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From New York to New Mexico: A Celebration of Emil Bisttram's Artistic Vision

April 6, 2017, 1:30 pm

Evident in his intricate form of expressionism and use of enticing hues, Emil Bristtram’s art presents his power, perseverance and, perhaps most importantly, positivity as an artist. His works transport and tempt his audience comfortably into the metaphorical eye of the storm, finding calm in his calculated colorful chaos.

In 1975, New Mexico Governor Jerry Apodaca declared April 7 Emil Bisttram Day, a state holiday honoring the late artist’s cultural influence on New Mexico-inspired transcendental artistic endeavors. Bisttram’s illustrious career captured his exploration of spirituality, philosophy and abstraction through many artistic mediums. His distinctive stylistic choices and techniques seen throughout the entirety of his collection create a visual journey of self-actualization and awareness. Unfortunately, most New Mexicans have forgotten this celebratory holiday and the artist it commemorates.

To remind the community of Bisttram’s influence and the cultural significance of his work, there is the Addison Rowe Gallery’s annual Emil Bisttram Day Show, which opens Friday April 7 and runs through May 20.

Bisttram was born on the Hungarian-Romanian border on 1895, and his family immigrated to New York in 1906. Bisttram showed a strong desire to paint early on, and ultimately started working as a commercial artist in 1912—yes, that would be at age 17.

He went on to create the first freelance commercial art studio in New York City in 1915. Bisttram studied under Ivan Olinsky at the National Academy of Design, Leon Kroll at the Art Students League and Jay Hambridge at the Parsons School of Art and Design. Bisttram was then invited to teach at Nicholas Roerich’s Master Institute of United Arts where he first encountered theosophy, among other spiritual practices—all of which greatly influenced his artistic expression.

In 1931, he was awarded a fellowship with the Guggenheim Museum to study with celebrated muralist Diego Rivera in Mexico. After one year of studying with Rivera, Bisttram moved to Taos where he eventually founded the Taos School of Art and the Heptagon Gallery, considered to be the first commercial art gallery in Taos.

Bisttram’s work combines magnificent New Mexican landscapes with his unique spiritual philosophy of life: Painting is about mediation.

The Addison Rowe Gallery’s annual display of these diverse and dynamic works illustrate that he was an artist ahead of his time. According to Matthew Rowe, gallery director at Addison Rowe Gallery, whose eyes seem to actually sparkle in the light when he gets animated about Bisttram’s work, the artist’s “exploration of [his] art created throughout his life show a man who was never satisfied—always experimenting with different techniques and styles.”

Rowe also believes that Bisttram’s success can serve as a testament to “his belief in art as a positive force for the enlightenment of mankind.” Bristtram’s philosophical and peaceful journey for truth in his art suggests that a mere one day of celebration may not be enough. 


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