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Franz Schulze "The Expressionist Strain"

In the "revisionist spirit of the 1980s," author Franz Schulze seeks to examine postwar Chicago art and artists in order to rebuild some lost credibility, correct certain misconceptions, and offer a better version of who/what/how than has previously been penned. Most writing has considered postwar Chicago art as coming from a Surrealist genealogy (mostly late 50s on), but just as much, if not more, writing has discussed the Expressionist tendencies (mostly post-WWII up until mid-1950). In identifying a group of first-generation postwar Chicago figurative artists, Schulze teases out particularities of influences, styles, etc... that make up the HYBRID character of Chicago art and then seeks to localize spheres of influence and stylistic change.

The author notes that these revisionist agendas often end up simply asserting one dogma over another. In light of some of the interviews of the artists that Schulze ends up casting in the Chicago Imagist group (especially the interview with Jim Nutt - a so-called third-generation Chicago Imagist according to Schulze) it seems that the distinctions and categorizations that Schulze elaborates for the Chicago artists are not necessarily congruent or supportive of the artist's own intentions or artistic statements. Does Schulze's clarifications and elaborations on Chicago artist styles ultimately portray the artists and their work in a justifiable manner? It seems like a large part of his agenda is to say 1) they're not like other movements, they're unique but at the same time puts them into a larger art context (outside of Chicago/Hyde Park), and 2)comparing them to some major international players serves, in a way, seems to assuage a second city complex.

Summary of points:
Sculptor Cosmo Campoli, and painters Leon Golub, June Leaf, Seymour Rosofsky, Theodore Halkin, and George Cohen are the artists primarily discussed.

  • Were not fully Surrealist in that they did not want to escape the world or put primacy on the unconscious.
  • Were figurative and therefore disliked the formalist abstract expressionism, but liked some of the gestural - like de Kooning especially, before he gave up the figure.
  • Were like the abstract expressionists in that they looked to "primordial memories compacted into emblematic symbols" and were like the German expressionists in that they accepted the "primacy of conscious reality."
  • Were stylistically closer to the Expressionists than Surrealists.
  • Were not primarily/only influenced by the French modernists as is commonly said, and in fact "their disregard for Paris bordered on contempt," but were also looking at the Germans just as much, specifically Nolde, Kirchner, Beckmann, Kokoshka in addition to Giacometti, Bacon, and most especially Dubuffet.
    • In revising the notion of Chicago art, Schulze maintains that you must ask the same questions of umbrella categories. If one asks how "Expressionist" Chicago art is, one should also ask how "Expressionist" Expressionist art is, and in doing so, one finds that assumptions thought to be stable are not. The same goes for "Surrealist."
  • Following the Campoli-Cohen-Golub-Halkin-Leaf-Rosofsky generation were young painters like Robert Barnes and Irving Petlin, who were taught at the SAIC by Matta in the mid-50s. Schulze claims that this local influence was the strongest.
  • Schulze thinks there should be a substantial reappraisal of the earliest postwar Chicago group and counterparts in other cities.
  • Examines in detail the first-generation Chicago artists' styles and of groups second-generation groups like The Hairy Who.
  • Conclusion - Chicago art is a hybrid. Expressionist and Surrealist with a little bit of Pop shining through in the 2nd generation.

For context and images:
link to JUMPIN' BACKFLASH: Original Imagist Artwork, 1966 - 1969 exhibition website
Wikipedia "Chicago Imagists" page

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  1. Feb 27, 2008

    mtaft says:

    This is an interesting idea to put forth--that of a hybrid art. It seems like th...

    This is an interesting idea to put forth--that of a hybrid art. It seems like this is true of most art movements, drawing influence from multiple schools and regions. But there certainly is something about this group of postwar artists that makes them seems more precisely derived from a variety of influences. But does this collection of influences overwhelm the movement as it stands on its own? Is this why Schulz seems to be trying to "rebuild lost credibility"? What is it about these artists that pushes them under the umbrella headings (expressionism, surrealism, etc.) coined by other painters in other cities?