A well-respected painter who worked mostly out of Boston, Hyman Bloom (1913 – 2009) seems to be an underappreciated master. Considered a Boston Expressionist, his work is held in institutions across the United States. The exhibition “Hyman Bloom Master of Life and Death” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts represented a reintroduction of this extraordinarily gifted painter to a new generation of art appreciators.
Bloom’s use of rich colors and his compositional talent make his work unique and compelling despite his selection of grotesque subject matter in some of his works.
Starting with some of his more tame pieces, Chandelier no. 2 and Christmas Tree demonstrate how Bloom’s use of perspective (seemingly looking from below rather than straight on) and vivid, warm colors give an energy and drama one wouldn’t usually find in such static room adornments.
The chandelier seems to be placed in a way where we the viewers are just beneath it, admiring its splendor. The dynamic ceiling behind it frames the dripping crystals and adds drama to a piece that could have been drab in the hands of a different artist.
The Christmas Tree, an irony coming from a Jewish artist, is aflame – either literally or with the lights of the season – who can tell? And this beautiful yet oh-so-dead tree is a perfect transition to the world of death and decay that seemed to obsess Bloom, as it was a frequent subject.
Bloom’s anatomical artwork where he paints or draws autopsies or body parts can be shocking to behold, especially at first glance.
Bodies flayed of their skins, with muscle and bone showing, disembodied limbs, or meat at the butcher’s, corpses, or skeletal remains: one gets the sense that the temporal, transitory nature of humanity fascinated Bloom.
At the same time, Bloom infused his still lifes with the same energy and color as his portraits. Choosing lumpy and disfigured turban squashes Bloom elects to immortalize the brightly colored variegated gourd in his signature style. Yet these vegetables, too, end up seeming slightly monstrous and are fascinating to behold in their utter imperfection.
It’s important to note that Bloom did not only paint static items or those in decay or dissection. For instance, Bloom painted a (live) bride multiple times over the years. The vibrant colors and riot of patterns make these works startlingly beautiful to behold. The overlaid decorations on these women’s dresses overwhelms the eye, creating a sense of abundance, and some might argue there are echoes of Chagall in the patterns and the flowing garments.
The face of 1941’s reclining bride, perhaps post-ceremony, suggests melancholy. Her dress remains as vibrant as ever, yet her face seems to fade into the bedding. Blooms tightly framed work, throughout the oeuvre, but certainly including his “Brides”, keeps the focus on the main figure. There is no distracting background, because there is often hardly any background at all in his work. One might question the reason behind this – is her youth now “dead”? Any further clues are out of the frame.
The most dramatic example of a tightly framed work is his Skeleton, painted to be approximately life size and seemingly decayed from a human to just bones. This work echoes his slumbering bride, but also Hans Holbein’s “Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.”
The MFA drew a comparison between Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb and Bloom’s Skeleton, given the tightly framed composition, the size and perspective. Holbein’s piece, if taken as a simple corpse of the 16th century, could have decayed to the archaeological ruins of Skeleton by the 20th century.
These connections between Bloom’s pieces and other artists’ works underscore the many inspirations from which the artist drew. Between his fellow creatives, nature, architecture and anatomy, Bloom demonstrated his virtuosity through his mastery of many forms, all while being true to his unique style of color and brushwork.
(All photography by Christine O’Donnell for Thoughts on Art)