In Hyman Bloom’s ecstatic paintings, old, bearded men with knobby fingers, in wide-brimmed fur hats, clutch Torah scrolls.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings, 1940-2005” is Bloom’s first exhibition in New York since 2009, the year he died at 96. It focuses on his “Rabbinical Series” and feels like a discovery.
Organized by artist Jan Frank at White Box, a nonprofit exhibition space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, this gem of a show brings art history to an area better known for hip, conceptual installations by emerging artists. It also taps the history of the neighborhood which became home to thousands of Jews around the turn of the 20th century.
“Hyman Bloom was really the missing link between more figurative, symbolist work that was done in the 1930s and 1940s and Abstract Expressionism,” said Katherine French, director of the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts, who has organized two previous Bloom surveys.
Bloom was born in a tiny village by the border between Latvia and Lithuania in 1913. His family escaped the pogroms, immigrating to the U.S. in 1920 and settling in Boston. Bloom’s talent was quickly recognized in school, winning him drawing scholarships.
Harvard art professor, Denman Ross, took the young man under his wing and by 20 he had a studio in Boston’s South End, French said.
Working in series, he painted Christmas trees, cadavers, seascapes and still life with vases and earthenware. The rabbis, whom he painted from imagination, began appearing in Bloom’s paintings in the 1930s and remained his lifelong obsession.
“They were more a reflection of his aging,” said French. “He came to the U.S. intending to become a rabbi. He became an artist instead. He considered himself secular.”
Influenced by Jewish mysticism, Indian tantric art, spiritualism as well as the works of Soutine and Rembrandt, Bloom’s paintings pulsate with mystic energy as layers of paint attempt to obliterate the figures and objects.
Many of the 20 paintings on view at White Box took years to complete. Pink, blue and lavender burst through torrents of earthy brushstrokes.
The characters, their side curls flying, convey spiritual ecstasy and deep concentration. Occasionally, there is a ghostly head, outlined with a simple gesture.
Bloom’s paintings were included in “Americans 1942,” the first annual survey of emerging art from around the U.S. at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1950 he represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale alongside Pollock and de Kooning. The two artists were deeply influenced by Bloom and considered him America’s first Abstract Expressionist, said French.
“He was a very reclusive person,” said French. “When a curator from MoMA came, he told her to go away. She had to be very persistent.”
Prices for the paintings range from $150,000 to $200,000, the drawings are $6,000 each. The works are being sold by the estate of Hyman Bloom. The show runs through Sept. 23 at 329 Broome St., +1-212-714-2347; http://whiteboxnyc.org.
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