Emil Bisttram  1895-1976

 

A crucial figure in the second wave of artists to settle in Taos, Romanian born Emil Bisttram brought the dynamic symmetry of Jay Hambridge and the Russian mysticism of Nicolas Roerich (both had been his instructors in New York) to the light and landscape of New Mexico. After studying mural painting with Diego Rivera and coming to champion the theories of Kandinsky and Mondrian, Bisttram went on to found the Transcendental Painting Group with Raymond Jonson. Though this school devoted itself to abstraction and musical rhythms of form and color, ascribing a spiritual, mystical purpose to the act of creation, Bisttram himself never entirely abandoned representational painting. In many ways, Fiesta in Taos resides in both worlds. It is this-worldly and otherworldly, dynamic and still, balanced as precariously and yet permanently as the pot on the head of the unseen woman in yellow. Aspects of the canvas recall the mural. The work has a documentary, historical feel as the women go about the business of assessing, selling, buying the pots. The pots themselves, beautiful and delicate as they seem to us, are utilitarian objects, only as good as what they will hold, how long they will last. Indeed, the woman in yellow perches a pot on her head as she chats; the object is not precious to her, as it would be to us. In the background, two women chat, oblivious to the central action. Village gossip, news, catching up, is as much a part of the painting as the activity of the market. The transactions are equal parts social and economic.

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