"Modern Sensibilities, 1950s-1980s Paintings of Ernest Briggs & Seymour Boardman" opens the 2010 art season at the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation in Jim Thorpe. The exhibit presents the works of two painters who were part of the Abstract Expressionist movement when it peaked in the 1950s and 60s.
The exhibition is timely in that the paintings of both the Briggs and Boardman estate were recently acquired by the Shapolsky Art Foundation.
"We are having the show because these are two very important painters, both of whom are deceased, and whose work is being rediscovered now," explained Shirley Thomas, assistant director of the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, "although, during their lifetimes, they were not terribly well known being eclipsed by the stars of the Abstract Expressionist movement like Jackson Pollock."
Anita Shapolsky represented both Briggs and Boardman through her gallery in New York City. After Briggs passed away, Shapolsky acquired the paintings from his widow.
"We thought we getting 50 to 100 tops," Thomas said.
"We received a truckload of these paintings wrapped on cardboard rolls. We'd unroll one, then find another painting underneath that, and another under that. So, each roll represented not just one painting as we thought, but as many as five paintings," she added.
"We ended with about 200 painting of various lengths, and spanning his career from a few from the 1940s, going to the 1980s when he died."
Shapolsky acquired the paintings from Seymour Boardman's estate following his death over a year ago.
"The works of Briggs and Boardman are complementary because of the styles and colors," Thomas said. "Some painter's exhibits don't work side-by-side or even in the next room.
"He contributed variety and a great deal of passion. If you look at his paintings, some of them just literally burst from the canvas," Thomas said, describing Briggs' work.
"In contrast, many of Seymour Boardman's pieces, especially the later pieces have a serene quality," noted Thomas. "He got into Minimalism where you do not see the work of the human hand of the artist.
"When I look at Boardman's abstract work, I don't read the paintings in terms of objects it's like stepping into another language," Thomas said. "English is my native language but I also speak some Italian. Each language has different meanings and different connotations. You recognize words in the other language. You recognize meanings in the other language. As a whole, these paintings communicate with me.
"I thought that in art school, everyone would understand abstract work, but that's not true. Some people just don't get it. For whatever reason, I think my brain is wired for abstract," said Thomas.
"Biggs paints with tremendous conviction," she added. "His paintings are colorful and have energy. They speak to me. There's a commitment and a feeling of confidence. They're not done by a timid painter."
Briggs studied at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco where Douglas MacAgy assembled a faculty including Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt and Clyfford Still, that impressed Briggs the most, understanding his raw and primeval approach to the surface.
Briggs moved to New York in the mid-1950s, had a one-man show at the Stable Gallery almost immediately, and was accepted as a member of the New York avant-garde. He taught at the University of Florida, Pratt Institute, and at the Graduate School of Art at Yale University.
Boardman majored in art at City College, N.Y. in 1938-1942. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1942-1946. After his discharge, he moved to Paris to continue his art education at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Acadèmie de la Grand Chaumiere, and Atelier Fernand Leger. Boardman's work became more abstract but was still based on figure and landscape. He returned to New York in 1949 and went to the Art Students League.
"Modern Sensibilities is from an era that I appreciate personally as an artist," noted Thomas. "I think it is an important part of art history."
Asked how visitors from Carbon County are responding to Abstract Impressionist exhibits, Thomas said, "When someone who thinks he may not like this because it is abstract, or the wife drags the husband in, or the kids drag the parents in, then they discover that there is something that intrigues them or is interesting maybe it's the color, or the way the paint is used. That's very rewarding for the people to experience."
The Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation is located at 20 W. Broadway in Jim Thorpe. "Modern Sensibilities, 1950s through 1980s Paintings of Ernest Briggs & Seymour Boardman" runs from May 29 through June 27. Foundation hours are Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information call (570) 325-5815 or (610) 442-4148, or visit online at www.asartfoundation.org.