… if my paintings live, I’ve done something in this world which God gave me the talent for [whoever God is, I don’t know] and which I’ve used in the best way I could. That’s my religion. Be good to everyone and do the right thing. I’m against disorder. I believe in decency and that we all should love each other.
Hans Burkhardt (1904 – 1994) was a Swiss-American artist who immigrated to New York in 1924. He studied at Cooper Union and then at Grand Central School, where he met Arshile Gorky, a pivotal artist in the transition from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism. Burkhardt quickly became Gorky’s colleague and trusted friend. They even collaborated on several works. From 1928 to 1937, Burkhardt shared Gorky’s studio. Willem de Kooning, another Gorky disciple, was a frequent guest.
Moving to Los Angeles in late 1937, Burkhardt served as a link between East and West Coast progressive art. Anticipating the work of his contemporaries in New York and Europe, he began to forge his signature style.
From the 1930s through his final work in 1993, Burkhardt’s art presents a poignant testament to the human experience. His output includes monumental anti-war work (“the fiercer ones”) as well as lyrical expressions of hope (“the happy ones”). His anti-war work responded to the Spanish Civil War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and conflicts in Central America and Iraq. It is for good reason that Eugene Anderson wrote that Burkhardt was “Goya’s spiritual heir.” Explaining his choice of subjects, Burkhardt simply stated, “I paint the way I live.”
In the 1940s Burkhardt met and exhibited with a group of transplanted Surrealists in Los Angeles, including Man Ray, Knud Merrild, and Eugene Berman. Describing his work of this time, he wrote, “(my) paintings evolve out of emotions and ideas” — a process not unlike the Surrealist’s conception of the genesis of creative thought.
In 1950, while Painterly and Color Field Abstract Expressionism held sway in New York, Burkhardt worked in isolation in Los Angeles and Mexico, painting rich abstract work of extraordinary emotional range.
During the 60s, as the Los Angeles art world was seduced by California Light and Space, Hard Edge, Minimalism, and Pop Art, Burkhardt continued to paint independent works of great emotional power. His masterpiece, My Lai, includes human skulls embedded into a dark scorched earth surface reminiscent of Baroque altarpieces. This work predates work by such artists as Anselm Kiefer by twenty years. Suggesting a legacy for the artist, Donald Kuspit wrote that “Burkhardt is a master — indeed the inventor — of the abstract memento mori.”
During the 70s, Burkhardt created a series of paintings entitled “Graffiti,” in which he responded to socio-political upheaval in his Swiss homeland. These Neo-Expressionist works anticipated the street art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Hans Burkhardt died in Los Angeles in 1994.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1939 Stendahl Gallery, Los Angeles
1945 Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “Hans Burkhardt”
1951 Museo de Bellas Artes, Guadalajara, Mexico: "Exhibicion de Pinturas Modernas"
1953 Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
1957 Pasadena Art Museum, California: "Ten Year Retrospective"
1962 Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco: "Thirty Year Retrospective"
1968 San Diego Museum of Art: "Vietnam Paintings"
1972 Long Beach Museum of Art, California: "Retrospective 1950 – 1972"
1973 California State University, Northridge: "A Retrospective Exhibition"
1977 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California: "Linocuts and Pastels"
1978 Laguna Beach Museum of Art, California: "Mark Tobey / Hans Burkhardt"
1982 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles: "Arshile Gorky and Hans Burkhardt"
1983 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles: "Hans Burkhardt: Basel Graffiti Series"
1984 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles: "Pastels: 50 Years of Figurative Expressionism"
1985 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles: "Hans Burkhardt: The War Paintings"
1990 Portland Art Museum, Oregon: "Mark Tobey and Hans Burkhardt"
1991 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles: "Hans Burkhardt: Desert Storms"
1992 American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York: "Hans Burkhardt"
2008 California State University Northridge: "Hans Burkhardt"
2017 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts in conjunction with the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA: "Hans Burkhardt in Mexico"
Selected Group Exhibitions
1947 – 1948 Art Institute of Chicago: "Abstract and Surrealist American Art." Modern Institute of Art, Beverly Hills: "Modern Artists in Transition." Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco: "2nd Annual Exhibition of Painting." Los Angeles County Museum of Art: "Artists of L.A. and Vicinity."
1950 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: "American Painting Today."
1951 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.: "22nd Biennial." Whitney Museum of American Art, New York: "Contemporary American Painters." Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois: "60th Annual American Exhibition."
1964 Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland. Long Beach Museum of Art, California: "Art of Southern California: Early Moderns."
1974 Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: "Nine Senior Southern California Painters.”
1976 – 1977 San Francisco Museum of Art and the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.: “Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era."
2004 – 2005 Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University: "From Picasso to Thiebaud: Modern & Contemporary Art." Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, Spain: "An American Odyssey 1945 / 1980." San Diego Museum of Art: "Modern Art Installation."
2009 – 2010 Philadelphia Museum of Art: "Arshile Gorky: In Context." Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, "LA Printmaking: 1962 to 1973, Los Angeles Printmaking Society: 20th National Exhibition."
2012 Pasadena Museum of California Art: "LA Raw: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles, 1945 to 1980." Art Center College of Design, Pasadena: "Pages." Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Newport News, Virginia: "50 Great Americans."
2013 Jack Rutberg Fine Arts Gallery, Los Angeles: "Letters From Los Angeles: Identity and Self Identity Through Text in Art."
2014 Los Angeles Convention Center: "LA Art Show 2014." Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California: "The Avant Garde Collection." Pablo Goebel Fine Arts, Polanco, Mexico: "Laboratorio de Sueños: La Diаspora del Surrealismo en México."
2015 Los Angeles Convention Center: "LA Art Show 2015." Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York: "Gallery Selections." Palm Springs Art Museum, California: "Modern Works from the Collection."
de la Vega, Aurelio, Hans Burkhardt: Basel (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 1983)
Hans Burkhardt: The War Paintings, A Catalogue Raisonne (Santa Susana Press, 1984)
Bordeaux, J. and Wortz, M., Hans Burkhardt: Pastels (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 1984)
Hans Burkhardt: 1950 – 1960 (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 1987)
Hans Burkhardt: Paintings and Pastels, 1988 – 1989 (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 1990)
Kuspit, Donald, Catastrophe According to Hans Burkhardt (Muhlenberg College, 1990)
Selz, Peter, Hans Burkhardt: Desert Storms (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 1991)
Kuspit, Donald, Hans Burkhardt: Black Rain (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 1993)
Selz, Peter, Hans Burkhardt: Pastelle, Eine Retrospektive Von 1938 - 1983 (Berlin: Galerie Hesselbach, 1993)
Wolfe, Townsend, Hans Burkhardt: Drawings 1932 – 1989 (The Arkansas Arts Center, 1996)
Herskovic, Marika, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s (New York School Press, 2003)
Hans Burkhardt: Paintings of the 1960s (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 2008)
Hans Burkhardt: The California State University, Northridge Collection (CSU, Northridge, 2008)