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Elmer Nelson Bischoff

 (1916 - 1991)
Elmer Nelson Bischoff was active/lived in California.  Elmer Bischoff is known for modernist figure, abstract painting, teaching.

Elmer Nelson Bischoff

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Elmer Nelson Bischoff


Elmer Bischoff was born on July 6, 1916 in Berkeley, California.  He studied at the University of California at Berkeley.  Bischoff grew up in a home that valued the arts, painting and making music were important to him since childhood. As an art student he had spent about ten years painting in the style of Picasso.  Following graduation from Berkeley in 1939, Bischoff became a ceramics and jewelry teacher at a high school in Sacramento, California  and then served in the military for three years  In 1946 he joined the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts,  the wellspring of the Abstract Expressionist movement on the West Coast.  The close friendships formed there with painters Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Lobdell, David Park and Hassel Smith greatly influenced him.  This group began to revitalize the figurative tradition; these artists came to be known as the Bay Area figurative school.  But in 1952  Bischoff resigned when his friend Hassel Smith was dropped from the faculty. 

About this same time, Bischoff made a transition from pure abstraction to figurative painting.  To earn money, he drove a truck for Railway Express and sketched during his lunch hour.  From 1953 to 1956 he was an art instructor at Yuba College.  In 1956 he had a very successful one-man show at the California School of Fine Arts and from that time he chaired their graduate school and became one of the school's most influential teachers.  He taught at the University of California from 1963 until he died in 1991.

Sources include:
Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, 1986-7
Notes from the catalogue of the Laguna Art Museum of November/December 1986

Compiled and written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Elmer Nelson Bischoff
A key figure in the California Bay Area abstract and figurative movement following World War II, Elmer Bischoff graduated in 1939 from the University of California. As an art student there, he had been strongly influenced by Margaret Peterson, and spent about ten years painting in the style of Picasso.

After graduation, he was a ceramics and jewelry teacher at a high school in Sacramento and then served three years in the Army Air Force in London during World War II.  In 1946, he became a part of the faculty of the California School of Fine Art but resigned in 1952 when his friend Hassel Smith was dropped from the faculty.

At about this same time, influenced by his association with David Park, he made the transition from pure abstraction to figurative painting although his work was softer with much more impressionism than Park's.  To earn money, Bischoff drove a truck for Railway Express and sketched during his lunch hour.

From 1953 to 1956, he was an art instructor at Yuba College at Maryville and then had a watershed one-man exhibition at the California School of Fine Arts in 1956 when he got much recognition.  From that time, he chaired the CSFA graduate school and became one of the school's most influential teachers.  In 1963, he joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the 1970s, he changed from oil to acrylic paint and moved from figurative abstraction to energetic works that hearkened back to the Abstract Expressionism he had given up earlier.

Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area

Biography from Modern Art Dealers
Elmer Bischoff (1916-1991) paintings are quickly recognized by those familiar with his soft tonal palate, exquisite use of light and shade and sensitive portrayal of people. A dedicated artist and teacher from a young age, Bischoff earned an M.A. from University California Berkeley. He then went straight into teaching at Sacramento High School. There he taught jewelry craftsmanship, ceramics and other crafts to, in his own words “mostly housewives”. Many Bay Area artists of the time sustained themselves and their families with teaching jobs. It was a way of expressing art, earning money and learning through teaching.

Having grown up in a household that understood the value of culture, Elmer Bischoff had access throughout his childhood to music, painting and the arts. This early set of influences put him on the path that led to his success as a pedagogue and as an artist, achieving renown during his lifetime and a legacy that continues to this day.

Bischoff’s early inspiration was Pablo Picasso and he spent a great deal of time painting in Picasso’s style when he was young. It was later, during his time at UC Berkeley, that he began to branch out and expand his repertoire.

When the United States joined the War in 1941, Elmer Bischoff went to work as an intelligence officer in the Army and served in England. On war’s end he came back to the U.S. and in 1946 he joined the California School of Fine Arts as a member of the faculty. He met Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still there. It was here he got to know and befriend the Abstract Expressionists who were developing their movement. This included Frank Lobdell, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Hassel Smith. This burgeoning art form was a huge influence on Bischoff with their revival of the long neglected study of the figure. Along with Elmer Bischoff, these artists were given the title of the Bay Area Figurative School.

In 1952, Bischoff left the CSFA and also made a leap from the abstraction he had been practicing to a more figurative painting style. Unable or unwilling to find a job teaching like so many of his Bay Area contemporaries, he took up truck driving. He then used his spare time to sketch the people he encountered. He finally gained employment in 1953 at Yuba College, where he continued to develop his figurative style. It was during this period he had a successful solo exhibition at the CSFA, whom he rejoined as chair of the graduate school in 1956.

Bischoff’s teaching skills advanced and soon he was one of the most respected and admired teachers at CSFA. From 1963 until his death at the age of 75, he taught at UC Berkeley, taking on roles at several different schools and colleges as a visiting artist.

As an artist, Elmer Bischoff never achieved the commercial success of contemporaries like Willem de Kooning. Primarily because he had to support himself by teaching, yet he remains an influential figure in the Bay Area Figurative School.

© Copyright 2018 Modern Art Dealers, Carmel CA

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III
Elmer Nelson Bischoff (July 9, 1916 - March 2, 1991), second child of John Bischoff and his wife, Elna (née Elna Nelson), grew up in Berkeley, California, the second-generation Californian son of a father of German descent and a mother of mixed Swedish-Ecuadoran origin.

He entered the University of California, Berkeley in September 1934, completing his master's degree in May 1939, and immediately started teaching art at a Sacramento High School (1939-1941). During his years at university, one teacher had influenced him most: the highly independent-minded Margaret Peterson, whose total dedication to her teaching, and insistence on the ethical value of art, were to have a great impact on the artist Elmer Bischoff would be. World War II, however, was to change Bischoff's life. In 1941, he served as a lieutenant colonel in intelligence services in England, stationing near Oxford, and only coming back to the US in November 1945.

After the War, back in San Francisco, Bischoff found himself once more in the midst of avant-garde artistic ebullience - mixing, among other painters (and to name but two), with such artists as Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. In January 1946, a golden opportunity was offered him: one of his artist friends, Karl Kasten (himself a war veteran, like Bischoff) suggested Bischoff as art teacher for a position still available, at San Francisco's California School of Fine Arts. It was then that Bischoff entered a faculty which already included some of the most talented new artists of post-war America. It is there that he eventually met David Park and Richard Diebenkorn.

While distinct from expressionist art that came from Europe, art of the Bay Area Figurative Movement displays the immediacy and warmth that one sees in abstract expressionist painting. Elmer Bischoff was older than Diebenkorn, and he had experiences in the world that led to his taking an independent turn in painting. Bischoff's quiet and lyrical paintings were serious in a different way than the painting which was being taken seriously at the time; and which saw the rise of Abstract expressionism.

A retrospective of Elmer Bischoff's work, Grand Lyricist: The Art of Elmer Bischoff, was offered by the Oakland Museum of California, November 3, 2001- January 13, 2002. The Crocker Art Museum (California), the de Young Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.), the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (Kansas City, Missouri), the Museum of the National Academy of Design (New York City), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Texas), the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the Orange County Museum of Art, the The Phillips Collection (Washington D.C.), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.) are among the public collections holding works by Elmer Bischoff.

"Elmer Bischoff", Wikipedia, Nov. 2010

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About  Elmer Nelson Bischoff

Born:  1916 - Berkeley, California
Died:   1991 - Berkeley, California
Known for:  modernist figure, abstract painting, teaching

Essays referring to
Elmer Nelson Bischoff

Abstract Expressionism