Monday, April 13, 2009

Blumenschein's Lake

The Lake - Ernest Blumenschein

I live about three blocks from the Phoenix Art Museum and you would think I was a frequent visitor. Alas, it's a case of jaded convenience; already a procrastinator, I am comforted by the proximity of the Museum and set my intended visits upon the enormous heap labeled, "Things That I Really Want to Do That Can Always Be Done Later".
However, when I do get around to it, I love to go to the permanent collection and ritually soak up the "rays" from a few favorite paintings. One of my favorites is Ernest Blumenschein's "The Lake". Blumenschein captures the mystical, dramatic beauty of the Southwest - in his case New Mexico - but brings a decorative
element to the scene. Decorative, in the sense of using design elements suggested by the natural scene that are not there but that bring a unifying and personal element. Often Blumenschein has a shimmering detail - as of the reflection of the land and sky on the wind-stirred ripples that rake a watery surface - in the foreground and then a kind of sculptural, blocky, background of clouds or mountains that seems art deco.

Eagles Nest Lake

Presently, the Museum is showing a complete exhibit of Blumenschein's work and I have been blessed to see a great many works I never knew of. Though his paintings of Native American figures are impressive in their execution and color, I always have the nagging feeling that this caters to a kind of Eastern tourist fascination of the time. This may have not been Blumenschein's intent but I, as a resident of Phoenix, have seen quite enough of this sort of thing. It's the Blumenschein high desert landscapes, especially the water scenes therein, that speak to me and seem to be entirely unique and non-traditional.

Blumenschein was very fond of fishing, and though he later tended to move away from portrayals of the human figure as his landscapes came to the fore, he often punctuated his lake and river scenes with tiny figures of fishermen, either solitary or in groups.

Before taking up a career as an illustrator and then fine artist, Blumenschein was a musical prodigy on violin. Beginning musical studies in his native Ohio, Blumenschein moved on to New York City to study painting at the Art Students League.
To support himself, he took on a position as first violinist in the New York Symphony, conducted at that time by the great composer, Anton Dvorak. The story goes that Dvorak immediately hired the young Blumenschein for the first violin chair merely after hearing him play a D minor scale!
As Joan Carpenter Troccoli puts it in her masterful, "Painters and the American West; the Anschutz Collection"
"...his paintings seem analogous to music in their rhythm and repetition. One might even say the roundness of tone sought by musician's echoed in his sculptural forms."

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