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 Elmer Nelson Bischoff  (1916 - 1991)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: modernist figure, abstraction

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Ad Code: 2
Elmer Nelson Bischoff
from Auction House Records.
Red Cliffs
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:


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.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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 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.

Source: wikipedia

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Elmer Bischoff is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism
California Painters

Explore Other Interesting Artists:
Richard Diebenkorn
Joan Brown
David Park

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