The following biography is from Edward and Deborah Pollack, who are the administrators of the estate of the artist and who are writing the catologue raisonné of the artist's work.
Orville Bulman, a self-taught artist, was born in 1904
in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A year later his father, Elvah O.
Bulman, invented what was to become a long line of ingenious products,
a twine holder and dispenser. Subsequently, Elvah (or E. O. as he
was called) continued to create dispensers and cutters for virtually
all goods that could be rolled up. Before long, the Bulman Paper
Cutter became de rigueur for any self-respecting grocery or dry
goods establishment in the early 1900s, and Bulman was expected to
carry on the hugely successful family business, which dutifully, he
did. After graduating from Grand Rapids Central High School,
however, he traveled to Chicago for one year to work as a newspaper
cartoonist before entering the business world.
his father run the company, Bulman's true artistic calling was too loud
for him to ignore. After devoting himself to the corporation in
the twenties and thirties, he exhibited at New York's Society of
Independent Artists in 1937, and for a short time around 1948 exhibited
with the Woodstock Art Colony. In the late 1940s he was painting
New York City social realist paintings as well as dark, haunting
pictures of old barns and churches.
Bulman's life in Palm
Beach, Florida, began around 1946 when he, after sustaining recurring
injuries to his neck, began to spend the winters in that small affluent
town. Although he was in traction intermittently for eight years,
he was still able to paint, and he took advantage of being away from
the company to devote himself to his art. He adopted Palm Beach
as his second home, exhibited frequent one-man shows at the renowned
Worth Avenue Gallery, and traveled extensively throughout Florida,
Louisiana and Alabama to paint African-American inspired genre
scenes. These poignant paintings of the segregated south
(especially the Florida scenes) brought national attention to his art.
the early 1950s, while painting regionalist scenes of American country
and southern life, Bulman happened to see pictures of Haiti and admired
the island’s style, verve and gracefully trimmed houses with lacy
appliqué carved wood. Painting seven imaginative works inspired
by photographs, he subsequently visited Haiti for the first time in
March of 1952, and traveled to other Caribbean islands during the 1950s
as well. Bulman loved Haiti and its people and felt that they
were the best inspiration for further work. He lived with the
islanders in the rustic hills for a time and felt like he was a part of
their village, deeply experiencing their religion, humor and lifestyle
and respecting their way of life far better than other Americans. They
loved his art and encouraged him to continue creating his whimsical
scenes of elegant women and men and playful children.
magazine featured two Bulman paintings in 1952, one depicting a
colorful Haitian open-air bus bursting at the seams with people, and
the other a Florida-inspired scene of a young African-American man on
the beach. That year he was invited to show at the prestigious
Madison Art Association, and in 1953 he was featured in Life magazine.
1954, Bulman was the president of the Bulman Manufacturing Company, but
he still continued to paint. During this period he exhibited a
one-man show at the Delaware Art Center (now the Delaware Art Museum)
entitled “A Businessman Paints." His canvases portrayed - once
again - stark neglected town scenes and regionalist oils, but with the
addition of a few realistic island genre scenes. These included a
painting of a Haitian funeral, and one of a lone man standing before an
island house. Perched on the balcony were two island women, a
motif that he was to continue throughout his career. In 1955, he
exhibited a one-man show in New York at the prestigious Grand Central
Art Galleries, debuting one of his "barque" paintings, another
recurrent motif he was to use for the bulk of his oeuvre along with
other charming, fanciful island scenes.
It is interesting to
note that most people who don't know about Bulman's life assume he was
African-American or Haitian because he painted images of people who
were a different color than he, not as an outsider would, but with
empathy and grace. He was an artist whose expression and genius
transcended color barriers, and the humor in his art was, and remains
today, universally appealing. The people of his 'island' were
those to be admired, as they were able to get along with each other
much more successfully than the people in our real world.
continued to maintain a winter home in Palm Beach and a summer home in
Grand Rapids until he died, and it was in these home studios where he
was to create more and more colorful and fantastical paintings.
In the 1950s, 1960s and '70s, his popularity burgeoned throughout Palm
Beach, New York, California, the Midwest and Europe. He became
the darling of society and Hollywood, consistently selling out one-man
shows in venues throughout the United States and Europe. The
Duchess of Windsor and Marjorie Merriweather Post became collectors of
his works. President Gerald Ford and Robert F. Kennedy owned Bulman
paintings as well.
The inspiration of Bulman's "jungle
paintings" of the 1960s and '70s was the work of Henri Rousseau, old
master paintings, along with the lush foliage and tropical scenery of
his Manalapan, Florida home. The islanders in Bulman's world
became princesses, duchesses, kings and queens.
beginning of Bulman's art career, he and his wife Jean established a
foundation that was devoted to helping other artists and art
museums. All the proceeds from every Bulman painting that was
sold went to artists or the museum in which his paintings were
exhibited. The Grand Rapids Art Museum was able to purchase a
painting by Picasso because of the couple's generosity. Bulman
would also purchase other artists' works, and then donate them to a
museum. Jean and Orville truly were a most magnanimous and
delightful couple, and Bulman's métier, second only to his passion for
painting, was helping and encouraging artists to paint and promote
their own works. Jean and Orville were also generous and kind to
the many people in the service industry whom they encountered. They
treated everyone with the highest regard and sometimes even fought for
their rights as citizens.
By 1977, Bulman had exhibited in 41 one-man shows and sold over 2,000 paintings. He died on January 4, 1978.
his own words, Bulman’s art was created because, “When I first started
to paint years ago, there was so much sadness, strife and outright
mayhem in work back then, that I decided to bring, if I could, some
laughter into painting.” One thinks that we in the present day
are sorely in need of Bulman’s fabulous world once again. In today's
stressful and brutal world, his paintings raise our spirits, and
the true ambition of the artist remains wholly realized: "To
bring more color and happiness to more patrons than any artist before
-Deborah C. Pollack