous, nor assuredly the defiantly iconoclastic posturings of Dadaism and neo-Dadaism, which in their respective times swept America from coast to coast, ever took root or found notable exponents in Boston, which has remained a latter day bastion of traditionalistic and academically disciplined figurative idioms. Artists matriculating to recognition in the Boston artistic environment tend here and there to develop individual touches of romantic expressionism, of Ashcan “social realism” or, sometimes, even of Surrealistic fantasy—but usually within the restraints of a deeply ingrained academicism of temperamental conditioning and a puritanically solemn awe of the weight of history.

Bloom is no exception. Bloom encompasses homage to the traditionalism of his adopted environment within homage to the traditions of his Jewish heritage in a series of large drawings from the mid-1950s, executed in charcoal or in sanguine conte crayon and having for their theme majestic patriarchal figures in rabbinical robes holding the Torah and assuming dramatic postures against a background of synagogue architectural motifs and various symbols and icons of Judaism.

In contrast, another series dating from the same period, deals with the arabesque linear fragilities of clustered fish skeletons, rendered as tenuous linearities of white ink on dark paper in which a meticulous manipulation of miniscule detail amply demonstrates Bloom’s consummate virtuoso artisanship with pen and stylus. Also from the same decade and harking back in topic as well as in technique to some of the more macabre exercise-themes of Renaissance master draftsmanship are some studies of variously dissected human cadavers.

Dating from the present decade and embracing works as recent as 1966 are two of Bloom’s most engaging essays: a series entitled On the Astral Plane, a repertoire of fantasies, alluding in spectral chiaroscuro to a bestiary reminiscent of Bosch, which Bloom—a quasi-Theosophical mystic—might prefer to regard as “clairvoyances” rather than as fantasies, and a series simply captioned as Landscapes, most of which have the character of forest nocturnes in which an eerie moonlight filters through dense tangles of ominously serpentine branches and vines pregnant with suggestions of tentacular menace and obscure, lurking malignity. In both of these series, the dramatic use of chiaroscuro, as well as the pervasive mood tone and the quality of imagery suggest affinities with such great Romantic illustrators as Blake and Dore.

Palmer D. French