Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death

Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death

Hyman Bloom is one of the forefathers of abstract art in America. He painted rabbis and cadavers, corpses and the woods of Maine with imagination and vivid color. Born in Latvia, he and his family migrated to America and he grew up in the west end of Boston.

Life and Death, Light and Dark

Hyman Bloom found corpses and dead bodies “a fascinating place” and painted them throughout his career. In 1946, Robert Coates wrote of his work in a New Yorker review: “There is poetry in decay that if properly projected is as valid artistically as that of growth and health.” (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, wall text)

Hyman Bloom Self Portrait. Blooms interest in the human body included a study of his own. Oil on canvas.

Hyman Bloom studied anatomy textbooks and made a visit to the morgue at Kenmore Hospital that made a huge impression on him. He painted still life, whether it be a grouping of squash from the garden or a human body. His paintings were of life, stilled.

Beauty in All Things

He found beauty in all things. He seemed to seek truth to the meaning of existence and painted objects and values in opposition to each other using light and dark contrasts and vivid colors. It is not so much that he was portraying death but instead, the moment when matter transitions to the spirit world with enraptured color.

Hyman Bloom, Turban Squash. Oil on canvas

A visit to his home

Hyman Bloom had a studio above Legal Seafood restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His paintings of fish were exhibited there in the early 1970’s and that was my first personal exposure to Hyman Bloom’s work. I also had a chance to meet him several years ago. He was in his 90’s and still painting every day. Close friends of mine who knew Hyman Bloom well were traveling to see him in order to select and buy a rabbi drawing. I was fortunate to be invited along. The art in his New Hampshire home blew me away with it’s power. His wife, Stella, was lovely, a gracious hostess and after a visit, a house tour and a drawing selection, we all went out to Hyman’s favorite Chinese restaurant. Hyman rarely let anyone in his studio. I was told if you did get invited in, the paintings were turned away from the viewer. He did not allow people to see work in progress. I vividly remember telling him that I loved his work, had been following him for many years, and that his work had influenced my own. His response was: “You are the competition” and that was the end of the discussion! In this instance, Hyman remained true to his reticence about discussing his art. For example, he deliberately left out an artist statement for his MoMA exhibit in 1942, implying that his work did not require it.

A gentle spirit

Hyman Bloom was one of the most gentle spirits I have encountered. His demeanor was quiet and thoughtful. He seemed mystical in that there was obvious spiritual connection and scholarly thought process in his life and work. He was unforgettable. His internal energy was devoted to his masterful work.

Hyman Bloom, The Bride. The paradox of a young bride corpse decorated with funeral flowers. Oil on canvas

Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through February 23rd, 2020 in the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery, (Number 158).