Born in Latvia, Hyman Bloom (1913-2009) immigrated to the US with his parents in 1920, where the family joined two of his brothers to live in a tenement in Boston’s West End. He showed an affinity for drawing from a young age, receiving a scholarship to attend classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in high school, and going on to take private lessons with Harvard professor Denman Ross. After years of working as a painter in Boston, he first found widespread success when he was included in a group exhibition at MoMA in 1942, which was followed later in the decade by his selection to participate in the Venice Biennale in both 1948 and ’50.
While Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning considered Bloom the first American Abstract Expressionist, Bloom rejected this title. Rather, his belief in the radical power of realism is evident throughout his body of work, even when his subject matter is arguably abstracted by the force of its own complexity. Best known for his depictions of severed, distorted limbs of cadavers presented in resplendent color and generous brushstrokes, Bloom’s paintings are marked in their ability to both delight and confront the eye. This intense, emotive contradiction of beauty and the grotesque incites a spirited exploration of life and death. In his non-figural work, including paintings of forests, seas, and still lifes, he continues to play with the opposition of light and cool colors, fine line and mass confusion, to incite the mysticism in which his world is grounded. At the core of these revelations appear to lie questions about the profound possibilities and limitations of human perception.
Bloom spent most of his career living and working in Boston, engaged in a rigorous internal life of drawing, painting, and contemplation. While his work has been exhibited in major museums and received national and international attention, his radical subject matter alongside his distaste for self-promotion limited his overall exposure during his lifetime, and the scope of his contribution is still being discovered today. He continued to paint into his nineties, and died in 2009 at the age of 96.