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CONVERSATIONS WITH ELMER BISCHOFF 



"Two Conversations with Elmer Bischoff" 

Interviewed 1990 by Suzanne B. Riess 

Regional Oral History Office 

and 

"Interview with Elmer Nelson Bischoff" 

Interviewed 1977 by Paul J. Karlstrom 

Archives of American Art 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



1. "Two Conversations with Elmer Bischoff," recorded by the Regional Oral 
History Office of The Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley. 

2. "Interview with Elmer Nelson Bischoff," recorded by the Archives of 
American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. 



3. Appendices. 

a. Positions, Honors and Awards, Solo Exhibitions, Selected Group 
Exhibitions, Public Collections. 

b. "Figurative Expression and Abstract Concern," by Robert M. 
Frash, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California; and "Walking a 
Tightrope," by Jan Butterfield, for catalogue Elmer Bischoff. 
1947-1985. 

c. "Elmer Bischoff: Against the Grain," by Marcia E. Vetrocq, Art 
in America. October 1986. 

d. An interview by Chiori Santiago, Metier. Winter 1985. 

e. "Kaffee Klatsch," by Harriet Swift, Oakland Tribune. February 
24, 1991. 

f. "Recollections of John A. Bischoff, Jr.," an interview with 
Elmer Bischoff 's brother recorded by Andrea Gabriel, from The 
Rockridge News. April 11, 1987. 



Cataloging Information 

BISCHOFF, Elmer Nelson (1916-1991) Artist 

Two Conversations with Elmer Bischoff. 1991, ii, 48 pp. 

UC Berkeley Department of Art, 1960s, 1970s; the Hans Hofmann influence; 
thoughts on the Breakfast Group and studio critiques; "Figure with Tree," 
1972; thoughts on problems and pitfalls in painting. Volume includes an 
interview with Bischoff conducted in 1976 by Paul J. Karlstrom of the Archives 
of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Appended resume and reviews. 

Interviewed 1990 by Suzanne B. Riess. The Regional Oral History Office, The 
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 



Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 



Elmer Bischoff 
TWO CONVERSATIONS WITH ELMER BISCHOFF 



Interviews Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1990 



Copyright ((T) 1991 by The Regents of the University of California 



Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading 
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of 
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research 
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous 
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity 
and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed 
in final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and 
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and 
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material, 
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete 
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in 
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, 
and irreplaceable. 



This manuscript is made available for research purposes by The 
Bancroft Library. All literary rights in the manuscript, including 
the right to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the 
University of California, Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may 
be quoted for publication without the written permission of the 
Director of The Bancroft Library of the University of California, 
Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be 
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, 
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include 
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated 
use of the passages, and identification of the user. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: 



Elmer Bischoff, "Two Conversations with 
Elmer Bischoff," an oral history conducted 
in 1990 by Suzanne B. Riess, Regional Oral 
History Office, The Bancroft Library, 
University of California, Berkeley, 1991. 



Copy no. 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



The Regional Oral History Office's interest in recording an oral 
history with artist Elmer Bischoff dates back to 1986. That was the year 
that a retrospective exhibition of Mr. Bischoff 's work was traveling the 
United States. We collected critical reviews- -several of those reviews 
are appended here- -and made inquiries into funding. But then, as now, 
funding for interviews in the arts was very hard to come by, and Mr. 
Bischoff, vigorously pursuing his newest abstract work, was in good 
health. 

Three years later, from December 14, 1989 to February 4, 1990, the 
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art mounted a major historical exhibition, 
Bay Area Figurative Art. 1960-1965. that focused attention on the 
figurative group- -Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Park 
chief among them. Park and Diebenkorn had been the subjects of recent 
shows at Bay Area museums, and much had been written about them. 
However, although Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco had been showing new 
Bischoff work in 1988 and 1989, and had exhibited Bischoff paintings from 
the figurative period in spring of that year, the "Elmer Bischoff, 1947- 
1985" retrospective had been the single presentation of at the whole of 
Bischoff 's work. 

It was suggested at that point, after the Bay Area Figurative show, 
that The Regional Oral History Office undertake a series of interviews 
with Elmer Bischoff. We were told that he was still active in his 
studio, and although his health was not good, his store of history of Bay 
Area painting was enormous, and his insights into his work were profound. 
He was a high priority candidate for an oral history. There were only 
two questions: Would he do it? and, Who would fund it? 

Mr. Bischoff was invited on April 3, 1990 to be an interviewee. We 
wanted to know that he would accept before we put the whole project 
together. He did accept, and we received a small grant from the 
University of California's College of Letters and Science to begin 
interviewing. Regrettably, other funding never materialized, although 
considerable effort was expended to identify funding sources. The much- 
postponed project came down to three hours of conversation that took 
place in Elmer Bischoff 's studio on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley 
in November and December, 1990. 



Mr. Bischoff was receiving therapy for cancer throughout the period 
of the interviews, but despite the resulting weakness, he was very much 
engaged in the dialogue. And happily, before we began to tape, another 
major source of recorded dialogue with Elmer Bischoff came to light. In 
my research prior to recording I saw references to an interview conducted 
in 1976 for the Archives of American Art by Paul Karlstrom. Mr. 
Karlstrom's interview covered Elmer Bischoff 's early years, and San 
Francisco Art Institute and Bay Area figurative painting history. With 
the agreement of the Archives of American, Smithsonian Institution, a 
copy of the 1976 interview is included with the oral history transcript. 

Elmer Bischoff died on March 6, 1991. In February and March the 
Breakfast Group, of which he speaks in the oral history interviews, was 
exhibiting jointly at the College of Holy Names in Oakland [Feb. 10-Mar. 
21.] In preparing for that show, one of the members of the group, 
Guillermo Pullido, an artist and a video -documentarian, taped interviews 
with the artists involved. It is hoped that the video footage with Elmer 
Bischoff will be deposited in the Archives of American Art. An 
exhibition of Bischoff 's black and white drawings from 1963 to 1974 
titled "Elmer Bischoff: Drawings for a Dialogue," opened retrospectively 
at the Oakland Museum in April 1991. 

The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record 
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed 
significantly to recent California history. A list of interviews in the 
arts conducted by the Office is included with this volume. The office is 
headed by Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of 
the director of The Bancroft Library. 



Suzanne B. Riess, Senior Editor 
Regional Oral History Office 

June 1, 1991 

Berkeley California 



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY 



BERKELEY DAVIS IRVINE LOS ANGELES PfVERSIDE SAN DIECO SAN FRANCISCO 




/ 



REGIONAL ORAL HISTORY OFFICE 
THE BANCROFT LIBRARY 
(415)642-7395 



SANTA BARBARA SANTA CRUZ 



BERKELEY. CALIFORNIA 94720 



Interviews on Art and Sculpture in the San Francisco Bay Area 



June 1987 

The following interviews related to art and sculpture have been completed 
by the Regional Oral History Office, a division of The Bancroft Library. 
The office was established to tape record autobiographical interviews with 
persons who have contributed significantly to the development of California 
and the West. Transcripts of the interviews, typed, indexed, and bound, 
may be ordered at cost for deposit in research libraries. 



Angelo, Valenti (1897-1982) 

Art and Books: A Glorious Variety, 1980 . 157p . , $ 38 



Artist 



Asawa, Ruth (b.1926) Sculptor 

Lanier, Albert (b.1927) Architect 

Art, Competence, and. Citywide Cooperation for San Francisco, 

1980. 220p., $55 

Cravath, Ruth (1902-1986) Sculptor 

Cravath, Dorothy Wagner Puccinelli (1901-1974) 

Tvo San Francisco Artists and Their Contemporaries, 1920-1975, 

1977. 365p., $55 



Dean, Mallette (1907-1975) 

Artist and Printer, 1970. 105p., $43 

Haas, Elise Stern (b.1893) 

The Appreciation of Quality, 1979. 185p., $55 

Macky, Eric Spencer (1880-1958) 
Macky, Constance (1883-1961) 

Reminiscences. 1954. 121p., $43 



Artist, Fine 
Printer 

Art Patron, 
Civic Leader 

Art School 
Founders 



Martinez, Elsie Whitaker (1890-1958) Artist's 

San Francisco Bay Area Writers and Artists, 1968. 268p.,$60 Wife 



Morley, Grace L. McCann (1900-1985) 

Art, Artists, Museums, and the San Francisco Museum 
of Art. 1960. 246p., $56 

Neuhaus, Eugen (1879-1963) 

Reminiscences: Bay Area Art and the University of 
California Art Department, 1961. 48p., $36 



Museum Director 



Art Professor 



TWO CONVERSATIONS WITH ELMER BISCHOFF 



Table of Contents 



November 13, 1990 

First Breakfast Group 1 

Berkeley Art Department: Mid-Sixties 3 

"Second" Breakfast Group 4 

Berkeley Art Department: Hofmann Syllabus and Faculty 7 

Earlier Years: Sharing Thoughts, Studio Critiques 9 

The Problems in Art 11 

Dealers, The New, and Collectors 12 

Personalities Behind the Art 15 

Bischoff's Studio, and Leonard Bacon 17 

Modern British Artists 20 



December 7, 1990 

Diversions, Chess and Music 22 

Berkeley Art Department: Margaret Peterson 25 

Berkeley Art Department: The Hofmann Offspring 27 

Berkeley Art Department: Changes in the 1970s 30 

Bischoff's Dissatisfaction with Figurative Painting 31 

Talking about "Figure with Tree," 1972 34 

Pitfalls in Painting: Facility, Fragmentation 37 

Explaining Art 39 

University Art Museum 41 

Berkeley Art Department: Students and Teaching, Colleagues, Visitors 43 



TWO CONVERSATIONS WITH ELMER BISCHOFF 



Table of Contents 



November 13, 1990 

First Breakfast Group 1 

Berkeley Art Department: Mid- Sixties 3 

"Second" Breakfast Group 4 

Berkeley Art Department: Hofmann Syllabus and Faculty 7 

Earlier Years: Sharing Thoughts, Studio Critiques 9 

The Problems in Art 11 

Dealers, The New, and Collectors 12 

Personalities Behind the Art 15 

Bischoff's Studio, and Leonard Bacon 17 

Modern British Artists 20 



December 7, 1990 

Diversions, Chess and Music 22 

Berkeley Art Department: Margaret Peterson 25 

Berkeley Art Department: The Hofmann Offspring 27 

Berkeley Art Department: Changes in the 1970s 30 

Bischoff's Dissatisfaction with Figurative Painting 31 

Talking about "Figure with Tree," 1972 34 

Pitfalls in Painting: Facility, Fragmentation 37 

Explaining Art 39 

University Art Museum 41 

Berkeley Art Department: Students and Teaching, Colleagues, Visitors 43 



TWO CONVERSATIONS WITH ELMER BISCHOFF 



November 13, 1990 1 



First Breakfast Group 



Bischoff: I am probably not as exceptional as you're portraying me. I 

meet with- -or I was when I was feeling a bit better, wasn't so 
plagued by this chemotherapy- -Erie Loran, who is very 
articulate, and Sidney Gordin, who is very articulate, and a 
whole bunch of people who are, I think, head and shoulders 
[laughing] above me, so I don't take it too seriously when 
people say, "Oh, you're so articulate." 

Riess: An example of inarticulate artist is Richard Diebenkorn in that 
New Yorker profile [September 7, 1987]. 

Bischoff: He had difficulty. He used to be much worse. He's much, much 
improved. He used to "Uh-uh-uh-uh" [grunts]. I mean, just be 
in pain and agony, and make you, the listener, very 
uncomfortable, seeking the right words. He had the idea but the 
words wouldn't come, the words weren't there. What has caused 
the improvement I don't know, but his speech is more fluent, not 
as jerky and interrupted, with long pauses and grunts and groans 
and all that. 

Riess: Words are forgiving. But if you believed there was "just the 
right word," then would you believe about painting that there 
was just the right gesture, or brush stroke? 

Bischoff: I don't think they're particularly connected. 
Riess: Okay. 



1 The interviewer met with Elmer Bischoff for an hour and a half at his 
studio, 2571 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley. 



You said you meet with Sidney Gordin and Erie Loran. Is 
that the Breakfast Group? 

Bischoff: Yes, that's what it is. 

Riess: And it still exists? 

Bischoff: Yes. 

Riess: How often do you meet? 

Bischoff: Well, there's one group that's very small --there are about five 
people in it --made up of Erie and Sidney and myself, when 1 show 
up, and Jerry Carlin. I don't know if you've heard of Jerry 
Carlin. 

Riess: I've met him, yes. 

Bischoff: Very nice guy. And Philip Morsberger. 

Riess: I don't know that name. 

Bischoff: I don't remember all the background of this, but he went over to 
Oxford, England, and became the chairman of the Ruskin School of 
Art at Oxford. He spent, I think, around three years, or quite 
some time. 

Riess: But he started out in the Bay Area? 

Bischoff: Oh, he started out back East. No, not the Bay Area. He started 
out in the East. He's taught and been visiting instructor at a 
great number of places, and this job at the Ruskin School was 
one of these temporary things. I don't think it was ever 
designed to be a long-range job. And then he came here. He was 
invited here as a chairman of the art department, because 
there 'd been a lot of chaos, a lot of interpersonal friction. 

So he became chairman, and then all of a sudden this friend 
of his [Neil] Hoffman, who is at [president of] CCAC [California 
College of Arts & Crafts], Philip had known him in the East and 
they had been buddies to a degree, and he invited Philip to come 
and join the faculty there. Well, for Philip this was more time 
for painting, and that's what he really wanted, because he was 
pretty much getting into the cubbyhole of being an administrator 
and not a painter, not an artist. He didn't want that. So 
that's where he is now. Well, he's in the Breakfast Club. 



Berkeley Art Department: Mid-Sixties 



Riess: That's interesting. The chairmanship of the art department at 
Berkeley doesn't just rotate? 

Bischoff: It's supposed to, but there are factions that arose, and I'm not 
clear how these happened. Personalities, I think. I think it 
was just personalities bringing the kind of difficulties, 
interpersonal difficulties, with them. There are these 
factions, and if you voted for this person, then that faction 
would scream and break it up, and then if you voted for that 
person, this faction would scream and break it up. It was 
terrible. So they had to bring in an outsider. They hadn't 
done that for a long time. A total outsider. 

Riess: The factions are not between history of art and practice? 

Bischoff: No, they're not. The practice people don't see the history of 
art people very much. There was a kind of an antagonism there 
between those who wanted the art history faculty to be like the 
Eastern colleges where it's completely separate--! guess there 
are colleges out here that have it that way, I'm not sure --and 
those that wanted to have somebody--. Dick [Darrell A.] Amyx, 
for example, who was in the art history department, was there 
for years, wanted so much to bring them together, to have 
socializing and teas and all sorts of --and certainly be in the 
same building, and then have it under one administration. 

Riess: How about Herschel Chipp? What was his stance on that? 

Bischoff: I don't know. I never found out. I never questioned him about 
that. I don't know how he felt about that. Amyx thought of it 
more for the historians; it would improve their outlook on art 
and so forth to have the artists there in close proximity. But 
it didn't turn out that way. You never see art historians, with 
the exception of Peter Selz and Herschel Chipp, at openings. 

And I don't think they have much regard for their various 
periods. [laughing] If you're a Greek art professor, ancient 
Greece, or maybe early Greece- -they' ve got it divided up so 
much- -you would have nothing to do with a medieval or 
Renaissance art historian, I should think. You don't talk to 
one another. Enemies, in a way. 

Riess: It probably becomes an issue when they're trying to decide what 
are the required classes for the major. 

Bischoff: Yes, I guess that would be one point where they would have lots 



of debates and different opinions about things. 

Riess: But this business has washed over you? You have kind of an 
amused attitude about it? 

Bischoff: Well, yes. It happens in all departments. There's antagonisms 
and there's jealousies and there's some cutthroat stuff in every 
department . 

Riess: When you came to teach, did you have administrative 
responsibilities? 

Bischoff: I did early on. This was '64, when all hell was breaking loose 
on the campus and I was assistant chairman or vice-chairman or 
something like that under Amyx. And then Amyx suddenly went on 
leave briefly and Herschel Chipp took over for a bit. But this 
was when they were just doing the naughtiest things possible, 
and causing great anguish and torment. Aggravation, I think, is 
the word. 

Riess: Did you work on this issue of making education relevant? That 
was supposed to be what the departments were trying to do. 

Bischoff: The students themselves did that. You didn't have to. The 
students themselves would go out and work in poster crews. 
There'd be mass hiring. [laughs] Maybe it was all volunteer, 
it wasn't hired. But they would make posters for the protests 
on campus, and they wouldn't be in class. Those that wanted to 
really paint were in class. , Some of the people who made posters 
came back saying it was the greatest time of their life; they 
felt really important and they were doing great things in art 
and all that. 

Riess: How did you feel about that? 

Bischoff: I was not in tune with it at all. I was in tune with the 

students coming and working in the classroom. They didn't come 
in and try to break up the classes. That would have been one 
step further. They didn't come in and try to disrupt things and 
prevent those who wanted to paint from painting. They didn't do 
that. 



"Second" Breakfast Group 



Riess: It sounds like one of the things this Breakfast Group, given the 
constitution of it, must talk about, or could very easily talk 



about it, is teaching, 
about? 



What does the Breakfast Group talk 



Bischoff: They talk about politics and they talk about art. And sometimes 
somebody brings pictures to show and tell. The pictures are 
something they think is marvelous and something they think is 
terrible, should be stopped. [laughter] Should call on Jesse 
Helms and have him stop it! 

Riess: Do you actually get more conservative? As you look back over 
this group, do you think it has become more conservative? 

Bischoff: In certain ways, and other ways, not. It's mixed. Politically, 
it's not conservative. It's not right-wing, it's not 
Republican, it's more inclined to be Democratic. There may be 
certain issues where there's a change, but in general you say 
this person has Democratic ideas, but if you talk about such- 
and-such you'll sound like a right-winger. [laughs] That kind 
of thing, you know. 

Riess: Do you ever go as a group to an art show? 

Bischoff: No. Oh, no. We'd go and look at a show and then come back and 
talk about it with the group, maybe bring some reproductions or 
something like that. It's free; it's very open and free and 
it's not regimented at all. 

Riess: Where do you meet? 

Bischoff: The four- or five-member group meets up at Fat Albert's [Fat 

Apple's] way up on Colusa in El Cerrito, up in the hills, right 
near the cemetery. And the other one meets at Kam's, which is 
down on Center Street about midway on the south side of the 
street. It's a real--. It's a truck drivers' hangout. Police 
meet there; they have breakfast there. 

Riess: The Fat Apple's group is the one with Jerry Carlin and Philip 
Morsberger? 

Bischoff: Yes, and all of those people come also to the other one, Kam's. 
Riess: What constitutes the other group? 

Bischoff: Let's see, now, there's a whole bunch of people there. There's 
Terry St. John from the Oakland Museum. There's Bob Loberg and 
Peter Shoemaker. They both have exhibited. Loberg went to Cal 
and Peter Shoemaker went to the Art Institute. They're kind of 
up around my age, or five years or so younger. Then there's 
Erie and Sidney, and then there's Jerry- -all the same group that 



meet up at the northern Fat Apple's. 

The reason the second group was started is because Erie, 
especially, felt that the first one was too unwieldy. There 'd 
be too many conversations going on. It was split up into this 
person talking to that person, this person talking to that 
person, so he wanted to have it more of a group thing. 

This reminded me of when I first started at Cal in '63. 
Erie was very adamant about my joining the Faculty Club and 
going over to the Men's Faculty Club on campus for lunch. There 
he would sort of hold sway in a loose kind of way, in a not too 
offensive kind of way. He was master of ceremonies. Then is 
when he could parade all these New York visitors, visiting 
faculty members, and be able to control the whole big table of 
art faculty members. He was particularly smitten with the 
Eastern artists, and he knew a number of them very closely. He 
would be constantly going back to New York, which he doesn't do 
any more . 

Riess: What do you mean by "he held sway?" 

Bischoff: Well, he wanted this to be a kind of educational lunch, so that 
the Eastern artists would be talking, but they'd be talking most 
of the time about who's going with whom, and who dumped whom, 
and all. [laughter] As well as the dealers. Earl had an 
absolutely insatiable appetite for gossip, New York art gossip, 
and these people were able to satisfy it. 

There's so many things you could talk about. You could 
talk about all trivia, and you could talk about important stuff, 
but there's action and life in this guy joining that, and this 
gal joining that dealer, and so on and so on. As opposed to 
talking about your painting in your studio, which, you know, 
it's hard to talk about. 

Riess: Shop talk is avoided? 
Bischoff: It is, yes. 

Riess: That's interesting, that Erie Loran was smitten with painters 
from the East Coast. Isn't geography always a big issue, East 
Coast versus West Coast, Northern California versus Southern 
California? 

Bischoff: Well, New York was the horse's mouth, of course, at that time, 
the time I'm speaking of, when I first joined. That started 
right after the war, and I think it was inspired by the 
immigration of lots of important artists to New York from 



Germany. 
Riess: What do you mean by the "horse's mouth?" 

Bischoff: Well, New York was looked upon as the font of all good and 
proper and onward, forward-looking things in art. And De 
Kooning and [Jackson] Pollock and [Franz] Kline and Hans 
Hofmann. 



Berkeley Art Department: Hofmann Syllabus and Faculty 



Bischoff: Of course, a number of the instructors there, the old guard- - 
that doesn't include me- -the people who were older than I am, 
and who were there when I was a student, studied with Hofmann. 
So he was a very important source as an educator and as an 
artist. Jackson Pollock not as an educator, because he didn't 
teach, and De Kooning likewise, and so on. But Hofmann was very 
important. 

Riess: So the fact that Hofmann came to Berkeley gave Berkeley a 
validity that it hadn't had? 

Bischoff: Oh, I think so. He came very early. He came in '32, I think, 
two years before I appeared as a student. 

For a long time, the idea of having a syllabus for teaching 
beginning students to get them on the right Hofmannesque path 
was very strong, and that was something that came to be more and 
more fought against by incoming artists, new artists that were 
brought in to teach: "We don't want any syllabus. We want 
individual freedom to teach in our own way and to teach what we 
think is fundamental. We don't want to have a syllabus that 
tells us that this is fundamental; you must teach this." And 
finally it went, along with lots of other things. 

Riess: In your interview with [Paul] Karlstrom you speak about "knowing 
the rules." I wish you'd talk about that. I really find it 
baffling to reconcile that with what you say when you discuss 
self-education and how students should be able to discover art 
for themselves. 

Bischoff: Well, it's an attempt to sort of bring in an order, some kind of 
pattern, some kind of sequence in scheduling and so forth. To 
bring order into what otherwise is feared. I think it's kind of 
a misguided fear, that everything will degenerate into chaos and 
nobody will be able to talk to one another because they're 



thinking in different terras and they're thinking about these 
principles and somebody else is thinking far from those 
principles, and all of that. I think that's what happened with 
the syllabus, the Hofmann syllabus, that just very strong 
individuals - - . 

You see, the difference really came from the war, and the 
kind of impact that this had on what was then the dominant thing 
after the war, the WPA. It really just knocked the spots out of 
it. So you could have people like Harold Rosenberg saying that 
the WPA set American art back: it was a great, misguided 
direction that the WPA went in. Well, of course, De Kooning and 
those people were saying, or had been saying, essentially the 
same thing, but not in print, in their own in art. 

Riess: So the Hofmann syllabus came in when he came in, and that was in 
1932? 

Bischoff : It sort of filtered in gradually, and it was a result of his 
having been a teacher of a good many of the teachers at Cal . 

Riess: Glenn Wessels, for instance. 

Bischoff: Wessels, and Erie, and John Haley. And I can't remember what 
others . 

Riess: Presumably they put together, for that period, the rules. 

Bischoff: Yes. 

Riess: And those rules held through the war period? 

Bischoff: Yes, that's right. But during the war America didn't have 

anything to replace it. It wasn't until after the war then that 
all this stuff in New York started to burst out. 

Riess: The thing that was happening here after the war was the G.I. 

bill and the teaching at the Art Institute. That was New York- 
influenced? 

Bischoff: Oh, yes. The artists, oh yes. Very much. 
Riess: Clyfford Still. 

Bischoff: Well, it wasn't just Clyfford Still. It was a whole bunch. And 
the instructors, even when I started there at the Art Institute 
in '46, the instructors and the students, this New York 
influence was already there. You see, that's very early, that's 
smack after the war. The war ended in '45 and already this 



Riess: 
Bischoff : 

Riess: 

Bischoff: 
Riess: 
Bischoff: 
Riess : 

Bischoff: 



Riess: 



stuff had started in. 

Back to UC--I sent you a xerox of the art department faculty 
names from 1964-65, and it was close to what it looked like 
twenty years later, 1984-85. 

Yes, that's true, the hours of teaching and all of that. Let's 
see, there were three-hour classes, and you'd have two classes a 
week. Each would meet three times, so that's eighteen hours. 

But I was struck by the faculty by the consistency in the 
faculty. 

You mean people staying on for years and years. 
Right. For years and years and years. 
Yes, that's true. 



And yet the department has evolved? 
under these people? 



The teaching has evolved 



It's undergone a good deal of change. You see, this business of 
bringing artists from New York was a big thing. It meant you 
were alive as a department, and you had this new thing to offer 
and all that. They started that early. Visiting artists. A 
big program of visiting artists, New Yorkers. Some of them 
stayed. Like Sidney Gordin came out to take one of these jobs, 
and he stayed on to teach. I think there were some others. 
There was a sculptor--! can't remember his name right now- -that 
did likewise. 

And Erie Loran was trying to integrate these people into the 
department quickly when he had you all eating together at the 
Faculty Club? 



Bischoff: Yes, I would say that. Yes, he was very keen about things. 



Earlier Years: Sharing Thoughts. Studio Critiques 



Riess: Returning to the Breakfast Group, you said you would bring a 
small reproduction of something and talk about it. What's a 
recent piece that has sparked some interest? 

Bischoff: I think it's been local. Some local artist. I can't remember 
exactly which one. It might have been Sylvia Lark, it might 



10 



have been Mary O'Neal, I don't know. And sometimes it would 
evolve into quite a discussion. Not necessarily of the piece, 
but something that the piece brings to mind, or some principle, 
or some attitudes and so forth. And then lots of times it would 
just be, "Yes, that's good," or "No," and it would die, it would 
just die right away. It would depend upon the mood and then who 
picked up some kind of an issue and started to promote it. 

There can be a great deal of difference in the response. 
Some of the people at the group would like such-and-such, and 
others won't like such-and-such, and some heated discussion 
might arise out of something like that, where there's a 
division. 

Riess: Have these groups been important in helping you figure out for 
yourself what it is you're doing on canvas? 

Bischoff: No. No, not really. I'm too set in my ways, I guess. Early 
on, it seems like it's more natural to have buddies of a like 
mind come into your studio and discuss your work with you and 
that sort of thing. And that happened with me, especially with 
Diebenkorn and [David] Park. I think I spoke someplace about 
instituting these regular visits to one another's studios for 
critiques, which I never think of today. Now I don't do it, and 
I don't know of anybody that does it. I'm sure younger people 
do. 

Riess: You did it because you weren't all that sure, is that? 

Bischoff: It was a number of things. I think that's possibly true, what 
you're saying. We weren't all that confident about our own 
direction, our own ways. But also, it was to pick up ideas, to 
get ideas. It was like a second schooling. That's really what 
I think of it as being, that that was a second and more 
important schooling to me than Cal was, when I went there. And 
it was because of this kind of thing, where there were people 
that were of like minds and maybe different in nature but they 
were able to sort of agree on certain essential things, maybe 
just tacitly agree without it being spelled out or nailed down 
or written down in a syllabus or anything like that. 

[Tape change] 

Bischoff: The same thing at one time might have happened between (John C.] 
Haley and Loran [missing] --a real authority [who?] on Hofmann, 
knowing much more about Hofmann than he [who?] did. So there 
could have been this kind of very close exchange on a regular 
basis between those two. And I know when David Park went there 
to school, there were certain people that he really did connect 



11 



with. Margaret O'Hagan was one; he was especially fond of her, 
and he knew her before he started at Cal . 

Riess: Is that Margaret Peterson? 
Bischoff: Yes. 



The Problems in Art 



Riess: When you say "getting ideas," what kind of ideas are you talking 
about? How to do something? 

Bischoff: Oh, painterly ideas. Painterly ideas about space and about 

light and about movement, about the proportions of things, about 
all sorts of painterly concerns. Even rudimentary things like, 
"What paint are you using?" and if you've got a new paint, "How 
do you like it?" and maybe going out and buying some if it 
looked good. Ideas like that. Some simple, some complex. 

Riess: Oh, well, that's good to know. 

Bischoff: There was a lot of sharing, a great deal of sharing. There 

would have to be in a close situation like that, if it's going 
to sustain itself. There was much openness and sharing. 

Riess: Now you're getting around to that other idea that I find so 

mystifying: the concerns in art, or the problems in a painting. 
These are problems that you set yourself, aren't they? 

Bischoff: There are problems that arise in relation to one's own work that 
may be connected with what one- -the intake. Having seen a 
Matisse show, having seen a Picasso show, having seen a- -on and 
on and on, where, you see, you're constantly in touch with what 
these other people are doing, and there must be some degree of 
agreement if you're going to share these problems, talking about 
them, about these people, that these are giants, and they're 
important, and we can agree on that much, you know. You feel 
that they handle this in this way and handle that in that way 
and the space and the light and the color, and I don't know- 
all these things. 

But then you run into a situation now where I don't think 
there's that much agreement, I really don't. I think that 
there's maybe a split much wider open so that there's more of a 
cerebral approach, which doesn't--. Maybe even the unity of a 
picture, which I've held sacred for years, that it comes across 



12 



as a very unified work, that's gone. You go into the galleries 
now and you see things which pride themselves on being totally 
un-unif ied. 

Riess: So that you don't know where to begin to look? 

Bischoff: No, it's very hard then for a person like myself to teach. It 
would take another person to deal with that, but it would be 
very hard for me to teach it. 

Riess: But there is an "it?" It's like that's a stylistic "it" right 
now? 

Bischoff: Yes, and I think it could be a basis for communication, verbal 
communication, and more of a closeness, more of a sharing 
between artists. I think it tends to divide. I think it tends 
--. Maybe that will pass when my generation passes. There will 
be more people that agree and see it. 

And then there are suspicions that arise on that account. 
People will say, "Oh, that artist is trying to get rich quick," 
trying to make a quick success of doing that new thing, which is 
having everything dismembered and scattered, dis-unified. 
That's unfortunate, because that also is a barrier towards 
communication and getting together and sharing. 

Riess: But that must be one of the easiest, cheapest shots at anyone. 

Bischoff: Yes. 

Riess: That they're just trying to get rich quick. I mean, were-- 



Dealers. The New, and Collectors 

Bischoff: The new--. There's this book--. Who wrote it? 
Riess: The Shock of the New? [Robert Hughes, 1980] 

Bischoff: The Shock of the New. That's very, very important. In the 

marketplace, certainly, it's a very important thing. Amongst 
artists I know around here, I don't find much. Here and there 
maybe a case, but the magazines are loaded with "the shock of 
the new . " 

Then there are certain dealers who gain a reputation and 
make great sums of money on just that, the latest and newest, 
[laughs] And museums like the Whitney [Museum of American Art] 



13 



have been criticized for just putting on the latest and the 
newest from the dealers! They're right there near the dealers, 
and the dealers are sort of hand in glove with showing the 
newest and the latest. 

Riess: The museums authenticate it in that way. 
Bischoff: Yes. They support it. 

Most of the artists don't pay attention to that- -that's the 
art establishment I'm referring to, how they regard the art 
establishment, which includes the dealers and all the middlemen. 
When they speak of it, they speak of it very negatively, very 
critically. 

Riess: The art establishment includes everyone but the artists. A 
tricky notion, isn't it? 

Bischoff: It is very tricky. I remember talking to Clyfford Still at 

times, and it was always about dealers. He hated dealers and he 
would [laughs] put them down, put down all the middlemen, but 
he'd love to talk about that. 

Riess: It's not very far, though, from hating dealers to hating 
collectors and hating people who like art. 

Bischoff: Yes, that's true. Except Joan Brown had a solution to that. 

Get rid of all the dealers , and the collectors , and you work in 
collaboration with other people, maybe artisans. You work with 
the artisans, and you don't have anything to do with the 
dealers . 

Riess: Was she alone in that? 

Bischoff: I'd never heard it expressed quite as succinctly and with quite 
the force that Joan gave it. It was almost a religious 
conviction. It tied into her religion with the, who was it? 
Somebody Baba . 

Riess: Meher Baba? 

Bischoff: Yes, that's right. 

Riess: And that's why she was in India? 

Bischoff: Yes, but, of course, she's always been all over the world. 

She was working on an ashram which was of that cult, headed 
by Baba. Somebody said to my wife--. I didn't go to the 



14 



ceremony [memorial services for Joan Brown] that they had in 
their studio in Hunter's Point, a great big factory kind of 
studio she had there, where somebody said to her [Adelie 
Bischoff] that the Baba himself would come while she [Joan 
Brown] was working on her sculpture and say, "Put this animal in 
here, put that animal in there," and so forth, which is a far 
cry from the Joan Brown I taught and I knew, who would not 
invite any interference like that, any other voice to come in 
and dictate, "Do this, do that." She was very opposed to that. 

Riess: Did her thoughts on this have a big impact on the department? 

Bischoff: No, I haven't seen it. In the classroom, where she's teaching 
drawing or painting or something like that, I don't know if she 
would air these ideas or just how she would if she did. I don't 
know. I haven't heard any student talk about her having brought 
this up in the class and made an issue. 

Riess: Given all that ambivalence about dealers, what do you think of 
the people who buy your paintings? 

Bischoff: Well, they're so varied, it's hard to know, you know. Even if 
you talk to them it's hard to know whether they really love the 
art or they bought it because they thought they might make a 
profit off it, which is very different. It's very hard to know. 

My attitude is that once it gets out of the studio it's out 
of my control, and I can't spend my time bothering about it. If 
I get a dealer that I think is shoddy and crooked or something 
like that, then I figure that's going to be brought to my 
attention and I'll do something about it. But otherwise I 
can't--! don't want to spend my time that way. 

Riess: Do you bring paintings that you're working on home and hang them 
and live with them and look at them? 



Bischoff: No, because so many of them are so large, and my home doesn't 
have the wall space. We have lots of small paintings in the 
house hung up on the walls, but nothing the size of these? So, 
no, I don't do that. 

Riess: When you have a retrospective it must be almost a startling 
regrouping. 

Bischoff: Yes, they got things from people that I haven't seen for years 
and years, so it's kind of a treat to see these. Some of them 
hold up well and some don't hold up so well, so that it's fun to 
see that kind of thing, especially when they hold up. 



15 



Personalities Behind the Art 



Riess: You talked about the accepted giants like Picasso and Matisse. 
Who are the giants within your lifetime? 

Bischoff: I was very keen about [Mark] Rothko, I think more than Still, 
because Still was a different character. I don't feel the 
affinity, I don't feel as sympathetic and so forth towards Still 
as I do towards Rothko and his work. I was especially knocked 
out by his so-called mythological paintings, which came early, 
and they preceded the Rothko that we know. I saw a show way 
back, I guess it was just when I first started the Art 
Institute. [Douglas] MacAgy's wife [Germaine MacAgy] put on a 
show, a one-man show of Rothko. Gee, I thought it was just 
terrific, absolutely terrific. 

You know, you can wonder why some works of art speak to 
certain people and not to others. For example, taking artists 
that were fairly close at one time- -although I think that Still 
was impossible- -Rothko and Still. And for some people, Still 
was it . and for other people Rothko was it . You know, and here 
were two equally intelligent, receptive, sensitive groups of 
people, and here there would be this thing, choosing, and you 
would feel then that there was a kind of underlying affinity 
there that's just not easy to verbalize, it's not easy to get to 
what causes that kind of thing. Like one guy falls in love with 
this gal, and then the guy can't see that: "Boy, what the hell 
do you see in her?" That sort of affinity. 

Riess: You talked in some interview about a distinction between organic 
and architectural. 

Bischoff: There could be that. That could be one basis. Or a more 

aggressive, more assertive, maybe even assaultive kind of art, 
might appeal to some people, and a gentler, more lyrical- -I'm 
thinking of Rothko now- -kind of thing might appeal to somebody 
else, you know. To think that Rothko was so keen about Milton 
Avery, you know. I just can't picture Clyfford Still--. Maybe 
he was, but it's hard to picture. 

There were a lot of Rothko- ish paintings that I did in the 
early days at the Art Institute. 

Riess: How early are you talking about, now? 

Bischoff: When I first joined there, which was, as I say, in '46. 



16 



Riess: It's hard to separate the personality of an artist from their 
painting, when there is so much publicity surrounding their 
lives. Like Jackson Pollock, for instance. Do you feel that 
you've been over-publicized, and over- interviewed because of the 
figurative show [Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965]? People in 
search of "the man behind the painting?" 

Bischoff: Well, there's some of that, but I'm not too responsive to it, so 
I think that kills it. Kills a lot of it. There's some of 
that. 

Riess: Picasso seems like a completely known quantity as an artist. 

Bischoff: Don't you think that some people, whatever they might do, become 
a personality that is attractive? I think of, for example, 
people like Bob Dylan. Everybody wants to know about Bob Dylan. 
There are other singers that you don't hear that everybody wants 
to know about them. And this guy that did the Bonfire of the 
Vanities? 

Riess: Oh, yes. Yes, he gets tremendous press. Tom Wolfe. 

Bischoff: Tremendous press. He's a personality. And Tennessee Williams 
was a personality. So they get this. They've got to know more 
about this guy, how much does he drink, how many quarts of 
liquor did he drink? All this trivia, as you say, they invite 
it, and others don't invite it, and I think that I'm one that 
doesn't invite--! don't like that. 

Riess: But I'm wondering, choosing between Still and Rothko, and 

Picasso and Matisse, as you kind of pick your way back into 
history- - 

Bischoff: That's another pair in which there's a choice. Some people 
think Picasso's greater and some people think Matisse is 
greater. 

Riess: All right. You don't find your choice influenced by the 
personality of the man? 

Bischoff: No. It's purely the art, and as I said, it has nothing--. It's 
very hard to describe why, because it's sort of, as I said, like 
falling in love with certain qualities in a person that other 
people don't see. They might see the reverse, you know, that 
kind of thing. And it's hard to then defend that. You can't 
defend it in court. 

Riess: That's true. I see that what I'm trying to do is hypothesize 



17 



something like that a kindly person could never paint a truly 
aggressive painting, or something like that, and that's silly. 

Bischoff: Sometimes paintings are compensations for what one lacks 

[laughs] in real life. Aggressiveness or something like that. 

But sometimes, yes, the artist and the art dovetail, or you 
feel they do, as much as you know about the artist, and you 
guess that they do. And sometimes it's very- -you' re amazed: 
"How could that person have painted that?" 

Riess: In the Diebenkorn profile in The New Yorker they talk about 
moodiness . Are you moody? 

Bischoff: No. I'm pretty even in that respect. And things in my personal 
life, and drastic things maybe like getting a divorce and so 
forth, haven't made much of a dent in my work. 

Riess: That's interesting. One of the ways you can look at Picasso's 

life is through what was happening to his images of women in his 
paintings . 

Bischoff: Well, that's pretty conspicuous in him with the representational 
work that he did, this sexual thing, and then the youth versus 
the old man. The old man being pretty unappealing, physically 
unappealing, and the gorgeous young thing--, [laughs] All that 
kind of stuff where you had this--. Which Matisse didn't do at 
all. There's nothing like that in Matisse. Confessional, and 
exposing all sorts of hangups or whatever. 



Bischoff 's Studio, and Leonard Bacon 



Riess: Tell me what your studio life is like. You've got a huge stack 
of paintings here. You have one piece on the easel. It's an 
orderly studio, I think. 

Bischoff: I don't think of it that way. I think of it as I've got to--. 

Every time anybody comes like yourself, I've got to clean up and 
straighten up things. I think of it as being on the edge of a 
mess . 

Riess: You work on only one piece at a time. 

Bischoff: Yes. 

Riess: Where's the mess here? It looks neat to me. 



18 



Bischoff: I don't know. Now that you ask me. Papers piled on--. Like 
all of that stuff piled on here, all this stuff piled on here, 
and this stuff piled back here, and these piles that I have to 
fight because they can get out of hand and I've seen places 
where they take over. 

Riess: Your studio is divided into two areas, a living area and a 
painting area. 

Bischoff: It is. It is. Yes, it's manageable. It's very manageable. I 
keep it that way. 

I remember seeing a photograph of Francis Bacon's studio. 
God, what a mess that was! It looked like some old geezer that 
the police in New York would dig out of a hovel. [laughter] It 
was just strewn with papers, and this stuff all over the floor. 
He was being interviewed by this guy [David] Sylvester and he 
started to talk about Velasquez. 

"Oh, I've got a reproduction!" He gets down- -this is 
Bacon- -he gets down on his knees and he starts to look. Like in 
a W. C. Fields comedy, he starts looking for this repro , and 
there it is. It's stuck underneath, with paint on it and all, 
so he tries to wash it, washes it off. He shows it to Sylvester 
to illustrate that he had one. 

Riess: Someone like that must have a very good feeling of bringing 
order out of chaos in making a painting. 

Bischoff: Yes. And maybe that chaos is part of what feeds them as an 

artist, too, that kind of an environment. If they cleaned up-- 
like Erie Loran's environment is always immaculate. Absolutely. 
Well, that was very much like his paintings. See, but you'd 
say, well, then this environment is like a De Kooning. Bacon's 
environment. If you saw a De Kooning in a studio like Bacon's, 
you'd find that very believable. But Bacon doesn't paint that 
way. Bacon's paintings are not as goopy and as full of trash, 
so to speak. They've become increasingly less given to having 
ragtag things. (This is Bacon.) They've become smoother. 

Riess: They're very centered, too. 

Bischoff: They're very centered, and I wish he would try to get back to 
some of that more sensual--. They're drier, they're not as 
sensual . 

Riess: Would you think that he's probably a dealer-driver artist at 
this point? 



19 



Bischoff : 
Riess : 
Bischoff: 

Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess : 

Bischoff: 
Riess : 
Bischoff: 
Riess : 
Bischoff: 
Riess: 



Oh, I don't think so. 

In the Bacon show in Los Angeles, everything was the same size. 



Oh, yes. Everything had glass on it, too. 
complaints about that. 



I've heard 



I felt very cut off from any notion of this being an artist who 
was working on a problem, as you talk about "the problems in 
art," or was growing, that he was just producing. 

Well, his work has gotten- -but not early on- -his work has gotten 
that way. Like he's just producing these things. Maybe you're 
right; maybe he is dealer driven. I haven't ever thought of him 
that way, but it could be true. There are certain things that 
point to it. 

And the covering with glass, I don't know. That's hard 
too. Because you think of his things as wanting to be very 
accessible and very immediate and very outspoken and very much 
there . 

That's right. The visceral quality. 

The visceral quality and the shock quality and the sensual 
quality. All these things very much there, present and active. 
And he's constantly talking about working on your nerves. It's 
not just an eye thing. What he's trying to say is something 
that hits you here when you look at these things. And his early 
things do that; they do hit you in the stomach. They're 
visceral. And these later ones are not. And covering them with 
glass and all, that seems to be cutting against it. 

It's sort of like an X-rated movie in that way. It's only 
celluloid, you know, and yet it's still shocking. 

You mean with the glass? 

Yes. 

I hadn't thought of that. I've never been to an X-rated movie. 

I haven't either, but it's-- 

I can't picture the celluloid or what you mean. 

Well, I mean that you're shocked by the ice pick going through 
the guy's neck, even though it's up there on the silver screen 



20 

and in a way it's a million miles away from you. 
Bischoff: Yes, that's true. Maybe he's making a point of that. 

Riess: There's something almost voyeuristic about looking through glass 
at this mess that he's showing you. 

Bischoff: I was confused about him at first because I had just seen- -this 
is way back when I'd just seen The Pope, or something like that, 
one of those big things [paintings]. And I thought, "Well, this 
is traditional left-wing, anti-Catholic, anti-billionaires, 
anti-Wall Street, anti--." [laughs] You know, you name it. 
And then the next thing I saw which shocked me was Van Gogh. 
And he's not knocking Van Gogh down, he loves Van Gogh. And 
then his friends, and then himself, and they're all couched in 
these same horrific, neurotic paintings. 

[Tape Change] 



Modern British Artists 



Riess: Have you ever met Bacon? 
Bischoff: No. 



Riess : 



Do you have any interest in meeting "the man behind the 
painting," as it were? 



Bischoff: No. 

Riess: There wouldn't be a few really great questions that you would 
have for him? 

Bischoff: No, I don't think so. I think he's all there in his art. All 
that I want to know. I don't want to know about the drinking 
escapades and the gambling and all of that sort of stuff. His 
wild life. 

Curiously, there's a lot of that kind of thing. Not in 
Bacon, not that you'd say, "Well, you can see Bacon there," but 
in the new English artists, like in Bacon. I saw a bunch of 
them in Oxford not too many years ago. Un-English. If I saw 
those out of that context, out of seeing them in Oxford and 
knowing this was an English show of contemporary English 
artists, I would never think of them as English. I never would 
think that. 



21 



Riess: 
Bischoff : 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



What are the un-English characteristics? 

Well, some of the stuff a little earlier was American- 
influenced, influenced by [Robert] Motherwell or somebody like 
that. But this stuff I'm speaking of is not. It's kind of 
spooky. Some of it is very--. Well, say, take somebody like 
[Leon] Kossoff. Kossoff. I don't know if you know that name. 

No, I don't. 

It doesn't make you think of English art at all. It doesn't 
seem to refer to anybody. On the other hand, Lucien Freud does. 
I can go back and show you English art that is very, very close 
to Freud. I can't show you any English art that's close to 
Bacon. And then this other stuff, the later stuff that I 
mentioned, well, it may be closer to a kind of German angst kind 
of thing. It's dark, it's brooding. 

Instead of a clarity of line, a domination of drawing, 
which is very typical- -contours , it seemed to me, the emphasis 
on contours seemed to me to be very typical of English art-- 
they try to break away from it if they can. Well, that's still 
with Bacon, and maybe you could say, well, there' s the English. 

But these other people are full of atmosphere. They don't 
have all these contours going. They're not colorists, exactly, 
except one or two that I can think of. And at the same time, 
they're not linear people. They're atmosphere people. I think 
some of them are at their best when they work in monochrome; 
instead of using all sorts of different colors, they have a kind 
of tonality, a yellowish or a grayish or a bluish or whatever 
tonality. So in that sense they're English, because I never 
think of the English as being particularly good at color, with a 
few exceptions, like Turner, maybe. 

When you think of the French Impressionists, you know, you 
don't find anything like that in England. They don't have that 
sense of color, all these delicious nuances. 

Now, that's interesting that you're looking for the unifying 
descriptors for English artists. Why should that be? 

It's because you want it to be an experience, instead of 
something you "read," like looking from left to right. I think 
when the thing is broken up, you do see it. It induces you to 
see it in fragments. You look at this fragment and you look at 
that fragment. I've felt that the paintings that I grew up 
with- -my folks had reproductions of like Maxfield Parrish and so 



22 



forth- -I felt they were very ununified. They didn't provide an 
experience. They were something that you just sort of read, so 
to speak. 

Riess: But I thought you were trying to read the exhibition as a unity. 

Bischoff: Not necessarily. No, I was just saying--. Well, say, what do 
you experience when you look at the Night Watch? What do you 
experience when you look at some great Titian, and so forth. It 
is this unity. It's one vision, all-encompassing. 

Riess: I thought you were trying to come to some conclusion about what 
modern British artists are trying to do as a group. 

Bischoff: No, I was just sort of curious about them. I've spoken this way 
to many people as an aside, and they don't have any light to 
shed on this, and I don't have any light to shed on it. It was 
just some kind of wandering off of my mind into this realm which 
I thought was surprising. 

I don't think I've seen any American show, you know, group 
show where I'd say, "This is not America. I don't connect this 
with anything in this country. It's unlike this country." Or 
with the French. But here it is with these, where there's a 
whole roomful of stuff that's just very unlike anything back in 
British history, or anything I can connect it with. 

They have been plagued, though, I think; the British have 
been plagued. The French outdid them so badly, and then the 
Americans come along with their Jackson Pollocks and their Sam 
Francises and whoever, and they outdo them. 



December 7, 1990 2 



Diversions: Chess and Music 



Bischoff: [speaking of a chess opponent] He was a champion of some kind 

in the state. (I don't think it had anything to do with outside 
of the state.) After finishing a game with him, which I always 
lost at [laughs] every time we played, he proceeded to set up 
the board exactly at a certain point where he wanted to show me 
what mistake I had made. 



2 Meeting took place at Bischoff studio. 



23 



I could never have done that. I didn't have that kind of 
recall. But it certainly showed me, demonstrated very vividly 
to me a certain kind of a skill, a certain kind of control, a 
certain kind of memory I guess you might say, because it 
certainly was partly visual memory that enabled him to do this. 
This was developed way beyond anything I could do. I was just 
sort of startled. 



Riess: Was he also an artist? 

Bischoff: No. He was a businessman of some kind. He sort of took it 
seriously and didn't take it seriously. It was one of those 
things which was I guess more of a hobby than anything else, had 
become that. I think it was a bit more than that at one time. 

Riess: But chess could fill your mind completely once it became so much 
a part of you. 

Bischoff: Oh, my, yes. It certainly would. It would take over. I don't 
have it to that extent; I'm not drawn to it. There are lots of 
things that I do that I don't think I really have very much 
talent in or I quickly exhaust or lose interest in. I do that 
from time to time. Painting is different, but I've done it with 
music, I've done it with learning to play instruments, I've done 
it with things like this chess. 

This is just a partial kind of thing which has its clear 
limitations which I recognize. If I wanted to get beyond it, 
I'd have to put a lot of work in, and I don't think I'd even 
achieve it then. And it's not that way with painting, somehow 
or other. Painting keeps opening up, I'd guess I'd say. And 
then it seems to be encouraging rather than discouraging. 

Riess: Do you think you picked up the other things at a point where 

painting was blocked, and that they were functional in that way? 

Bischoff: No. Well, right now, because of my physical limitations I 

haven't been painting that much, so I think that that does, if 
that's what you mean, that does open a way into these other 
things that I get caught up with. It's almost as though I want 
to have something that not only occupies my time but stimulates 
me in some way or other, and chess does do that to an extent. 

Riess: But it's not that it feeds back into the painting? 

Bischoff: No. It's separate. 

Riess: When you're painting, do you play music? 



24 



Bischoff: Sometimes. I have a big--well, it's not too big, but it's an 
assortment of tapes. 

Riess: Do you get together with people to play anymore? 

Bischoff: No. And I don't play jazz as much as I play classical music. I 
like Brahms very much, and I like Beethoven very much and I like 
Mozart and so on. Typical stuff, you know, that everybody 
likes, but this is what I listen to mostly. Not too much jazz. 

Riess: Is this recent? Is the classical music associated more with the 
post-figurative art? 

Bischoff: No. I've done this before that. This goes back before then. 
Riess: So I can't just tie it all up quite so neatly. 

Bischoff: But maybe a lot of people do this, have these fascinations they 
turn to. And I- -the time before, when I started to get caught 
up with chess where you might find this chess game, as you did, 
on my table, would be when Fisher and Spassky played in 
Reykjavik, and I was very caught up then. I paid a lot of 
attention to what happened over there. Now I simply buy the New 
York Times because they have a fuller rundown on what has 
happened with this Kasparov-Karpov duel that's going on now. 
Now they're playing in Lyon in France, and they have I think 
seven games to go, but they're even, they're tied. It's very 
exciting. 

Riess: It's not televised, is it? 

Bischoff: Not that I know of. Somebody asked me that, and I haven't seen 
anything in the TV Guide . It probably would be on cable, and I 
hardly ever look on cable because we don't have cable, so I 
don't bother with it, I just read the paper. 

Riess: These two famous due Is- - 

Bischoff: And two utterly opposed personalities. They're just so unlike. 

Riess: You know that from what is written about them, or from how they 
play? 

Bischoff: Well, both. Kasparov is very, very aggressive, and he's very 

much of a promoter. He's very active in changing things, going 
outside of chess, and some people are saying, "Well, he's 
spending too much time away from chess [laughs] to win." He 
wants to be very friendly. He wants to promote chess in the 



25 



United States. He gets things going; he gets lots of things 
going. He's very active that way. 

Karpov is very, very quiet and he likes the kind of a game 
where you subtly move and create positions and a whole bunch of 
these that gave you many, many opportunities, so when the other 
person makes a mistake, he zeroes in on it in a jiffy, and 
that's it. Whereas Kasparov is much more of an adventuresome 
player, more exciting, more unpredictable, really, and is much 
more concerned about attacking, attacking, attacking, attacking, 
not just this quiet "keep your place until you get your position 
and the other guy falters, and that makes it very exciting, 
makes it very dramatic. 

Riess: Last time you talked about the Department of Art, and then you 
laughed merrily about the foibles and controversies, and the 
great succession of chairpersons. 

Bischoff: Which I assume is true of almost every department. 

Riess: Well, I was interested to look at past course catalogues, and I 
came across some things that happened at various dates while you 
were there, and I thought maybe if I mentioned them you could 
attach a little more flesh to them. 

Bischoff: Well, yes, I'll try. 

Riess: And you could tell me if any of this represented "isms" in art 
itself. 

Bischoff: I think I said last time that what had happened earlier, the 
rallying point, the center which gave you a certain kind of 
power, a certain stature almost as though you'd been anointed, 
was having studied with Hofmann. Because just about all these 
faculty people that I knew when I was a student there were 
students of Hofmann. They were in, and if you hadn't studied 
with Hofmann, you were kind of out. That persisted for a very 
long time, and that was largely the doing of Erie Loran and John 
Haley. 



Berkeley Art Department: Margaret Peterson 



Riess: Considering the fact that the department roster changed so 

little in that time, that meant that there was a permanently in 
and permanently out group? 



26 



Bischoff: 
Riess: 

Bischoff: 



Riess : 
Bischoff: 

Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Yes, I think so. 

Who was in, then? 
Loran and Haley. 



Let's by all means know who was "in." Erie 



Riess : 



Erie Loran and Haley and Wessels. And then Margaret Peterson 
had also studied with Hofmann, so she was also anointed in a 
way, but then I think there was a personality conflict. She was 
difficult. She was a very difficult person, as much as she 
meant to me as a teacher. 

I think you said somewhere that she was one of the people you 
could look back to who was totally wedded to her art. 

That's the way I saw her, and that's the way a lot of students I 
think saw her. She was almost a cult figure in that sense of 
being totally given. 

What was the difficult part of that? 

It's just she had this kind of difficult personality. I 
remember one time my first wife and I invited Margaret, because 
she had an interest in jazz, to go to the Annie Street--. What 
is it called? It was a group of people that were very popular 
at that time, and this was a New Orleans brand of jazz. 
Margaret and her husband we invited to go to this. 

Well, we went. We got in the car and we picked them up and 
we went over to San Francisco. No sooner had we gotten into the 
place and gotten seated than they had a fight. I don't remember 
what it was. It was some nonsensical thing, but it made it just 
miserable for my wife and myself because we were sitting there 
in agony thinking they were going to kill one another. The 
result of it was that that was the end of the evening. They got 
a cab and they went off, and that was it, and we were left 
there . 

That's very bizarre. 

It was very bizarre, and it's a temperamental kind of a thing, I 
guess, on both parts, her husband and herself. What was behind 
it all, I don't know. That's of course the last time we'd ever 
do anything like that. She was difficult. She was flighty, and 
I guess I would say she was very egocentric too. A lot of 
artists are, but on top of that she had this flighty quality. 

Do you think she had to struggle to keep her head above water in 
such an all-male department? 



27 



Bischoff : 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



Rtess : 



Bischoff: 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 



I wasn't conscious of that, but that could be. She seemed all- 
powerful in the classroom and I was not conscious that she had 
this battle, but it was going on. I found out later from what 
Erie said. For a period of time they wouldn't hire any more 
women. They thought that women would break up the whole 
department, [whistles, and laughs] 



Maybe her temperament really did stand in the way. I mean, 
she was a woman, did they need more like that," kind of. 



"if 



I think her temperament did. In many ways it puzzled me 
mightily, later, in looking back. And that, that I mentioned, 
that flightiness. She had a power to really dominate a class 
and put people sinking into the ground by just her stare. She 
really did. She had considerable power. 

But then leaving the department, which I mentioned earlier, 
as a response to the faculty oath, and going up to the northwest 
of Canada with her husband, who was Canadian--. Later on her 
art diminished. I told you all about that, I think. 



I don't think you did. 
interview] 



Not last time. [perhaps in Karlstrom 



I didn't? Well, her art diminished to the point where when I 
saw a show of hers after she'd been up there for a while, it was 
simply a mimicking of Kwakiutl and Klingit and all of these 
Northwest Indian tribes, which was, to me , a great 
disappointment. I felt it was a great comedown, and why did she 
do this, why did she give herself up in this fashion, why did 
she abandon her talents and her own voice? 

What had been her voice when she was here? 

It was Hofmannesque. If somebody said, "Who do you think this 
person studied with?" you probably would say that it's Hofmann. 
And sophisticated. It was up to date and so forth. But this 
was a kind of, you know [laughs], as though her parents had been 
Northwest Coast Indians, which they weren't. It was like a 
nostalgia trip; it had that kind of a flavor to it. 



Berkeley Art Deparmtnet: The Hofmann Offspring 



Riess: That's interesting. So those who studied with Hofmann were 
visibly his proteges for the rest of their lives? 



28 



Bischoff: I don't know if I'd necessarily say that you would always be 
able to detect a Hofmann student. Larry Rivers studied with 
Hofmann. Mercedes Manners studied with Hofmann. And loads and 
loads of people in the East. He had his school back there. 
These are pretty varied. He was a good teacher, I guess. He 
didn't have a stamped- out product. 

Riess: Who does that leave behind, then? In 1961-62, there were 
[James] McCray, Felix Ruvulo--. 

Bischoff: McCray I think studied with Hofmann. I'm not too sure about 
Ruvulo . He might have . 

Riess: Karl Kasten. 

Bischoff: Karl I think did. He came later. He was younger. He was my 
age. We were classmates. 

There was Neuhaus , and there was Obata, and neither of 
those people--. That's when I was a student, earlier. 

Riess: But they seem cut from an entirely different cloth, Neuhaus and 
Obata. 

Bischoff: Yes. It's as though somebody with some kind of a force like, 
who might it have been? It could have been Erie Loran, but 
maybe [Worth] Ryder, would say, "Well, we should have a 
Japanese," and get caught up with this idea and be able to push 
this through, even though it was at variance with the going 
thing, as you point out. 

He was worthless, I felt. 
Riess: Who? 
Bischoff: Obata. 
Riess: You know, there's a tremendous Obata cult, though. 

Bischoff: He was an artist that pleased tourists. He was made for 

tourists. He was made for Carmel and places like that. He was 
very trivial. 

Riess: You could have found a more important Japanese artist. 
Bischoff: Oh, I'm sure. Yes, I'm sure. 

And then there was the German, Neuhaus, who painted--. 
Erie recently spoke about Neuhaus as doing some rather nice 



29 



still lifes. I never saw those. His things were technically 
very accomplished, but I think he was just about as slight an 
artist as Obata was. 

Riess: You might have known him when you were an undergraduate. 
Bischoff: I did. I didn't know him later. 

Riess: All right. So there's that period and that initial schism, as 
it were. But then this time from the mid- sixties on when you 
were a full professor, I just wanted to ask about some of what 
seemed like highlights or momentous changes and decisions. In 
1971, for instance, art practice was divided from art history. 
Did that represent a lot of heated department meetings? 

Bischoff: I think on the art history part. I don't think that existed so 
much in the art department itself. 

Riess: It hadn't been essential to your sense of self that you be 
included in the totality? 

Bischoff: No. I guess the art history department was pretty unanimous, 
except for some individuals, that this be done. 

Riess: And then the next year David Simpson was the chairman. I don't 
know whether he represents anything. In 1975, that was the 
first year that a portfolio was required for an art major. 

Bischoff: Is that right? I didn't know that. 

Riess: Two years later they decided to drop that requirement. I 

wondered if you could tell me what the problem was with that, 
with requiring it and why they decided to drop that requirement. 

Bischoff: I think that there was some kind of a review- -this is an ongoing 
kind of review- -of things that were not really necessary, they 
didn't think were really necessary. I think that the dropping 
of the portfolio requirement was one of those things they felt 
was excessive. 

Riess: It strikes me that it's closer to what a professional art school 
would require. This might be problematic, with the University 
of California's sense that it is not "training" people. 

Bischoff: Well, that could be it. They would send in slides, and I think 
it was felt that the slides were sufficient to make a 
determination of the person's qualifications. 



30 



Berkeley Art Department: Changes in the 1970s 



Riess: Also, year after year there was a new chairman, in the 1970s and 
early 1980s. Sidney Gordin was chairman. [Jerrold] Ballaine 
was the chairman. Brian Wall, Bob Hartman was the chairman. 
James F. Melchert was the chairman. 

Bischoff: Yes, and some of these people liked the chairmanship. Karl 

Kasten, for example, wanted to be chairman lots of times, but he 
wasn't popular enough. The faculty didn't like him. He called 
too many meetings. He was too officious. Also, it seemed like 
what he wanted to do was to get out of the studio, and that is 
the worst thing you could want to do. 

But, for instance, David Simpson, he is a very verbal kind. 
He can speak ad lib very efficiently and effectively. It makes 
sense that he would want the chairmanship. But he's not a bad 
guy at all. He's really good, and pretty well balanced. And he 
was drawn to it. 

Other people don't want it at all. Felix Ruvulo never had 
the chairmanship. Because people--. Maybe by design, Felix 
Ruvulo held onto his Italian accent. [laughter] And then his 
wife Marty, I understand that she wrote all his speeches. 
Anything that he had to give a talk to the class en masse about, 
as opposed to one individual student at a time, she wrote out 
for him, and he read it. So naturally he'd be excused from the 
chairmanship. But it varies exceedingly. 

Riess: In the seventies Erie Loran was still there, but he couldn't 
have continued to dominate the department, could he? 

Bischoff: Well, no, it was not at all like it was when I was a student. 

It was much more varied and they would have these different isms 
that would come in, in fairly rapid succession, too, that would 
have to be dealt with. 

Riess: When you were teaching, when you came in the sixties, you were a 
figurative painter. Did figurative painting become a dominant 
direction in the department? 

Bischoff: No. There was always a part of the department which would 

follow the new, spray-painting, that kind of thing, or photo 
realism and so forth. They would catch on. These were coming 
in very rapid succession, much more so than earlier. There was 
nothing like that at all before the war. This is all after the 
war that this happened. There would be some of the faculty that 



31 



would be carried over into these areas --to your surprise, they 
would be doing this --that had been appearing on the horizon. 
There was some of that, but I can't say that there was any--. 
It was too dispersed. It was too varied, I think. They'd had 
too many teachers that were doing different things to allow this 
[unclear] to actually take over. 

Riess: So figurative painting didn't take over. 

Bischoff: No, I can't say that it did. I was very conscious of that when 
I would go on visits, when I was a visiting artist, for a day or 
two or a week or whatever across the country, and I did many, 
many of those. I would be visiting departments then in the 
Middle West or wherever where this would be true, you see: 
Francis Bacon, everybody's doing Francis Bacon, students and 
teachers all doing Francis Bacon. 

Riess: Do you think it's a strength at Berkeley that nothing ever took 
hold then, really, after Hofmann? 

Bischoff: Yes, I think it was a very natural kind of thing. It was very 
much a part of the times, and it had its support, I think, from 
being seen as forward-looking, not backward- looking, not 
nostalgic and all that kind of thing. 



Bischoff 's Dissatisfaction with Figurative Painting 



Riess: You've referred in other writings to this notion of a succession 
of new things. It's a hard notion for me, because -- 

Bischoff: Really? I thought life was filled with it. [laughter] 

Riess: Life is filled with it, but the idea that an artist who's been 
working away in one medium or style suddenly comes face to face 
with spray painting and goes out and buys the equipment and 
starts spray painting--. 

Bischoff: Your feel it's kind of caving in? 

Riess: Well, I guess it just depends on how fast this happens. When 
you were talking about Art Institute students such as Joan 
Brown, Manuel Neri, William Wiley as being "quick learners, 
quick on the uptake, able to absorb, to deal with a new thing 
practically overnight," I wanted to ask you about that? What is 
"a new thing?" "To deal with a new thing practically 
overnight. " 



32 



Bischoff: It takes a certain makeup. I think that New York is probably 
filled with just this kind of makeup. Whatever comes on the 
scene, they can "deal with it." 

Riess: But why should they "deal with it"? Presumably they've been 

writing beautiful prose, why should they suddenly become poets 
just because poetry's hot? That's what I don't understand. 

Bischoff: There's so many reasons. Bad reasons and good reasons. It 

could be that they're very stimulated and very excited by the 
new thing and they may be a little bit tired of the old thing. 
This was true of me when I moved from representational to 
nonrepresentational art. It was purely a matter of this 
beckoning in a way that was irresistible. What I had been doing 
with the figure had caused problems to arise that I wasn't able 
to really cope with. 

Riess: I wish you could talk more about that. What do you mean by 
"caused problems to arise?" 

Bischoff: You're dealing with a particular image which maybe in the first 
instance, early on, when you undertake this, there's no 
problems. It's very, very go ahead, and it's exciting and it's 
new and it's something that is the promise of opening up into 
great, wondrous things and so forth, so there is that. After a 
period of time there might be such things as, for example, in 
the figurative painting I felt all along that there had been a 
conflict between the genre type of figurative painting and- - 

[Tape Change] 



Riess: --as opposed to what? 

Bischoff: Well, you're painting your wife sitting at a table reading, 
which is very far from Adam and Eve or the Virgin Mary or 
anything like that. 

I then found myself pushing myself to become more, what 
should I say? I even changed, I found myself drawn to artists 
like Max Beckman, whose figures are very symbolic. They sort of 
stand for a range of things which are maybe mythological, and so 
forth and so on. And yet he's a very powerful painter and a 
very vigorous painter. He's not on a nostalgia trip or anything 
like that. I found myself drawn to that, and in doing--. 

I was not able to do Max Beckraan types of things. It was 
not in the cards for me. After trying with that and other 



33 



things, too, in the figurative work, I found that I had reached 
a kind of dead end, because where I wanted to go , I was not able 
to go. 

Then I made the switch as a self -rescuing thing [laughs] to 
nonrepresentational work. I should say, though, that none of 
these things, it seems to me, are ever for anybody just one 
thing, like a rescuing thing. You are drawn to something else. 
It's like the breakup of a marriage. Usually it's accompanied 
by being drawn to somebody else as well as being fed up. 

Riess: Right. Because nobody likes to go into a void. 
Bischoff: That's right. That's right. Exactly. 

Riess: Why are nostalgia, and you'd probably also say sentimentality, 
why are they such anathema? 

Bischoff: Because they are associated from our childhood--. This may 

change in time with other generations, but they're associated in 
our childhood- -I'm speaking of most all of the artists I know at 
Cal and so forth- -with illustration. That's where they had 
their more pronounced role. And we were very conscious of that 
in doing the figurative stuff and moving from 
nonrepresentational to figurative and being accused of 
succumbing to a nostalgic view. 

Even looking backwards, you can question that. Why was 
this nostalgia such a bad thing? Certainly nineteenth- century 
art has lots and lots and lots of it, and it was seen as fine 
art. I mean, lots of nostalgic things are perceived as fine 
art. Or the whole reverence for the Greco-Roman civilization. 
That's looking back, and that's taking a model from the distant 
past and holding them it as exemplary. Why isn't that 
criticized? 

Well, it is now. It wasn't before, but now it's out, and 
there's this great pressure to have change, change, change, 
change rather rapidly compared to the nineteenth century. 

Riess: Does this judgment about nostalgia come from the critics? 

Bischoff: I don't know where it comes from, why the Victorian world is 

full of highly sentimental stuff. Why that? Or you could say, 
why, when I first to Cal, was it Giotto? We never heard of 
anybody much- -well, I didn't hear much of Hans Hofmann, although 
he had been here a couple of years before I was. But I really 
didn't hear much of him. I heard most of Giotto, and that goes 
back to the what, 1200s or something like that. 



34 



Now, that's kind of taking a model from a distant past. 
It's leaping back over things. Well, you might see it has a 
parallel in English art with the pre-Raphaelites . They did 
that. They jumped back prior to Raphael and took that as a 
model. 

Riess: It's interesting who's giving who permission to do these things, 

Bischoff: Or how they take effect, how they glom onto persons or a group 
of people or so forth. 

Riess: Can you remember the feeling and the attraction for the 
figurative when you first saw it? 

Bischoff: I don't know if that came immediately. I think it was after 

dwelling with it a bit and seeing subsequent examples, at least 
for me, that that began to catch on and to have an effect. But 
at first I think it was just sort of a matter of, "This is so 
new and so startling, I don't know what to make of it. I like 
it, but I don't know what--." And so on and so forth, but then 
later on you become more convinced. 



Talking about "Figure with Tree." 1972 



Riess: In one of the catalogs- -and there aren't enough of your most 

recent works in catalogs, sad to say, so I'm really hard put to 
point to examples, and I wish we had more things around here to 
look at- -I saw a painting you did in 1972 that probably was one 
of your last figurative paintings. I've only seen it in black 
and white. It seems to be seascape, and there's a figure going 
forward and this hair is streaming behind. It seemed to be-- 

Bischoff : Is there a big tree? 

Riess: I think there's a big tree. But it seemed like you were doing 
something transitional there. 

Bischoff: Yes, you're quite right. [moves away from microphone to get a 

book, and returns] This is actually a documentation. These are 
slides that I had a gal come in and do, a Japanese gal. She's 
very good and very effective. [opening package] But these are 
two books of the same thing. This is just a cheaper covered 
copy of what happens here. So I'm not withholding anything, 
[laughter] 



35 



Riess: And in fact, we're looking at the expensive one. 
Bischoff: Yes, this is the more expensive one. 

Riess: I see there's a section on each page for notes. What kind of 
notes? 

Bischoff: She's describing the condition of the painting and anything 
written on it. 

Riess: This is a service for artists? 

Bischoff: Yes. I got her name from a lawyer that I had gone to. He was 
conscious of her work, I don't know why. Here it is. 

Riess: There it is, yes. ["Figure with Tree," 1972] I like it very 
much seeing it in color. 

Bischoff: I still have that, actually. It's right here in that pile. 

Riess: Oh, yes, and my memory of hair is wrong. But this is definitely 
it. 

Bischoff: It's sort of an ocean. Titianesque. I was very much patterning 
these things around Titian. And ocean and land and then this 
trunk of the tree and the foliation and the clouds. 

Riess: All full of elements you can name, and yet this was 1972 and it 
was very much towards the end of your interest in figurative, 
right? 

Bischoff: Yes. That's right. I think it was the very last one I did. 

And I'd done a few others like that where they were not nearly 
as successful. But that's not your wife having a cup of coffee 
at the table. That's some almost apparition- like figure 
striding along. 

Riess: What's unsatisfactory about the direction you're going in this? 
What's dead-end about that for you? 

Bischoff: I think, answering your question, from the experience that I had 
at that time with my own work, is that everything is wrong. 
Everything is wrong in the sense that everything stays at a kind 
of arrested stage. It needs to transform itself, as I was 
mentioning with Beckman. You look at the early Beckmans , and 
you would say that about them, I think. They were much too 
literal and they're much too attached to the life- -plants and 
things like that. Well this, I think, is the same way. This is 
too literal, it's not transformed into urgent symbols of any 



36 



Riess: 
Bischoff : 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



kind, configurations. 

That's interesting. Urgent symbols. 

There's a tremendous force of that kind of thing, you see, with 
David Park and Dick and myself. Everything had much more of an 
urgency than you would ever find expressed in- -what's the name 
of the East Coast representational painter? Not Philip Guston, 
but he was sort of associated, it was kind of the same time. 
And he wrote art criticism, I think, for newspapers. 

I don ' t know . 

Gee, I don't know if I have anything on him in here. Well, his 
work is bland. It's very quiet, it's very calm and it was very 
much praised in the East; he was highly respected, but totally 
bland. Everything I've seen of his is kind of washed-out 
colors . 

Well, that's just the opposite. It didn't show any urgency 
at all. It showed a kind of a lassitude, to me. 



That feels like a lassitude? 
painting] 



[looking at reproduction of 



No, it still retained a kind of a force in the application of 
paints in these kinds of technical details and so forth of the 
paint. But it was the total imagery that I thought was 
[failing?], and I didn't like what was happening. 

What are your feelings now when you look at it? 

It still is very much as when I painted it. There are things I 
like, but they are details. I like this. I love the way I 
painted these things, some of the configurations. But in total 
I think this [looking at areas of painting] becomes very 
literal. More so than that. That is maybe more like Albert 
Pinkham Ryder. I think that's where I got that idea. Whereas 
this is Titian. I think it's a very good job. [laughs] 

But on the other hand, if you look at your painting and say, 
"Well, now, that's one-third Ryder and two-thirds Titian," as 
you have just done, in a way, isn't that the kiss of death? 

I don't know if it is necessarily. It would have to have 
something else to pull it off. It doesn't have anything else to 
pull that off. So that's why I look at it in a kind of a 
piecemeal fashion: I like this part and I like that part. 
Because it just doesn't have some kind of a vision, a unifying 



37 



vision, to bring this thing into a state that's more 
irresistible, that doesn't fall apart, that can't be divided up. 

Riess: If you get way away from it, which I am, pretty far away from 
it, is it satisfactory as a composition? 

Bischoff: Better. Yes, it's better. 

Riess: You said to Paul Karlstrom I think, unless I'm misquoting you, 
that you could work on some of your abstract pieces and you 
could not determine until a ways along which end was up. 

Bischoff: That's true. 

Riess: With this painting there's definitely no question. 

Bischoff: Well, no, but in the earlier stages I could have been turning it 
upside down over here and so forth. Which would require much 
more changing here than it would in a nonrepresentational work. 

In many nonrepresentational things , when I finish them I 
have a time deciding which side is going to be up. Lots of 
times not, but then there are some times, yes, when I have this 
problem. This never happens here. 



Pitfalls in Painting: Facility. Fragmentation 



Riess: It sounds like there are not a lot of rules for painting when 
you say that to me, and yet-- 

Bischoff: There are not. 

Riess: --there are not. But a lot of things you say make it sound like 
there are a lot of rules. 

Bischoff: Maybe I've invented them. 

Riess: What are the rules? You use words like "censoring." How might 
you think of censoring as a process when you paint? What kinds 
of things might you censor? 

Bischoff: I think things that don't enhance, don't assist the visual 

intensity, visual unity, the visual expression. I think those 
things you're constantly on the watch for, and they crop up from 
God knows where frequently enough to kind of break up things or 
to carry you off the track, to be a sidetracking influence. 



38 



Riess: A felicitous combination of colors, perhaps? 

Bischoff: Yes, and then you picture people that would have a talent, more 
of a ready talent, the kind of talent that gets you A's right 
from grammar school on in art, are very seducible by things that 
show great facility but have no meaning at all. Now, that's the 
thing that one has to guard against. Even a person of more 
modest talent than I am, you have to guard against that, because 
these things become very seductive. And your parents reward you 
with kisses and hugs. [laughs 

Riess: It's a facility, but it's not authentic? Hard to resist , though. 

Bischoff: It is hard. I was thinking, though, of the kinds of 

difficulties of being a commercial artist where you're told what 
to do. You're given an assignment and somebody's over you and 
can cancel what you do out because they don't approve of it and 
so forth, so that the self-expression is out the window, and the 
individual working at one's own pace is out the window. All 
these severe limitations that you put up with. In that case I 
suppose it's for the money. Maybe in that case it's also 
talent . 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



I was talking to a person who had been a commercial artist, 
and they said, "Oh, there are big names. You don't know of 
them; you never heard of them, but the Japanese guy that does 
the Ford cars or something like that, he's so--. Everybody's 
copying him." And this is a world within a world. It's a world 
you don't even come into contact with. 

You start thinking of all the different motivations and all 
the different feelings that arise or are involved in that sort 
of situation. Some of it parallels fine arts, but a lot of it 
doesn't parallel fine arts. One big difference is that when you 
look at a good piece of commercial art, you're really looking at 
a thing, a known thing in the painting. You're not looking at 
the whole shebang. By and large you're looking at the Ford car 
or the model or whatever, you're not experiencing a totality 
which grips you and probably remains. You're experiencing the 
enhancement of a fragment, which is a very different kind of 
thing, because in real life we get enough fragments thrown at 
us. [laughs] We're bereft of any all -encompass ing ideas. 

You have to sort of grab at the fragment, actually, if you can 
get a little pleasure out of the fragment. 

I suppose. But that's even entering fine arts. There are art 
movements which emphasize the decomposition of the composition. 



39 



Riess: I can imagine being in downtown Berkeley at Center and Shattuck, 
which is one of the most distressed areas of Berkeley, and 
finding a beautiful leaf on the sidewalk, and focusing on it, 
and leaving out the rest, and or least trying to. 

Bischoff: Oh, sure. I think that that happens. I think that happens 

especially with photography. You see that kind of focusing on a 
fragment. 

Riess: [tape interruption] 



Explaining Art 



Riess: When you came to Berkeley to teach in 1963 was it kind of a 
coup, that they got you at that time? Did you come with an 
enhanced reputation, so that you could get what you wanted? 

Bischoff: I think from my role at the San Francisco Art Institute, because 
I had administrative work there as chairman of the art 
department, I think that helped. And I think that I did have a 
bit of a reputation, so I don't think they had to fight over 
getting me there. I came under Jim McCray's chairmanship. I 
was fond of McCray. Maybe that had an influence. I respected 
him and felt that there was more of an authenticity. 

Riess: What kind of painting did he do? 

Bischoff: He was influenced by Mondrian. He did a Mondrianesque type of 
painting, which was quite marked; I mean, you would detect it. 
Anybody would detect from a distance that it was a person 
influenced by Mondrian. But it was very sensitive. 

I remember being over at the Art Institute- -this was very 
early, I think just after I had joined- -and Jim McCray was there 
as a guest for some reason or other. Maybe it was for reviewing 
work, because we met in this room and we were looking at a lot 
of students' paintings, and it could have been that he and I, or 
maybe Jim particularly, was brought in to assist in the 
selection of possible applicants for the graduate program, or 
something like that. 

He was very enthusiastic and spoke very favorably, very 
convincingly, about a certain painting that we were looking at, 
and I couldn't make it out. I just didn't--. I said, "What's 
this guy doing?" It was foreign to me. And Jim McCray, coming 



40 



from Cal , I thought would be saying only things that I would 
understand because I'd been at Cal and had had him as a teacher. 

But that wasn't true, and this made a great impression on 
me, that here he was able to enter what I saw as a totally 
foreign and not too inviting world. And later on I was falling 
for the same kind of thing, I was going for that, I was 
supporting the same kind of thing, because I was surrounded by 
it, I was living with it and got in touch with it. 

Riess: So that's an important thing, familiarity. 

Bischoff: Oh, I think so. I think that, yes. 

Riess: You just learn to like it, like dissonant music. 

Bischoff: You have to go to many exhibits to understand these things, 
that's true. 

Riess: Does it help very much to have someone- -Jim McCray in this 

case- -actually explain why they like it? Does it have to have 
words attached to it? 



Bischoff: No, I don't think you can. I think that what you say in liking 
a piece of art could be an interference as much as a help. I 
don't think so. 

Riess: Why might that be, that what you say might be an interference 
ultimately? 

Bischoff: Well, because you may be bringing things to it which alter it in 
the person who's listening to you, in their ears might alter it 
in a way which makes it lesser. It's as though they have to 
discover it themselves. When Jim McCray said this, I was left 
in the dark. 

Riess: It's a little like that phenomenon of going to a gallery and 
finding red spots under certain paintings, so that you know- - 

Bischoff: That they have been sold. 

Riess: --that somebody has made some absolutely committed judgment 
about. So then, "This is good," you say. 

Bischoff: I don't think that, because I think that there are so many 

tastes. They might see something in there they like; it's not 
necessarily a good painting, but they are attracted to it. It 
makes a connection, maybe in a kind of oblique sort of way, in a 
way they would never be able to talk about or describe or 



Riess: 



41 



explain. And I just accept that. 

Like when I go to a museum I expect to see all sorts of 
things. Things I like, things I can't stand. Why would they 
have them in there? Well, who knows? Some big collector put 
pressure on them and said they would give the museum [a big 
wallet?]. [laughter] Or it was simply to be up to date, which 
is a very different kind of thing. So it would have nothing to 
do necessarily with the aesthetic merits; it would only have to 
do with the current scene. 

True enough, and the gallery owner could apply red spots 
randomly! 



Bischoff: That's right. You see, you can't really foretell what there is 



[Tape Change] 



University Art Museum 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 



Did the University give you a studio space? 
that you got as a professor? 



Is that something 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 

Riess: 
Bischoff: 



You have a studio office, offices which are designed as studios, 
with a high ceiling and the windows at a slant on this high 
ceiling. It goes up and slants over to face the north- -that' s 
the best light. You don't get direct sunlight coming in. So 
that's what everybody got. Sometimes I think when it was 
crowded they shared the space with somebody else. But I never 
used my studio space for painting. I had this room, this 
studio, before I began at Cal . 

Is there anything in the way of an expectation of a relationship 
to the University Art Museum or to being able to exhibit or 
anything in that way at the University? 

No, there was nothing that I recall that was of any formal 
nature in the connection between the art museum and the art 
faculty. 

Was Peter Selz head of the art museum when you were teaching? 

Yes, he was the first head of it. He was more interested, I 
think, in making a big-time, big-name museum and collecting, 
getting things in there in the exhibits. He had a very vigorous 
exhibit program going on. I don't think that he paid much 



attention to the artist. 

In speaking to Jacquelynn Baas [director of the University 
Art Museum] , she spoke more of the art history and getting 
together with Burt [Burton] Benedict, who is now head of the 
anthropology [Lowie Museum of Anthropology] museum. I tease 
her. I said, "You're going to build a big bridge that goes from 
one side of the street to the other." She talked that way; she 
wanted very much to have a very close relationship with him. 
She didn't talk that way about the students. 

What the museum has done- -I don't know exactly, I can't 
remember exactly when this started was to, by arrangement with 
the students, I believe it's with the students, have these shows 
of the graduate work. That goes on yearly. 

Riess: Was there any effort on the part of the art department to get 
Peter Selz to look in his own back yard? 

Bischoff : What do you mean, look in his own back yard? 

Riess: Instead of setting his sights on exhibition material elsewhere, 
to exhibit more of the Berkeley artists. 

Bischoff: I'm sure there was. It was always going on. I don't know of 
any specific instances of it. 

Riess: It wasn't a concern of yours. 
Bischoff: It wasn't a concern of mine, no. 

Riess: Very soon after you came [1966-1967] you were given one of the 
Institute for Creative Arts years. It was sort of a sabbatical 
for an artist. 

Bischoff: You're speaking of the sum of money that was allotted as a 
research grant kind of thing? 

Riess: Yes. 

Bischoff: Yes. That was nice, [laughs] 

Riess: That, I think, was started in the sixties because artists never 
got that kind of sabbatical bonus. 

Bischoff: The scientists did, but not the artists. 

Riess: Yes. When you were on that did you have to have a program that 
you were working on? 



Bischoff: Well, yes, but then you'd simply say, "I'm going to paint twelve 
paintings during the year," sabbatical year or academic year, I 
mean, and that would be sufficient. They'd be such and such a 
size, maybe you could add that. You wouldn't have to describe 
what they were . 

Riess: And there's no peer or committee review? 

Bischoff: Not really, no. I'm sure somehow there is. If it turns out 

that you haven't done anything through the year they would pick 
up on that. That is, they have a safety net so that they would 
see that this is happening, and they would then reduce whatever 
you had been given. 



Berkeley Art Department: Students and Teaching. Colleagues. 

Visitors 



Riess: Earlier you were saying that when you came in was a time when so 
many things were happening, like photo-realism and spray- 
painting and so on. Neither photo-realism nor spray-painting 
apparently attracted you. How come? 

Bischoff: I didn't like the looks of the photo-realism. 

The photo-realists that I had in class as students, they 
would bring in a photo and set it up alongside the painting, and 
they would start on the painting from the left and they would 
end at the right. They'd be at the end of the course when they 
get over to the right side. So you never could tell them 
anything, and there was never any exchange. I saw photo 
realism- -maybe I was corrupted and biased by this experience 
that I just described, but I saw it as being an escape from 
painting. 

Riess: In a class that you were teaching they would be doing this? 

Bischoff: Yes. At one time there would be one or two, not too many, in 
the class doing this. 

Riess: I rather thought that in a painting class you had a lot more 
direction over the assignment. 

Bischoff: No, this was upper-division, and the students were allowed then 
to pick their own subjects and to pick their own style and all 
that. Or to work in acrylics. They could even maybe work on 



44 



Riess : 
Bischoff : 

Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess: 
Bischoff: 
Riess: 
Bischoff: 



Riess: 

Bischoff: 

Riess: 

Bischoff: 



paper if the instructor would allow it. In the upper-division 
painting classes. 

Well, what do they get out of you, then, under the 
circumstances? 

Oh, this is only two people. This is a peculiarity. No, the 
rest of them would be right there tugging at ray sleeve most of 
the time. 

How do you teach? What is your approach? 

I try to get connected with the individual and what their 
interests are and so forth. If they're working in a way which 
in time makes me feel they're barking up the wrong tree for 
themselves, then I tell them that. And then there are others. 
Usually in a class of thirty students, there will be five maybe 
really especially endowed hot- shot students. And they would, by 
their own presence in the room and by their own example, they 
would be influencing and helping. 

Helping? 
Helping teach. 
By example. 

Right. And I would encourage that. I would try to make a 
special point of adopting various means of encouraging this. 
Spending more time in talking about their work would be one 
thing, and there would be other means of "enhancing the 
status." [laughs] 

And partly because you've gotten so much out of your 
relationship with your peers, you were trying to-- 

I expect so. I expect so. 

--teach them a kind of generosity of spirit as a painter. 

Well, yes, in a way. But at the same time one of my faults, 
which was pointed out in student evaluations at the end of the 
semester- -a number of times it's pointed out that I tend to 
neglect the students if they're not so talented. Which I did. 

I get very bored with having the same problem over and over 
again, and offering solutions or recommendations that weren't 
listened to. I couldn't find myself repeating the same stuff, 
which I felt was essential for getting out of a hole or getting 






45 



out of a problem or developing and so forth. 
Other people can. 



I couldn't do it. 



Or another way of doing it is teaching more with a class en 
masse, bringing in lots of outside material, filling the walls 
each day with a new set of stimuli and so forth so that you 
become more the boss of the whole bunch and they then become 
more assimilated. It's easier if they become more focused on a 
certain problem so that you see then variations on this problem. 
This is more of a lower-division way of approaching things. 

In the freshman year you're usually obliged to bring in a 
lot of external stimuli. "This is what I want you to do," and 
"This is the exercise we have today, and there are examples on 
the wall of how this has been dealt with by other artists," and 
so forth. That is the freshman level. But I don't know if 
that's so true today. It could be that that's loosened up. 
I've been out of it now for five years. 

Riess: Do you miss it? 

Bischoff: No. 

Riess: Did it feed you in a good way when you were doing it? 

Bischoff: Oh, yes. Well, I've taught so much. I've taught all my life, 
and the number of teaching jobs I've had which I haven't liked 
have been very few. And I must say, they have been at a lower 
academic level than the Art Institute or Cal , so that that makes 
a big difference. 

Riess: Is CCAC a lower academic level? 

Bischoff: I'm not too sure what CCAC is. I've never really been there, 

except for two brief courses I took before going up to my first 
teaching job at Sacramento. Remember that? Did I tell you 
about that? 

Riess: No, you told Paul Karlstrom. 

Bischoff: Yes. Well, I took a couple of classes just before starting in 
the fall, in the areas I was going to teach in! [laughter] I 
had no experience at all with the wheel, in clay, and I had no 
experience with working in silver, silverwork, the blowtorch and 
all that stuff. So I had to take these classes. 

Riess: You also taught art history briefly? 

Bischoff: I taught art history up in Marysville when I was up there. And 



God, it takes so much time. It's not like teaching an art 
class. You don't have homework in an art class. But these 
papers! I had them write papers, and I had to read all that 
stuff. I had to prepare the slides that I was going to show the 
next day, prepare my lecture. I was up half the night! I 
really was. But I enjoyed it. I learned a lot. I learned a 
tremendous amount . 

Riess: Because you had to describe the things that you had just been 
able to respond to before? 

Bischoff: Yes, that's right, and then you had to be boning up on history 

that you had kind of a distant grasp on. And I turned it 

largely into a history class too, instead of just an art history 
class, curiously. 

Riess: That's a great bonus for art history students. 

Another sort of question. What kind of people do you find 
yourself most drawn to, and enjoy spending time around. Would 
they be called "creative people" category? Poets, musicians? 

Bischoff: Oh, definitely. I have that bias. Of course, some of the 

creative people, it's like anything else, you know, you say, 
"Gee, I have a friend that's crazy about jazz. I want you to 
meet him because you're crazy about jazz." And they turn out to 
fight. [laughter] It's not the same jazz, it's not the same 
thing. So that happens, of course, in art too. It depends upon 
the individual and their personality and their makeup and all 
that. 

I was for a while meeting with a group--. I was invited by 
an art faculty colleague to join a group called the Arts Club, 
which meets on campus. It's all Berkeley campus people, faculty 
members, and each member comes in and makes a little 
presentation of their area of interest each evening, and meets 
once a week. Well, I found so much of this so boring; I thought 
I'd be stimulated by it and excited by it, but I found so much 
of it so boring that I couldn't go to any of them anymore. I 
stopped going. 

Riess: They were people who were presumably very engaged by the arts. 

Bischoff: Not necessarily. It was all disciplines. It didn't turn out to 
be an arts group. There was this core of art faculty members, 
and one of them is the one that invited me to join this. There 
were some art historians, of course, but then there were all 
sorts of scientists and people- -English literature people, I 
don't know. On and on and on. It was almost as varied as the 



47 



campus in its representation. That part was nice, I think. But 
there was a- -I don't know how to put it, there was kind of a--. 

I remember hearing Herschel Chipp, the art historian, 
talking about "Guernica." That was marvelous. He was such a 
different cut from the others. I don't know exactly how to 
explain it, but it was just that he seemed as though he wanted 
to tell you about something. And the others sort of wanted to 

hear themselves. And I think that's what made them boring. 



Riess: That sounds very academic. 

Bischoff: Yes, it is. I guess if you're behind a lectern all the time, 
it's hard to resist. But to illustrate, if you hear a person 
that throws in a French phrase here and there, you had better 
walk the other way. [laughter] It's that kind of self- 
promotion or self -flaunting. 

I think I told you earlier about how Erie Loran had us all 
gather at the Mens Faculty Club to meet the visitors from New 
York, visiting faculty. 

Riess: Yes. And how did the department decide on a visiting professor? 
Was that something that was done on a committee that you were 
present at? 

Bischoff: Yes, names would be proposed, and then usually Erie would go 

back to New York. That's how he got this kind of fascination, 
this connection. 

Riess: But Erie wasn't always the chairman. 

Bischoff: No, but he was always the one that would go out, to go back to 
New York. Sometimes it would be a matter of inviting somebody 
directly, and sometimes it would be a matter of inviting them as 
visitors on a temporary basis and then falling in love with what 
they were doing and then asking them to stay on, a number of 
them. 

Riess: Is this the way photo-realism arrived at Berkeley? Is that the 
way spray-painting arrived, with a single individual who was 
doing it? 

Bischoff: Usually. I remember, Jerry Ballaine was the one that was very 
keen about spray-painting at the time [1968-1969], and he was 
the one that was instrumental in getting them to put in all of 
the mechanical stuff for a room for spray-painting. And it's 
interesting that it wouldn't take more than one person- -and 
sometimes, like with Jerry Ballaine, a fairly minor voice- -to 



48 



Riess : 



Bischoff: 



Riess: 



Bischoff: 
Riess: 

Bischoff: 
Riess: 



get something like that across. 

Many of those people stayed, too. I mean, it's not that the 
department made mistakes and people were let go, ever! On the 
contrary! 

No, the San Francisco Art Institute was much more wild in that 
respect. The diversity of the faculty was something that took a 
real master to manage, and [Douglas] MacAgy was that kind of a 
person. He could really hold this three-ring circus together, 
and it was a huge job. Of course, these personalities were much 
more egocentric, I think, than generally speaking at Cal . 

But when Cal added people, they stayed. They came right up 
through the ranks. It's not like a lot of departments where you 
have visitors at the instructor level and they disappear. I 
mean, Joan Brown, Brian Wall, Sylvia Lark. 

That's right. Boyd Allen, Bob Hartman. 

Mary O'Neal, Christopher Brown. I mean, these people stay, and 
they become chairmen. 

Yes, that's true. That's very true. 
Okay, so much for creative people. 3 



Transcriber: 
Final Typist: 



Elizabeth Kim 
Suzanne Riess 



3 The interviews were expected to continue, but Elmer Bischoff 's 
illness made it necessary for him to cancel meetings. He died on March 2, 
1991. 



Elmer Bischoff 
INTERVIEW WITH ELMER NELSON BISCHOFF 



Interviews Conducted by 
Paul J. Karlstrom 
in 1977 



For information on reproducing portions of this interview, please contact: 

Archives of American Art 

Smithsonian Institution 

Washington Center 

AA-PG Building, 8th and F Streets, NW 

Washington, DC 20560 



ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART 
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION 



CONTENT OUTLINE 



INTERVIEW WITH ELMER NELSON BISCHOFF 
LOCATION: Subject's studio, Berkeley, CA 
DATE: 10 and 24 August, and 1 September 1977 
INTERVIEWER: Paul J. Karlstrom 



Pages 



1-8 



8-17 



18-24 



25-31 



32-42 



43-44 



45-49 



Contents 

Family background. Strong family interest in music. 
Influence of uncle's cartoons. Early school days. 
Does detail drawings for father's building plans. 
Attempts architecture at University of California, 
Berkeley. 

First involvement in painting. Influence of art teachers 
and attitudes at University of California, Berkeley in 
the 1930s. Recalls Golden Gate International Exposition. 

Teaching experience in Sacramento. Family and marital 
history. Attitude toward World War II and service in 
the army during World War II. 

Bischoff's philosophy. Change in attitude. Begins 
teaching at California School of Fine Arts (San Francisco 
Art Institute). Discusses "community" experience, 
idealism, and abstract expressionism. Important influence 
on Bischoff's work. Faculty contributions to nonobjective 
painting (Clyfford Still, David Park, Hassel Smith, and 
Clay Spohn) . Evaluates abstract expressionism (p. 29) 



Activity at the San Francisco Art Institute in 
expressionism before Still's arrival. Still's 



the scene. Change in attitude 
amiability of the staff towards 
of the Clyfford StilJ circle of 



availability, 
one another, 
students. 



abstract 
impact on 

and 

Formation 



Turning away from abstract expressionist towards 
figurative painting. Influence of David Park. 

Differences and similarities between abstract 
expressionist and figurative art. Discussion of 
impressionism and the apparent similarity of subject 
matter between impressionism and Bay Area figurative. 



ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART CONTENT OUTLINE 
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION PAGE 2 

INTERVIEW WITH ELMER NELSON BISCHOFF 

Page , Contents 

49-59 The role of subject matter in figurative painting, 
especially in Bischoff's work. Rejoins faculty at 
the San Francisco Art Institute in 1956. Discusses 
reason for leaving Art Institute in 1952 and jobs 
he did in the intervening years. Comments on the 
students who attended the Art Institute after 1956 
when Gurdon Woods was director. Bischoff's most 
successful students -- Joan Brown, Bill Brown, Manuel 
Neri, William T. Wiley, Bob Hudson, and Bill Geis. 

60-62 Discusses the origins of Bay Area "funk" movement. 

The high quality of art in the Bay Area for the last 
twenty years. 

63-71 Discusses George Staempfli as first New York dealer 

who was interested in Bay Area figurative art. Bischoff 
wins Ford Foundation grant. Feels that that grant helped 
to attract Staempfli's attention to Bischoff's work. 

72-75 Bischoff joins the faculty at University of California, 
Berkeley. Discusses pros and cons of the art school 
versus the university environment for the young artist. 

76-79 Bischoff's affinity for the late work of Titian. 

80-82 Discusses his reasons for moving away from the figure 
to large scale abstractions. 



ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART 
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION 

TAPE RECORDED INTERVIEW WITH ELMER NELSON BISCHOFF 
LOCATION: SUBJECT'S STUDIO, BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA 
DATE: AUGUST 10, 1977, AUGUST 24, 1977 
INTERVIEWER: PAUL J. KARLSTROM 

PJK: PAUL J. KARLSTROM 
EB: ELMER BISCHOFF 

PJK: I'll start off asking you questions about your past and 
about your background. You've been generally associated 
with the Bay Area Figurative group, not that that finally 
describes all of your work. But never the less, this is 
the case. And you're certainly associated with the Bay 
Area. You've lived here, I suppose, most of your life. 
You've taught at the various institutions around here, 
attended the institutions, and currently are teaching -- 
and have been for many years now at the University of 
California. You were born in Berkeley, I think, in 1916. 
What I would like to start with is to go back and kind of 
lay in your own family background, a little bit about your 
parents, what your circumstances were. 

EB: Yes. Well, I have lived in Berkeley all my life except for 
a few years away here and there. My father was a builder 
and built many houses, small bungalows mostly and then stores 
on Shattuck Avenue and along College Avenue, in Berkeley. 
My mother was a housewife. Across the street for a good 
many years, until I guess 1937, lived a grandmother, my 
mother's mother, and two uncles who never married. And then 
in addition, I have an older brother, five years older, and 
a younger brother ten years younger than I am. So it was 
kind of an extended family, considering the fact that there 
were these other relatives right at hand and frequently in 
the house. My uncles frequently came over for dinner and 
were in the house. So was my grandmother. 

PJK: Where was this house? 

EB: This was on Russell Street, on the corner of Russel and 

Cherry which is just a block up from College Avenue. Then 
as I say, across the street was a grandmother and two 
uncles. And I mention them because they played a role in 
my early life. There was a wide-spread interest in music. 
My mother played the piano, and I think she studied piano 
some and had somewhat of an accomplished technique, and I 
think was looked upon by herself (laughs) and by my uncles 
as the real musician in the family, although she had a 
great fascination for "Music the Whole World Loves." Do 
you remember it came out in the green cover with maybe a 
number of volumes? But I remember this thick volume, 
"Music the Whole World Loves," and there you found the 
very light and frothy piano pieces of no consequence. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 2 

PJK: And those were the ones that she would... 

EB: Yes. And then now and then a Chopin piece. I remember 
she played "The Minute Waltz." Very nice. So she was 
looked upon by my family, I would say, by the whole fam 
ily (when I was young I joined in on this) as being the 
real musician in the family. Then one of the uncles 
played the banjo; another uncle played the ukulele; both 
with talent. I remember them as being not at all fumbling 
about it, but being rather adept at their instruments. 
Then my older brother played the piano, and still plays 
to this day, he's still alive. 

PJK: Are all your siblings still alive? There were three of 
you? 

EB: Yes. My younger brother is living back East and my older 
brother is still alive. Lives in the same house, as a 
matter of fact. The house that we moved to when I was 
three years old, on the corner of Cherry and Russell. 

PJK: So there was obviously an interest in music in your family. 

EB: That was very strong. And there was a lot of music housed 
at the house. Every time we had a visitor, there would 
be some musical performance as part of the evening. My 
mother, my brothers, my uncles or maybe a combination of 
them. There was a short period where my father attempted 
to pick up the saxophone but he was conspicuously devoid 
of (laughs) any talent whatsoever. He was challenged by 
these because my mother and my uncles fancied themselves 
as being authorities. 

PJK: And he didn't measure up. 

EB: He sounded like a fish peddler. 

PJK: You play the clarinet, is that right? 

EB: No. First of all, I played the violin and took lessons. 
It was the only instrument I took serious lessons on. 
This was way back in grammar school, through junior high 
school. I gave the violin up when I was in high school. 

PJK: Why? 

EB: Didn't practice any more, didn't take any more lessons. 

But played in the orchestra. I was Concertmaster. Think 
of that. Junior high school, this is Willard Junior High 
School in Berkeley. And played solo at the graduation. 
And played the piano, but I never took lessons. Played 
the piano by ear. And then later on-- now this is much 
later, this is after the war, 1945 or '46, I forget what 
year it was--I took up the trumpet. And taught myself 
the trumpet. I think I sounded that way, too. (Laughs) 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 3 

PJK: Okay, this is what I was thinking of because you, I 

believe, used to play those famous sessions with David 
Park and who else would join in with you? 

EB: Well, there's a fellow named Charlie Clark -- David Park 
and 'Charlie Clark was a clarinetist. He was a student 
there at the time. We were the kind of mainstays. And 
then we had various trombonists, various drummers. That 
would usually be it, a trombone and piano and drums and 
clarinet and trumpet. 

PJK: We'll get into that interesting period a little later on, 
but I think it's interesting that you first off, in con 
nection with your early years, mention this family interest 
in music. That suggests to me that it really meant some 
thing to you. 

EB: The strongest in me. Yes, it did. 

PJK: Was there any interest in visual arts that you remember? 
Taken to a museum on occasion? 

EB: No, nothing of that kind. On the walls, there were a few 
reproductions -- this is in my home -- of a nice little 
Parrish, that kind of thing. Both uncles had some talent 
in cartooning. The one that played the ukulele, he could 
have been a professional cartoonist, I think. He had a 
good imagination. The first things that I did were really 
under his influence, the very first art that I ever did 
as a grammar school kid was cartooning. And it was var 
iations, really, under his spell. 

PJK: This wasn't really in school, this was recreation? 

EB: That's right. Oh, sure. As I would practice the violin 
and maybe horse around on the piano, I would do some car 
tooning just as a light diversion. But that was all, in 
terms of stimulation of visual arts. The music was much 
more present. 

PJK: So there wasn't really anything then, in your early child 
hood, your family backgriund, that would steer you towards 
a career as a painter? 

EB: No, there's certainly nothing from my father, my mother. 
My older brother, that's all music with him. He's very, 
very keen about the piano, very keen about jazz. As I 
said, the only thing was these two uncles, and one in par 
ticular, who did cartooning. And they were not professional 

had no intention of ever becoming such. For them, it 
was just a matter of playing around. 

PJK: I suppose the question that's now begging to be asked is, 
"When did you decide, or what made you decide to study 
painting?" Did you study it as part of a course in grade 
school, high school? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 4 

EB: No, it was in college that I became gradually more and 
more serious about art. I took art courses in high 
school but didn't do especially well in them and didn't 
get especially involved in it. I do recall, going back 
to junior high, there was one particular student named 
Phil Joy who was the star of the class. If you wanted 
any art work done, you called on Phil Joy, outstanding. 
And in high school, there were others, too, that were 
stars. I was never in that category, and my interest 
wasn't even that great. It wasn't until college that 
I started to. ... 

PJK: What do you remember from, let's say, junior high or 
high school days? How would you describe yourself as 
a student? Your interests? Were you involved in any 
clubs or special interest things? 

EB: No, I was more general, not that focused, except for the 

music. Except for that. But otherwise, not that focused. 
I played in the playground and had the kind of involvements 
that most of the kids had playing marbles and collecting 
bottle tops, and that sort of thing. But not as much as 
a great many of them. A great many of them went in for 
that sort of thing. I was timid. I was much more inclined 
to stay off to one side and watch other people doing these 
things. So my involvement was much more moderate, you 
know. 

PJK: Do you remember any special friendships? Were you maybe 
a loner, more oriented towards your own family? 

EB: Friendships were very specialized. There was a fellow my 
age lived across the street, and went to grammar school 
and went to junior high. We were very close friends. 
There was another fellow that I picked up with in junior 
high, and the three of us became close friends. But in 
grammar school, it was pretty much this one school chum, 
neighborhood chum. And I would be rather lost if he were 
not at school, (laughs) if he were home sick. 

PJK: Sounds to me like Elmer $ischoff had a very ordinary, 
normal childhood, indeed. 

EB: I suppose, yeah. I suppose. I enjoyed grammar school, 

and I did fairly well as a student in grammar school. And 
in junior high, the story starts to change. And high school 
was very changed (laughs) to the point of being reversed. 
I have this awareness of my school life. And yet, in cer 
tain respects, my involvements were more intense in junior 
high not high school, but in junior high. We were be 
coming less timid, playing football -- there was no junior 
high team at that time but sandlot, Saturday morning foot 
ball at the Blueberry Field, on campus. This was a regular 
thing. We had helmets and the whole business. I was quite 
proud of my performance in this respect. We were looked 
upon as being pretty hot stuff, you see. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 

PJK: Did you continue in high school in athletics? 

EB: No, I didn't. No, no I didn't. The only school* involve 
ment was in college: this was wrestling as a freshman. 
I joined the team. I was a freshman. But it didn't last 
any longer than that. That's the only time I ever joined 
a school team. 

PJK: That is a rough one to choose. I remember the couple 
times I tried wrestling, I just about choked. I can't 
imagine anything that involves more exertion, putting 
everything into a few -- 

EB: Stamina. 

PJK: Well, let's see. There really isn't anything that comes 
immediately to your mind from your own background, child 
hood, early education, that somehow has a bearing on the 
course that your career was going to make. 

EB: No, I can't say that there is. There's certainly the 

encouragement I received from my parents, great encour 
agement in the violin. As a matter of fact, I received 
encouragement in everything I did. I think I was a 
favored child in that respect, that there were supports 
and enthusiasm, sort of "Oh, that's great" type of thing. 
That doesn't happen to all kids. It's kind of nice. 

PJK: Probably gave you a certain amount of confidence about 
what you were going to do, I would imagine. 

EB: Well, yes, that's accurate in that respect. 

PJK: Your father was in the construction business, is that right? 

EB: He was not schooled, he taught himself what was necessary 
to become a builder. He went to night school; he taught 
himself plumbing; he taught himself electrical work; he 
taught himself these things and then he would draw up his 
own plans. He was his own architect. And then what he 
would do would be to go around and pick up ideas that struck 
his fancy, from other peoples' buildings and that's what 
a lot of architects, builders of homes do, this sort of 
thing. And then he'd make his own composite of these. 
He would take me -- and this was when I was in junior 
high -- around, and he would ask me to make drawings. 
I had this talent, so to speak, for details of wrought 
iron verandas, of a chimney, of the front porch here, 
you know, this sort of thing, or the details of the shapes 
of the windows or the place of the windows in the house. 
That kind of thing. And then I would draw these, make 
sketches of these as notes for him. 

PJK: But it never occurred to you at that point this was a 
talent you might be able to use? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 6 

EB: No. In the same way he would ask me to do the lettering 

on his plans. He would have difficulty with the lettering 
so I'd do... this was a chore. It would be very much like 
asking me to cut the lawn. (Laughs) 

PJK: Which I'm sure he did as well. Well, were your circum 
stances fairly comfortable? 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: Say middle class, upper middle class? 

EB: Oh, yes, right. No, we never were pinched for money, that 
sort of thing. 

PJK: It sounds like, building houses and stores and so forth, 
one would be in a fairly good position. What about when 
you grew up in the shadow of the University of California 
-- and I see you've remained in the shadow ever since -- 
did this affect your life? Berkeley's supposed to be a 
very intellectual community and so forth. I'm just cur 
ious to know if being so near the university community 
affected your experience of growing up in any way? 

EB: Not consciously. I'm sure it must have without a doubt, 

but we did not attend lectures or musical performances, or 
anything of that kind on campus. My father, and my mother 
too, had it firmly in mind that my older brother and I 
would go to college, that was in the cards. Now, we could 
be from way out in the country some place and they might 
have had that in mind, so it didn't indicate necessarily 
an influence in the close proximity. 

PJK: What would be interesting to know is their backgrounds in 

terms of education and also of nationality, where they came 
from. 

EB: They were both born in San Francisco. He's from German 

stock, and she's from a combination of Swedish and Spanish. 
Her background's more colorful because her father was a 
great sea captain and he operated between San Francisco 
and the Orient for a good many years. 

PJK: They were born in San Francisco, perhaps around '90? 

EB: Yeah. 

PJK: So you really are a native, you go way back. 

EB: Yes, that's true. 

PJK: I don't know how important it is, but certainly in that 

generation not too many did go off to college, and I guess 
it became natural that they wanted this for their own 
children. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 

EB: Oh, that was very common, that's true. It was not unusual. 
My mother went to, I think it was called, Teacher's Normal, 
teacher training school. I think this was beyond high 
school, a year or so beyond that she went there. But that's 
the closest that they. . . 

PJK: So they moved from San Francisco. Did they start their 

marriage in San Francisco and then move to Berkeley to the 
house when you were three? 

EB: I think so. Yeah, I think so. Well, no, my father, I 

remember now, met my mother when he was building a house 
in West Berkeley -- West Berkeley was quite different then 
than it is now. Then, I think she was living on this side 
of the Bay, so by that time they'd gravitated to the East 
Bay. So let's see, then I enrolled at the University of 
California, Berkeley, in 1934, which was exactly what my 
parents wanted me to do. I don't know if it was Berkeley 
they chose, but nevertheless. 

PJK: You said your grades weren't that good? 

EB: No, in high school they were terrible. Here again is where 
the kind of relative financial well-being of the family 
saved my neck, because I was pulled out -- I was going to 
Berkeley High and was flunking out of there, like I was 
getting "F's" and put into a private high school, Williams 
High School in Oakland, where the classes were very much 
smaller, where you got individual attention and so forth. 
And got good enough grades there to make it into Cal. 
Then in my first year at Cal, I was on probation, nearly 
flunked out there. Part of that was due to the fact that 
my father wanted me to get into architecture, so I took 
these architecture courses and got "F's" and "D's." 
But in addition to that, I did very poorly in science, and 
these were the first requirements. I gotorJ'F," I think it 
was, or "D" in a paleontology course, had to take it over 
again, and got a "C" from an easier instructor. Thank 
God for those easier instructors. Everybody said, "Gee, 

take Hines. You're bound to get a "C" at least." 

f 

PJK: So when you enrolled at Cal, your father was sort of en 
couraging you in the direction of architecture, which 
isn't too surprising. 

EB: That's right. The picture of the university, and again 
I think this is a very common attitude at that time, was 
that the son continues where the father left off. I would 
simply be continuing his life, but I would have the advan 
tage of the college education. Otherwise, there'd be no 
difference, see? Did your father think that about you? 

PJK: I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. I think 
he ultimately had to give up any fantasy like that. And 
I hope that he is just as happy. But at some point, you -- 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 8 

EB: He had great expectations, and that's kind of nice. 
It's burdensome, but it's nice. 

PJK: But it became clear to you that architecture wasn't 
your forte? 

EB: Oh, yes. I remember these assignments in the beginning 
architecture course where we'd have to do a plate on a 
very large sheet of paper, showing the door and column, 
for example, and the details of the capital and the 
fluting of the column, the base of the column, all that 
sort of thing, with the labeling off to one side. And 
this had to be neat. I would invariably get mine all 
smudged up. And there 'd be any number of students in 
the class who had the most beautiful, immaculate, pro 
fessional looking results. So just a general clue was 
in the sloppiness which was something that made it im 
possible for me to become an architect. 

PJK: Of course, we don't want to say that carried over into 
your painting. (Laughs) 

EB: Well, I don't know. I don't know. You see, the way I 
like to look back upon this is I rebelled against the 
kind of sterility -- I didn't see it as this at the time. 
I was envious of the powers that these other students 
had to keep it so much under control. And I rebelled 
against the sterility, unconsciously, and wanted to warm 
it up. I got it all smudged up. 

PJK: Do you remember at what moment and why you then decided 
to -- I guess you majored in painting, right? 

EB: No, this was gradual. This was rather gradual. 
PJK: Can you describe the process? 

EB: It was much too much a matter of just getting more and 
more into it as a gradual process. It would be easier 
for me to describe the process of my getting involved 
with the violin, because* one day my mother brought home 
a tin violin from the five and ten cents store. Love was 
immediate, spectacular. And they claim -- I don't remember 
this -- but here I was in grammar school, couldn't have 
been more than six or seven years old, early grammar 
school, and they claim I made such beautiful music on 
this that in short order they ran out and brought me a 
hundred dollar one. 

PJK: Replaced your tin violin. Did you love your hundred 
dollar one? 

EB: I had them on their knees in two shakes. They had tears 

rolling down. So if you ask me how my involvement started 
in painting, it was not like that at all. It was not like 
they went out and bought me some tin brushes. No, it was 
a very, very gradual... And I had, in grammar school and 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 9 

in high school, I had a very good teacher, a gal named 
Ballett, I forget the first name, with a reputation as 
a high school art teacher. She was a very good teacher, 
but I didn't especially catch fire, nothing great happened, 
nothing great ensued. It wasn't until this gradual thing 
at Cal as a freshman with all my feet over the architecture 
camp, then as a sophomore, coming into art and gradually 
getting interested, and as a junior more and more involved. 
My grades started to pick up after I got the breadth 
requirements out of the way in the lower division, then 
I could put more and more time in the art thing. Everything 
started to pick up. My whole academic career began to 
look rosy after the undergraduate period of real phenomenons. 

PJK: But you did major in painting as an undergraduate, I gather -- 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: -- with the idea of going onto graduate school. 

EB: Well, that came later. 

PJK: Was there any thing that stands out, say in terms of your 
undergraduate experience in connection with you -- 

EB: Yes. Certainly the teachers that I had in the art depart 
ment, most especially Margaret O'Hagan -- Margaret Peter- 
sen was her maiden name. This was the first time I really 
experienced anything quite like this, this intenseness, 
this concern, inspiring -- terrifying, too. She was a 
real fire-eater. She had us terrified. But she was so 
completely dedicated. Now, I must say that this teacher 
in paleontology that I got this horrible grade from, he 
was that way, too. He absolutely loved paleontology, and 
this was a breadth course but he expected everybody to 
become life long paleontologists, or he treated us that 
way and he treated the subject that way. It's a great 
thing. It put tremendous pressure on; in the case of the 
science I couldn't meet that pressure. But in the case 
of the art, then it was a f marvelous kind of thing to run 
across this zealot, this saint. 

PJK: And Margaret Petersen was such a teacher? 

EB: Absolutely, yes. There's nothing as important as art. 

PJK: What was she like as a teacher? What was her approach? 

EB: First of all, she dressed in a very unusual, very unique, 
very personal fashion. She loved to wear colors that were 
curious, like yellow and orange. She'd have a skirt that 
was striped yellow and orange, she'd have pink shoes on 
-- imagine yellow and orange and pink -- and maybe pale 
white stockings. Then she had these pale blue eyes, huge, 
round pupils that were watery blue, very pale. She had 
pale blond hair. Well, this is true. But then, here her 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 10 

personality was enough to scare the daylights out of you. 
She'd come in and she would just stare, and the class 
would be absolutely silent except for the trembling. 
And if she didn't like something, she would say it in a 
way which was brutal, absolutely brutal. Some students 
would hate her because of this. 

PJK: But you didn't? You were inspired, I gather. 

EB: Well, I was altogether. Yeah, I was scared stiff of her, 

though, I was really scared stiff of her the whole time. 

And she was not really a person that you could warm up to. 

She was not a person you could get very close to. 

PJK: What did she teach? Painting? 

EB: She taught drawing and painting. And here was the very 

first time I had encountered Picasso. She was crazy about 
Picasso and here, as a beginning student, you were in front 
of a still life set up, you're working in charcoal and 
newsprint, and you had to do this in the manner of Picasso. 
Makes it sound kind of phony, doesn't it? (Laughs) You 
would cubize it. And you had very clear cut models, very 
clear cut notions about what the end result was to be. 
So when all of these things went up on the boards for a 
class critique, they very much looked alike, some a bit 
more adept than others. But in terms of the objective, 
you would say they're all cued in, all very identical. 

PJK: Was this typical of the instruction at Cal in the '30's? 
EB: I guess it's typical of all schools, yes it was. 
PJK: Who else do you remember among your teachers? 

EB: Erie Loran was influential and, again, an inspiring 
teacher; and Worth Ryder, especially in terms of art 
history. He was a good art historian. I think he was 
marvelous because of his intense enthusiasm, his enamor- 
ment of art, especially certain periods, the early 
Renaissance, he was a Gio'tto fiend. He was just absolutely 
in love with Giotto and the artists of that period which, 
as you know, some historians would even put Giotto as a 
Late Gothic as opposed to an Early Renaissance, and others 
would say Petrarch was the morning star of the Renaissance, 
Giotto was also a morning star in painting. 

PJK: So this would have been your first contact with art 
history classes? 

EB: Yes. Those art history classes were all taught by artists 
then. 

PJK: There really wasn't an art history department then? 
EB: No. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 11 

PJK: Of course, there weren't many in art history then. 

EB: Even Eugen Neuhaus , who wrote a book on American art 
history, was a painter, and he exhibited. Not at any 
great length, but he did paint and he did exhibit. 

PJK: What about Erie Loran? Of course, his Ce'zanne book came 
much later, but nonetheless, I would imagine that some of 
the interest that led him to go stay at Cezanne's house -- 
actually when was that? It seems to me that his initial 
visits may have been in the late '30's? 

EB: I don't recall. 

PJK: But anyway, I was just wondering if any of his early 

interest in Ce'zanne, first of all if it existed at that 
time, and then if it was transmitted to you and the other 
students? 

EB: It was. His interest, his particular esthetic, his par 
ticular kind of involvement with the formal aspects of 
compositions, that did get across and did make its mark. 
The Margaret O'Hagan thing, that was a much more dynamic 
and, I would say, a much stronger influence on me than 
any other influence. 

PJK: But why? Her enthusiasm? What specifically? Was there 
something in her own style? 

EB: In her own work. Then I think the fact that she seemed, I 

mean in viewing this as a student you get an impression from 
a person, and this impression is terribly important. It 
needn't be accurate. The fact that it exists and the fact 
of its potence is the important thing. It's your own imag 
ining, maybe. But at any rate, she, like other teachers, 
gave the impression that she ate and slept art. This was 
twenty-four hours a day, this was her life. And none of the 
other instructors gave this impression nearly as strongly 
as she did. This was something she got tremendously elated 
about, tremendously angry about, tremendously passionate 
about. None of the othen instructors ... it to this degree, 
not saying the other instructors didn't feel this, it's 
just that she was able to dramatize it -- she was a great 
dramatist. So, sure, Clyfford Still must have infected 
his students that way, that this man, he and art are just 
like that, they're glued together, they'll never come apart, 
he is art. And she was a person like maybe Hans Hofmann 

T~never knew him, you see, but maybe he again had this 
kind of effect. Now, whether or not this is true really 
doesn't matter. All of these people that I mentioned -- 
you can probably think of a lot more names, you know -- 
have tremendous power to dramatize themselves, and they 
take themselves very dramatically. She did. So maybe I'm 
talking as much about the susceptibility of a college student 
in those days, I think college students are much more inde 
pendent today, but I'm talking about a college student in 
those days. And we were all empty vessels to be filled. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 12 

PJK: Right. I was just going to point this out that^then, 
certainly much more than now, a college student enter 
ing an art program in this area would have such exposure. 
The paintings, the original paintings, I would imagine 
-- sure, I suppose that one could go over to the de Young 
or something like that, the Legion, too, was open by then, 
but you wouldn't see much contemporary art, and that's 
what you would be concerned with. You were an artist 
working, a student at that point, and becoming an artist. 
And I suppose your models then, more so here than in New 
York, perhaps, would have been the teachers. 

EB: That's true, yeah. That's very true and what was given 
to you by your teachers, so your enthusiasm for, say 
Braque and Picasso, this was brought to the class by 
Margaret O'Hagan. 

PJK: What did her work look like? Can you remember? 

EB: Oh, yes. Well, there was some of the signs of the Picasso 
enthusiasm. Her work was figurative, it always dealt with 
subjects like Picasso, recognizable subject matter. Do you 
recall the big still lives that he did in the twenties, 
that Picasso did in the twenties? The Lamb's Head and The 
Red Tablecloth and these? That Picasso she was very keen 
about, that phase of Picasso I would say had the strongest 
evidence of its presence in her work. Then she was crazy 
about the Russian icons. So there was this, except her 
color in the form was much more of the nature of Picasso 
and the size of her work and this sort of thing, the voice 
it had was much more like Picasso's voice. But there were 
some of the formal qualities of the Russian icons in her 
perspective, including the Table Top and the expanding of 
the table as it goes back into space. And this was Russian 
icon. She was keen about certain aspects of El Greco. 
This was less conspicuous in her work. She would show 
reproductions of El Greco and talk about El Greco, but the 
evidence of his work was less marked in her own paintings. 
And what else? I guess that's it. I think she participated 
in the general Giotto enthusiasm. Giotto was maybe the 
strongest influence, the most all-pervasive model at the 
university in the art department at the time I was there, 
and she participated in that. 

PJK: Did your student work then look something like Margaret 
O'Hagan's? 

EB: Sure. Sure. As much as I could get it to do so (laughs). 
Yeah, well Margaret O'Hagan and then certainly modified 
then by the other instructors. 



PJK: What about John Haley? Did you take his classes? 

EB: Yes, I did. And also Glenn Wessel^'s. And I would say 
that his influence on me was perhaps less than Loran's 
and definitely less than O'Hagan's. And the same would 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 13 

be true of Wessels. I took classes from Eugen Neuhaus 
and Chiura Obata and so forth, but they would be more 
minor. 

PJK: Well, you're a teacher -- in fact, you've taught for many 
years now. How would you rate or characterize the art 
department at the University of California in the thirties? 

EB: I think it was good. I would have to say that largely, 
not in terms of the esthetic -- although if you're going 
to have very clear cut models which you're going to pre 
sent to the students which were characteristic at those 
times, characteristic of all the art departments in all 
the universities, I would say as a general statement of 
those times, I don't think you could pick any better 
models than they picked. It was prejudiced in the sense 
that as you proceed into the Renaissance from Giotto, 
especially into the time of Leonardo da Vinci and Michel 
angelo, they saw everything as going drastically down hill. 
As a kind of repeat of the picture moving from Classical 
Greek to Hellenistic Greek, you see. And this would in 
clude such people as Titian, too, this marvelous Titian, 
he would also be a step down from this pinnacle. Now 
okay, that's the negative side. But the enthusiasms were 
very positive, and I think that what they cared about was 
worth caring about, their concerns and the esthetics and 
all that, were worth caring about. The fact that..., they 
were practicing artists, the fact that they brought a 
personal passion to a greater and lesser degree to their 
work and to their teaching, and certainly to the whole 
realm of art, I think that this was excellent. I'm not 
sure that you would get this at every art department. 
I think that Cal was especially good in that respect. 
You had a bunch of concerned people, really concerned 
people. 

PJK: It seems to me from what you say then, the department 

would have been less interested in color than form; there's 
an interest in Giotto, Cezanne, and I gather the formal 
aspects. You just mentioned Titian as an example from 
a later period, but is this true? Was there an equal 
interest in color? 

EB: I think I would say it is true that there was an equal 

interest in color on the part of O'Hagan -- I keep call 
ing her by her married name, Petersen, Margaret Petersen. 
I'm trying to think. The idea of drawing preceeding 
color, the idea of drawing being foundation in that sense, 
the idea that you don't form things in color, you form 
things in line. Possibly, secondly you start thinking 
in terms of darks and lights. Thirdly you start thinking 
in terms of color. This kind of sequence. Now, the whole 
curriculum is this way. When you start, the very first 
courses are not color, they're black and white and mostly 
they're line. Later in that same course might be intro 
duced to dark and light development. And then your se 
cond year you might work in color almost as a separate 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 14 

concern. Then in your upper division you put these 
things together and start to make works of art. 'Well, 
I never encountered the reverse of that, I never encoun 
tered any interference, any challenging of that hierarchy, 
you might say, or the sequence which leads to the hier 
archy, until I encountered Abstract Expressionism after 
the war at the California School of Fine Arts. I never 
knew anything. I never knew it could be approached any 
other way until I encountered Abstract Expressionism 
where you would start a canvas actually with areas of 
color. 

PJK: I was just going to observe that I would expect, maybe 

from a very early date, perhaps when you were a student, 
you might have exhibited a decided interest in color. 

EB: Well, yes, but with these restraints. I think that what 
you say is probably true, but then looking back on that 
situation, you would have to say that color is not as 
fundamental, is not the structural element that line is. 
You were asking me - - this is a reply to your question 
about did color take a back seat in the teaching at Cal. 
I would have to say yes. 

PJK: What was the situation at what became the California 

School of Fine Arts across the Bay? Was it a very active 
art school at the time you were a student at Cal? 

EB: It was active, yeah, because as you know it goes back to 
1870 or something like that. But, I think the situation 
then was the reverse of what it was looked upon as being 
later on, where Cal was avant-garde and the California 
School of Fine Arts, as it was then called, was looked 
upon as very academic. 

PJK: So it wouldn't have drawn students for graduate school -- 
EB: No. 

PJK: If you'd decided you could have done better elsewhere, 
let's say in the Bay Area', you would have gone there? 

EB: Did they have a graduate school at that time? No, I don't 
think so. No, I don't think it had any drawing power and, 
no, I think that actually the university art department 
was a much more vital place at that time. 

PJK: You mentioned the fact that -- this of course was in the 
thirties, a period of social realism and the regional 
movement. . . 

EB: WPA murals. 

PJK: -- The WPA murals, certainly, and the public art projects 
beginning. What was the relationship of the university 
art department to these developments? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 15 

EB: It looked to other things of a purer nature. I think it 

felt that the social realist art was too anecdotal and was 
an adulterated art form, it didn't have the formal qualities, 
it didn't display sufficiently the formal qualities which 
were the enthusiasms of most of the faculty. Most of the 
faculty did concur, actually, in their esthetic. For those 
reasons, there was very little evidence of the influence 
of mural work in the work of the students at Cal. I 
remember a course I took, I guess I was a senior at this 
point, and I did a fresco in the basement, not very large, 
maybe six feet high and four feet wide, of the old Spreckle's 
Art Building at Cal. And the design I did for this was 
^a la Michelangelo of my own choosing. I was not especially 
encouraged, as I pointed out earlier. And this was a scene 
of workers who had been beaten up by police. (Laughs) 

PJK: My, God, how precious. 

EB: And they were sort of helping one another, limping along 
helping one another. 

PJK: This suggests that you had some decided liberal tendencies. 

EB: Well, it does. You see, I was not especially politically 

conscious one way or the other. But here was a social 

realist scene that had somehow crept in and I don't know 
how. 

PJK: How did you choose it? 

EB: I don't remember how it came about. The best I can recall, 
it was basically an esthetic decision. I liked forms, I 
liked the way these figures would work, you see, it was 
sort of a sensuous composition because these figures were 
a little bit like Christ who'd just come off the Cross. 

PJK: There's a political statement there, there's no question. 

EB: Oh, yeah. Well, I picked obviously from some episode, 

I guess. I'd seen that itiea. But the appearance of any 
thing of that nature was not characteristic at all of what 
was coming out of the art department in those days. I don't 
think this was bad; I don't think the fact that the art 
department was holding the line pretty much against these 
contemporary things going on in the art world was necessarily 
bad. I say that because I very much approve of their basic 
enthusiasm. 

PJK: What do you think they would have thought of, say, Thomas 
Hart Benton or someone like that? 

EB: Not very highly. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 16 

PJK: Who were the heros of contemporary art at that time, 

partly for your department, but mainly for you and the 
other students? Were you familiar with other American 
artists or pretty well the Europeans? 

EB: The Europeans. Number one was certainly Picasso. Matisse 
never had much of an influence at all on the art department 
at Cal. That's a very interesting thing. I don't know, 
I think it would be hard for me to say exactly why he 
would not. Maybe it's a thing about power. 

PJK: Perhaps too decorative? 

EB: Too unanalysable. Too difficult to talk about in analytical 
terms possibly. The art department did have, as a general 
characteristic, that love of analysis. 

PJK: And therefore an interest in cubism probably. 

EB: Interest in cubism, right. And in formal terms, some 
artists are very much easier to talk about than other 
artists. Imagine trying to talk about Rembrandt in formal 
terms . 

PJK: No, I don't think that'd be a productive way. 

EB: Very, very difficult. There's nothing to really hold on to. 

PJK: What about Americans? Were you aware, were the other 
students aware of any big names in American art? Was 
there any sense of an American art, a national art, other 
than maybe social art? 

EB: None, other than social. These names didn't -- 

PJK: You wouldn't know about Dove, for instance -- 

EB: No. 

PJK: -- or Marsden Hartley, Marin? 

EB: No, pretty ignorant. Pretty ignorant of all the things 

that were going on. And anyway, I think we had the stand 
ard prejudices that's... all actually reflections of the 
European. It wasn't until later, you see, that you got 
American art that originated in America. 

PJK: I suppose that's true as a matter of -- 

EB: Well, no, I think your question's a very good one. And 

here would be a very legitimate, marvelous enthusiasm for 
people like Hartley and Marin and on and on. But they 
didn't exist. 

PJK: Not even aware of them, probably? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 17 

EB: No. 

PJK: You obviously didn't have great opportunities to see 

great pictures. I mean, that's still a problem around 
here. 

EB: That's true, yeah. 

PJK: So I imagine that much of what you saw was in reproductions, 
magazines and so forth. On the other hand, there were cer 
tain events, special exhibitions that did come out here, 
and we'll talk about the Golden Gate International Exposi 
tion, for one, which certainly had an art pavilion. I 
gather you would have been a student at that time. We 
can't remember an exact year, I think it was '39, but any 
way, you were certainly -- 

EB: -- finishing up. 

PJK: What was your experience? 

EB: Well, I remember the art pavilion as being a marvelous 

collection of things. One thing sticks in my mind especially 
is the Birth of Venus of Botticelli. I went back time and 
time again to see those things in the flesh after having 
seen them for such a long time in reproduction. It's al 
ways a thrill and a revelation. 

PJK: That's what I was going to ask you. Were there any 
specific revelations or did it tend to confirm? 

EB: It tended more to confirm, I think. I experienced more a 
kind of real alteration of judgement, real alteration of 
point of view. Later on when I went to Europe in the 
sixties, and spent a lot of time in the museums. There's 
where some artists fell drastically and some moved dras 
tically in my estimation. 

PJK: Since you brought the subject up, which ones? What would 
be an example of fallen ^.dol, so to speak? 

EB: I was disappointed with Velazquez and it's as though the 

reproductions make him look better. I was looking forward 
to seeing, for example, the painting Las Meninas , I was 
really keyed up about the prospect of seeing that. And 
when I actually came face to face with it, it was a let 
down, it was not what I expected to see. It didn't have 
the resonance that I some how had imagined it to have be 
cause of the reproduction. The Surrender of Breda, again 
I was looking forward to this with great anticipation. 
It didn't do what I had hoped it to do. On the other hand, 
some of the very last paintings that Frans Hals did, there's 
five or six old ladies, they're governesses, I believe, 
very austere painting and primarily you see their faces 
and their collars, their white collars and white cuffs and 
hands moving through this dark, huge space. Beautiful 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 18 

painting. Of course, here you've got room after room 
after room in this museum in Haarlem, Frans Hals' paint 
ings and you don't see that kind of thing at all. So 
I'm. really talking about one or two. 



PJK: Last time, Elmer, we got you through graduate school, which 
I think is a pretty clever feat to manage in just one day, 
just a few hours. And you graduated then, you got your 
M.A. in 1939, I think. 

EB: Right. 

PJK: So what I'd like to do, first of all, is complete the 
biographical outline. What did you do after graduate 
school? 

EB: Well, the first thing was to get a job because I was 

already married. I married in my graduate year and there 
was a child on the way. So getting employment and being 
financially self-sufficient was important. I had a 
general teaching credential plus the M.A. , so I was 
looking for any kind of a teaching job. It turned out 
that the only ones that were available at that point, or 
the ones that were available to me, were high school jobs. 
There was a job open up in Sacramento, and there was one 
open down in Brawley, which is down in the valley in 
California. 

PJK: Down in the desert isn't it? 

EB: In the desert. I think it's just above the border. So I 
went up to the Sacramento high school during the summer 
and visited with the teacher there who was leaving the job. 
His name was Carleton Ball, and he was a pretty well known 
ceramist. From there he went down to Mills College. I 
haven't heard about him for a long, long time, so I don't 
know what happened to him, but he was a real live-wire and 
had worked up a pretty good reputation for himself. He was 
a large, burly, bewhiskered person and he proceeded to tell 
me during my visit to look over the facilities and so forth 
and to be interviewed up there during the summer of '39. 
He proceeded to tell me how the courses that he taught 
were ceramics and jewelry in the shop row. Across the 
hall was the electrical shop, there was a machine shop, and 
auto shop and printing shop, I don't know, a whole raft of 
shops. And all the deadwood, all those who were impossible 
academically, all the football players, were shunted into 
these courses. Most of the time, he was beating up kids 
out in the hall. (Laughs) And he was physically equipped 
to do this. As a natter of fact, he proceeded to tell me 
how he worked his way through college boxing professionally 
in smokers and things like that. So, you can imagine how 
this left me shaking. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 19 

PJK: But you took the job anyway? 

EB: Well, I had the summer ahead, and my schooling at Cal 

didn't prepare me for the specifics of teaching ceramics 
and jewelry. They didn't have any classes at Cal. I knew 
about painting and I knew a bit about a few other things, 
art history, but I didn't know the techniques involved. 
So I took three courses that summer in preparation for the 
job, a ceramics course and a jewelry course at Arts and 
Crafts in Oakland, and then I took a boxing course. 

PJK: I don't believe that. You're making that up. 

EB: No, that's true. That summer at Cal. And grew a mustache 

to look older. And then went up and started in on this job. 
The very first day, the very first morning of classes, some 
tough looking guys came to me early -- I was in the room 
before class started, maybe about fifteen minutes before 
the first class -- and announced to me that Faith Hatro 
was headed this way. I remember that name. Faith Hatro, 
beautiful name. Headed this way. Like (laughs) a cowboy 
movie. Like Jack Palance was headed into town, watch out. 
So I didn't know what to make of this. They just announced 
it and disappeared. 

PJK: Well, did he show up? 

EB: Yes, yes (laughs). Before long there was this knock on the 
back door, the door that led out into the courtyard, a door 
that was not supposed to be used. You're supposed to come 
down the corridor inside the building, through the front 
door. So I thought, "I guess this is (Laughs through talking 
I could either open the door or else run out the front door 
down the corridor. So I decided to open the door and to do 
it with a great deal of fire and flare and authority. I 
threw open the door, and I hollered, "What the hell are you 
doing knocking on this door? You know it's not the door 
to come in." The guy ... (Laughs) I did this so effectively 
that Faith, who's a tough looking little guy -- he was 
short, like a little dictator type (I understood later he's 
a boxer, too) and his companion, who was bigger, both made 
off. They backed off and they disappeared. Never saw Faith 
Hatro (laughs through talking). From then on, I fancied 
myself a master at bluffing. In the whole two years I was 
there it was endless bluffing, it really was. 

PJK: And you were never called on? 

EB: I was never called on it, fortunately. No. Always bluffing, 
always challenging, always threatening. The opposition was 
always doing that and I was bluffing my way out. 

PJK: Seems to me, then, your years teaching high school in 
Sacramento were more memorable for that kind of thing 
than your evolution as an artist. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 20 

EB: No, no it had nothing. You're very much, even at that 
time, now high school's infinitely worse, but you were 
very much the policeman. No, I never felt that I had 
any students there. There was one student, he wasn't 
in the class, but he brought his work to me periodically. 
He was always dressed in a shirt and tie and suit. 
Don Burelle was his name, and he later became the designer, 
and I'm not sure what kind of a position he evolved into, 
at the Nut Tree. He became their artist, the designer. 
But outside of that, there was no one that I ever heard of. 

PJK: But you did start your own family life in Sacramento, then? 
EB: Right. 

PJK: Well, while we're on the subject, what about your own 

family? How many children do you have, this type of thing. 

EB: Well, I had a son and a daughter born while in Sacramento. 
The son was the first one to arrive and then a daughter. 
Then after the war, two sons. Then my first wife and I 
separated, got a divorce. And I had another wife and 
another son, and we divorced, and I'm with the third 
wife now. We have an adopted son. That makes four, five, 
six counting the adopted son. One daughter. 

PJK: This is rather an elaborate family situation. 
EB: Yes, it is. 

PJK: But I imagine you're able to keep track of the offspring 
to a certain extent. 

EB: If I don't have too much to drink. (Laughs) 

PJK: Then let's see. You left Sacramento. Of course the war 
broke out. 

EB: Yes. I should mention, though, that there was some activity 
up there, centered around the WPA, and a financed community 
group. There was a commeVcial artist named Ben Aikan.? : , 
who worked for a department store up there, and he and I 
became very good friends. I think he was an influence on 
me, not in terms of art. I was still in the throes of 
Braque and Picasso kind of thing, and my work showed it. 
My work was a very obviously derived from Braque and 
Picasso. Ben was an influence, I think, in terms of 
political attitudes. He was liberal, much more liberal 
minded than I had grown up to be at that point. And he 
was an avid reader, and he put me on to various things to 
read and so forth. He was an influence, I think a very 
good influence, in that way. The other people up there 
that I had some contact with were not artists that I would 
have any long range regard for. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 21 

PJK: But there was something of a community, I guess, a small 
artist community. Would you describe it that way? 

EB: Yes, it was. And then we had drawing groups. We drew 

from the model; there was a group of us that got together 
and did that. 

PJK: Which is something you've really continued to do, I guess, 
off and on, right up to the present. 

EB: Yes, I think you could say it's a fairly persisting activity 
except I'm not doing it at the present time. That's right. 
And then I worked, I would paint on Sundays. The teaching 
job was very exhausting emotionally, very exhausting. It 
took up the whole day Monday through Friday, so that I 
just had Saturdays and Sundays when I could get some paint 
ing done. But all together, I would say it was a very 
uninspiring and unencouraging climate. For any period of 
time, I just can't imagine an artist who's accomplishing 
anything, advancing his work, growing at all in an environ 
ment like that unless he's a Cezanne, an exceptional case. 

PJK: Then you joined the Air Force, I believe. 

EB: Yeah, I had an ROTC, reserve officers commission, second 
lieutenant in the reserves, from Cal. I came out of Cal 
well prepared for the general secretary and a commission 
in the reserves and for any eventuality. And I didn't 
want to be in the infantry. And I heard that they needed 
people at Mather Field in the air force -- 

PJK: Where's that? 

EB: Right outside Sacramento. It was very easy to transfer 
from the infantry into the air force which was still at 
that time part of the U.S. Army. 

PJK: Well, did they call you up? This was after Pearl Harbor. 

EB: No, they didn't. It was a case of having to guess just 
about when your number's going to come up. They were 
calling up the reserves at that point, and you just sort 
of had to, without having any inside line, you just had to 
figure out, well, they're going to be calling me up pretty 
soon. And you wanted to jump the gun on it because if you 
waited, you might just get stuck in the infantry. So I 
went out to Mather Field, and sure enough, they needed 
people in all sorts of catagories. And depending upon the 
time you showed up, you might get stuck in the signal corps, 
you might get stuck in the G2 or G3, it all really depended 
on what they needed at the moment. Very chaotic. It's 
amazing that anything was accomplished at all in such chaos. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 22 

PJK: How did you feel about the war? You said that you'd 
begun to pick up more liberal views, more political 
consciousness. I know a lot of those who might have 
called themselves pacifists before Pearl Harbor, when 
that came it really switched around, really felt that 
this changed things and that there was an imminent 
threat to this country, and it was a case where one 
welcomed the opportunity to serve one's country, push 
off the Germans and the Japanese. You joined up pre 
sumably because you knew your number was coming up. 
But beyond that, what was your attitude? 

EB: Well, my attitude was just dawning at that time. I very 
much went along with whatever was existing. This is true 
of my art, too. I was not that independent, not that 
independent of other thoughts and conditions and so forth, 
so that my political attitude, even though as I say I 
found Ben Aikan a very interesting guy and his putting 
me on to readings of one kind or another that I was taking 
to... I can't say that I had any individual stand about 
the war. If we were going to fight a war, I accepted 
that without...! suppose it was a very good war to be in 
if you have to be in a war, because it seemed like, even 
more so than the First World War, this was more of a black 
and white issue. I think we still look upon the Axis 
Powers as representing a very, very bad thing, you know. 
And it's not changed. In the First World War, they started 
out by saying that the Kaiser ate babies. Well, it turned 
out that the Kaiser didn't really eat babies. But the 
Second World War was one of these unusual things, it was 
almost a throwback to some kind of a god awful primitive 
mentality on the one hand, you know. 

PJK: Well, I think that's true that a lot of those in the '60s 
who opposed the Vietnam War probably would not have done 
so in the '40s. 

EB: No, that's right. It'd be much better to be involved in 
the Second World War than the Korean War or the Vietnam 
War. So you could say that the Second World War was not 
particularly a war that invited reflection on the purposes 
and so forth. It was pretty obvious. My concern was sort 
of to get out of the infantry and in to the air force. 

PJK: So you ended up in the Army Air Force and then actually 
found yourself in England for a period. How long was 
that for? 

EB: Well, that was the whole war. Let's see, from '39 to '41, 
I was teaching then in high school. From '41 to the middle 
of '42, I was at Mather Field; it was a year and a half, 
roughly. Or a year. Then I was sent overseas to England 
and was just then settling in with the bombing units and 
the fighter units. This was very early in the game. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 23 

The RAF fields were being transferred over to the US 
forces. So I was there for the initial stages. England 
had already been through the Battle of Britian, so that 
was in the past. And they were just beginning to absorb 
all of these American units who were being sent over there. 
And I was stationed at High Wycombe for practically the 
whole period until towards the end of '45. It was three 
and a half years, summer of '42 to '45, no wait a minute, 
end of '45 it was. Yeah. And High Wycombe was 40, 50 
miles up the Thames from London, so it was an ideal place 
to be based. Beautiful. 

PJK: What was your duty? Did you fly at all? Did you see 
any action? 

EB: No, I was in the intelligence section, I was concerned with 
training and aircraft identification, and I had to make 
periodic visits around to the bomber stations and assist 
them in the development of the aircraft identification 
programs . 

PJK: Doesn't sound to me, then, as if that period really added 
much to your own interests as an artist. 

EB: No. 

PJK: Little opportunity, I suppose, to sketch or do landscapes. 

EB: I did very little, very, very little. I did occasional 
sketching, but nothing on a regular basis. No kind of 
program. 

PJK: Did you feel this as an interruption? 
EB: Yes, I did. Oh, yeah. 

PJK: Because obviously you were committed to a career by this 
time, one would suppose, as a painter; this was your 
proper calling, and that is not something that you can 
turn on and turn off, or you prefer not to. So that must 
have been somewhat difficult. 

EB: Well, what happened was that I spent a tremendous amount 
of time, a lot of this feeling went into playing piano. 
They had pianos available in the officer's lounges and 
so forth, and I did spend some good deal of time doing 
that. This was a matter of working up all sorts of arrange 
ments, popular tunes. Spent a lot of time working up these 
elaborate arrangements. All sorts of popular tunes. 

PJK: Do you feel that during this time, there was anything that 
affected your own ideas about art or development as an 
artist? In other words, did you have the opportunity to 
see any art there? Of course I imagine most of the master 
pieces had been moved into cold storage during the war. 
I don't know exactly when that happened. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 24 

EB: They were. 

PJK: So going into London wasn't like going out to the national 
galleries? 

EB: No, that's true. 

PJK: So you really didn't have the opportunity, I suppose, 
to see European masterpieces. 

EB: Not the availability. 

PJK: And this was your first trip to Europe, I suppose? 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: So in terms of seeing great works of art, you drew a blank. 
So it had even less effect on your art interest then. 

EB: No, there was certainly not directly, no connection. 

It was a matter of my art interest being in abeyance for 
that time a big stretch of time. I don't know, you think 
of artists that got into the service as artists; they were 
commissioned to do portraits of generals and colonels, or 
to do decorations in the USDs or do murals, some of that 
went on. 

PJK: Or paint camouflage. 

EB: Or paint camouflage or to paint, I think there was some 
art where they painted battle scenes. I know they did 
that in England. Did we do that? Did we have artists 
painting battle scenes? 

PJK: Certainly there were artists covering the war. I believe 
so. I'm not absolutely sure of that. 

EB: I'm not absolutely sure either. I've never seen any books. 

PJK: At any rate, you had this, experience in England and returned 
at the end of '45 to the Bay Area. You should tell me, but 
I gather shortly thereafter you started teaching at the 
California School of Fine Arts. Earlier you told me that 
you view your education as 50% at Cal and 501 at the Cali 
fornia School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. What do you 
mean by that? 

EB: Well, it seems to me that there were a number of things 
that happened that come under the general heading of 
maturity, I guess. I feel the war had a very strong 
effect in that way. I went over there as an officer and 
quickly became aware of the fact that there're all sorts 
of people -- this is the first time, actually, this had 
dawned on me, had come to my awareness -- there are all 
sorts of people at various stations, various positions in 
the service who were very effective. This had nothing to 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 25 

do with rank, and it didn't seem to have very much to do 
with education, it didn't have much to do with where they 
came from. It was a very wide open situation, as I said. 
It's not like moving into a settled condition. It was a 
situation in the summer of '42 where a great deal of 
improvisation was needed, and I was absolutely baffled 
by the chaos and the complexity in making the transfer 
in these stations of, let's say, the RAF into our hands 
and all of the kinds of new experiences, new conditions 
that had to be dealt with and where order had to be 
brought about in a jiffy, no time to be lost. I was 
absolutely amazed at the innate know-how that was displayed. 
This was very much of a democratizing experience like 
I've never encountered before. It just seemed like my 
whole life before was hedged around in ways where I'd 
never come into contact with it. It was as though we were 
going through life in a closed compartment, you see, and 
I only came into contact with my own kind and I didn't get 
to see what other people were like or how they would act 
in very varied situations. So I emerged, I came back 
from the war then, with a totally different outlook, much 
educated, I would say. Not educated in art but educated 
about myself and about ways of viewing human beings. 
This change, which I'm sure loads of people underwent, 
and it was to a great extent instrumental in bringing 
about the divorce from my first wife, the break. 

PJK: Could you be more specific? What was the nature of this 
change? 

EB: Well, it was a little bit like the change that took place 
when I say that 50% of my education in art occurred at the 
California School of Fine Arts. It was a little bit like 
that change of a complete alteration in self -expectation 
because of an alteration in expectations from other people. 
I don't know how else to put it. 

PJK: How did you get on the faculty? 

EB: (Laughs over words) I can see that doesn't answer your 
question. 

PJK: Well, it begins to, though, and I think that perhaps by 
talking about the experience at the California School of 
Fine Arts, some of this will fill in a little bit. 

EB: It makes you more humble in a way, and yet raises your 

sights in other ways, makes you expect more. That seems 
like a contradiction. You're more humble about things that 
you assumed, I guess. These assumptions break down. And 
the assumptions, I think, have to do with family and place 
and circumstances, you can make a long list of the external 
things: I went to Cal, I was a member of this fraternity, 
I got this -- all these "Good Housekeeping" stamps of 
approval. All those things start to break down and you 
become humble about yourself in those terms. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 26 

PJK: But you also realize there are more important goals? 

EB: Right, right. And I don't know, it seems to me that this 

would be a case and you would describe it as a case of very 
delayed maturity. What I've been describing is the kind 
of thing that should take place much earlier. 

PJK: Doesn't often, though. 

EB: I like to think that it does with students today, more than 
it was common with students in my time. 

PJK: How would you say this alteration in your world view 
affected your ideas about art? 

EB: Oh, it affected them immensely. I think that art to me had 
been an external acquisition, again like getting a degree, 
and you learned those things, and you learned those tech 
niques, you learned these powers of composing and organizing 
and, to a certain degree, of inventing, certainly you learned 
stylistic attributes. And then you manipulated all this, 
very much like a commercial artist in that sense. You didn't 
dig any further, you didn't come up with things that be 
wildered you, you didn't traffic in that line. You dealt 
with things you had full control over, you were certain 
about. You might even meet deadlines, you were that sure. 
So there was a complete breakdown of that whole picture, 
that whole scene and the attitude that surrounded that 
sort of thing. So art became, then, much more a matter 
of trying to find out what you wanted to do. Find out who 
you are and all sorts of things like that. 

PJK: Became more of a philosophical activity? 

EB: More a questing kind of thing. It had never been that way 
for me before. 

PJK: Did you then arrive at the California School of Fine Arts -- 
you notice I keep trying to go back to that -- with this 
altered and expanded view, of what art can be and what the 
role of the artist might be? 

EB: No, I arrived there with the altered view that I described, 
the much more broad thing where the belief in all these 
things that had been more or less given, these external 
accomplishments, and these rewards that had been given to 
me, the belief in that was broken down. So I was prepared 
to appreciate then what was occurring in the California 
School of Fine Arts. But in terms of art, I had not 
anticipated. I was prepared to receive it but it came 
as a surprise. 

PJK: How did you get there, to the California School of Fine Arts? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 27 

EB: There was an opening. Somebody had cancelled out, a faculty 
member had cancelled out at the last minute and they des 
perately needed somebody. This was during the winter, 
early '46, and I got tipped off about this by Karl Kasten 
who was a fellow student of mine at Cal. I rushed over, 
took some of my work and had a brief interview with Doug 
MacAgy, and he said, "Show up Monday." I discovered later 
that the intention was to have me as a stop-gap until they 
found somebody else. But then as it turned out, they 
decided I was good enough to hold on to. 

PJK: You actually stayed on until 1952. 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: What about teaching there? Again, the total experience? 

EB: Well, the first thing I think I was aware of was how open 
the place was and how, well it was very intense, very high 
spirited. It's as though there were a lot of students 
there who were very conscious of having taken time out or 
lost time out from major pursuits and major concerns of 
a personal nature, certainly, in the war. I felt this way. 
Maybe I'm projecting this on to other people, but certainly 
there was that. It put great pressure on to make up for 
lost time, so to speak. A lot of intensity was born out 
of this feeling. The freewheeling quality, I think, came 
from the attitude that there were not really instructors 
and students as much as there were older artists and younger 
artists. Now this was very, very different from the uni 
versity experience. This was more like the whole school 
was made up of a community of artists, and there was a 
great deal of exchange across the boards between faculty 
and students, as much as to say that the students, good 
students, could influence the faculty. Now that would 
never... in a more structured situation where you have 
professors and students. There was a great deal of open 
ness between the faculty members, too, where we'd go around 
visiting one another's studios and commenting on one 
another's work. David Pa,rk and Hassel Smith and I and later 
on Diebenkorn, we did this kind of thing of going around 
to one another's studio. There was much mutual trust, 
much mutual regard. Nobody was climbing over anybody, 
nobody was trying to be top dog by climbing over somebody 
else . 

PJK: Sounds idyllic. 

EB: It was. 

PJK: And unusual. 

EB: Very unusual, very unusual. So you're in a community of 
peers without the usual hierarchy. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 

PJK: I have a number of questions, of course, to ask you about 
this period. I'm very interested in your relationship to 
other faculty members which you already indicated to a 
certain extent. But the nature of that relationship, the 
extent of sharing of ideas, and basically the makeup of 
this artistic community at the California School of Fine 
Arts. Was it a very close relationship? Did you feel 
that you were participating in something together other 
than teaching at the same place? 

EB: Well, yes and no. I mean, there's a strong feeling of 

individuality, and yet, I mean it would be like a community 
of monks and I'm sure they would insist they all pray in 
their own individual way (Laughs) but they're still a 
community of monks and there's certainly an identity they 
have as a community as opposed to the outside world. I 
would say that the Art Institute is best described in those 
terms. There was this very strong internalization, I 
think, of what you would speak of as art directions, art 
styles, art tendencies. But, for example, to go to the 
Oakland Museum and see this show in 1945 and then the years, 
1950 and so forth, you're removed in time. That was once 
a part of your world you're removed from. You look back 
on it, you identify it stylistically, it begins to become 
like a costume, you see. This is not to downgrade it. 
This is true of any art, it's inevitable it's going to 
have some slight look, even though it might be slight, 
some look of being dated of a particular time. On the 
other hand, when we were doing that, when we were creating 
that, it had a timeless and universal feeling. It's as 
though you're talking to all mankind over the face of the 
globe, (laughs) 

PJK: Forever. 

EB: Forever. Right, right. Now you look back and it's not 

that. So that there is this kind of, more so I think than 
exists now, this enormous idea, enormous sort of feeling, 
unlimited, unbounded feeling about what was being done. 
This is accompanied by ai> idealism and I guess you could 
say the idealism came after the war, in many ways. It 
wasn't just in the art realm, the United Nations and all 
the idealism about that and the expectation about a better 
world and the brotherhood of mankind and, I don't know. 
I suppose this existed to a degree after the First World 
War, didn't it? All sorts of marvelous thoughts for peace 
on earth and the brotherhood of man, everyone marching arm 
in arm into the sun. 

PJK: What did this attitude have to do with non-objective painting 
abstract expressionism that is so closely identified now with 
the MacAgy years at that institution? As a matter of fact 
it seems to be, in some respects, we look back on it now and 
seems almost to be like the only course on the menu. Was 
this true? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 29 

EB: You mean the abstract expressionism? 

PJK: Exactly. It seems that almost everybody -- I perhaps 

didn't state that very clearly. I'm asking several things. 
First of all, was abstract expressionism, non-objective 
painting pretty much the bill of fare back then? 

EB: Yes, it was, yeah. 

PJK: Then what did this have to do, if anything, with this new 
idealism? Do you see any relationship there? Do you have 
any insights on that? 

EB: Well, I think the forms that emerged on the canvas were 
looked upon as gestures that almost embodied a language, 
almost embodied a sign language, potentially readable by 
anybody. The assumption was made that there was nothing 
esoteric and nothing secret about what was being done, 
about the world of paint and shapes and so forth. That 
this was innocent and direct and available as anything 
could possibly be. Looking back on it now, of course, 
one doesn't see it this way, one sees it as very sophis 
ticated and involving a great deal of specialized appre 
ciation. You have to look at a lot of it, you have to 
see a lot of it before you're in a position to appreciate 
what is going on. But when it was created, it wasn't seen 
that way, it wasn't regarded in that light at all. These 
were gestures of freedom to a certain extent. Rothko 
speaks of that. There are quotes from Rothko when he 
speaks of this power to stretch one's arms and be free 
and so forth, as though this was partly against the re 
pressive tendency, if not very covert, just in society 
itself. Conservativisms of society bringing about restric 
tions of one kind and another, and here was a rebellion 
against these restrictions. Maybe we've been rebelling 
against the restrictions of the war and so forth. So 
there's this power and these attributes that abstract 
expressionism -- now we speak of it as abstract expres 
sionism, it wasn't seen that way, it wasn't talked about 
that way. It was more a matter of coming alive on the 
canvas, and now we talk about it as abstract expressionism. 
Very special way of coming alive. But I'm sure what I'm 
saying would be true of the attitude of Jackson Pollock, 
you know, these were things he was doing on the canvas. 
And more emphasis on process, you see, because the process 
as it goes to the product -- and in that light what I was 
saying earlier about being educated at the Art Institute, 
then called the California School of Fine Arts, 50$ of my 
art education taking place there had to do with that switch 
from an emphasis on products to an emphasis on process. 
The kind of search in process that goes on in doing an 
abstract expressionist painting, very, very strong influence 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 30 

It's as though you're saying, "I don't know how" as opposed 
to "I know how." It's saying, "I don't know how and I 
don't know what I'm going to find out, how I'm going to 
find --" And this expectation might involve one blessed 
moment of self - transcendence where suddenly, miraculously 
you find out how and you find out what on the canvas. 
But this is all in process. It's just like Paul on the 
road to Damascus. Now, there's process, you see. (laughs) 
He doesn't know what and he doesn't know how. He falls 
down and he gets up transformed, right? 

PJK: That's a revealing analogy you've made there: St. Paul. 
Was this your experience? Did you just all of a sudden, 
then, encounter by being present at the California School 
of Fine Arts in early 1946, this shift to an emphasis on 
process? Were there abstract expressionist, non-objective 
models, then, around you? How did this happen? It couldn't 
have happened just all at once. 

EB: Urn, well. It happened very quickly. It did. It really 

happened very quickly. I guess part of it was the influence 
we had on one another, part of it was out of the general 
spirit of things and a lot of the credit has to go to MacAgy 
who had gotten together this particular combination of 
people on the faculty, and we were very fortunate then to 
have these marvelous students. Lots of schools had GIs. 
You talk to anybody who taught at that time, taught the 
GIs, they say, "Yes, they were marvelous." They were 
very, very energetic, they were very spirited, they were 
very determined, they were very serious, very much in 
earnest . 

PJK: Probably trying to catch up. 

EB: Tremendous sense of purpose. Trying to catch up is why. 

PJK: But how did this happen? Looking back, can you at all 
reconstruct this process that led to essentially a new 
style and certain new attitudes about art? 

t 

EB: Well, this was influenced, of course, by the East. There 
was an awareness, certainly, of what was going on in the 
East . 

PJK: And so then these new forms, new styles, were looked to 

as appropriate means to express new ideas that were shared 
by you and your colleagues? 

EB: Yeah. This was not anything really new. I'm sure when 
artists went to Paris and discovered impressionism, they 
thought this to be maybe very much the same way. This was 
an innocense. So you take the impressionist versus the 
product of the academy, the fellow at the academy reeks of 
learning, reeks of labor, reeks of discipline, very demon- 
strably, this guy has all this technical facility and it 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 31 

took years to acquire that. There're some instances 
still where the art form carries with it that sort of 
look. Here I'm talking about art forms and I jump to a 
circus act. When you look at a circus act, up there on 
that tightrope, there's discipline. There ' s ... grueling 
hours of training and discipline. In another way entirely, 
you go to a concert and hear a concert pianist. This is 
not done overnight. This is obviously done with a tremen 
dous amount of discipline. There're art forms that carry 
with them a traditional look of great skill, great tech 
nical mastery, great self-control, all of this sort of 
thing. Ballet still has that. Painting in the academy 
has it. They attempt this with contemporary Russian art. 
You go to a Russian exhibit, it attempts the same kind 
of thing. There's a morality attached to it, you're 
really demonstrating this self-discipline, I suppose is 
the real morality. Every dictatorship wants art to convey 
this to the populace. Imagine coming into impressionism 
then, what a liberation that is. It seems like it's so 
direct that everybody will be able to understand the 
generosity, the courage, the spiritedness , the immediacy, 
the candidness, the thereness, the images on that canvas, 
all these things. And you go up to an impressionist 
painting and it's obviously pigment on a piece of cloth. 
You go up to an academic painting, and they don't want 
you to ever think this is pigment on a piece of cloth. 
That's utterly the wrong feeling. It's not to be seen 
that way at all, not to reveal its true nature in that 
way. And I'm sure the cubist painting must have been 
tremendously vitalizing, a tremendously exciting thing 
to artists first discovering the cubists. Imagine Mondrian 
goes to Paris 1910, 1911, around in there, and from a 
landscape painter overnight he is converted to a cubist 
point of view. This I don't think is any different from 
those experiences so that it would have the same source 
of virtues to the artist. . It's opening up tremendous 
possibilities, it's a freeing of one's self from the 
shackles of the past, it's a liberation from dead forms 
-- that's the negative side. And again on the positive 
side it promises a kind of a new awareness. And because 
of its innocence, because of its sort of naked presence 
it also promises its availability to your fellow man, 
breaks out of the realm of just the artist and presents 
itself as being available to your fellow man although it 
doesn't turn out that way. 

PJK: So there's a notion of democracy that underlies? 

EB: Yeah, I think so. In the case of Mondrian, he wrote in 

ways that indicate that he expected his art, not to bring 
about strictly a new and better world, but to participate, 
to be very much at home in a new and better world. This is 
economically, socially, every which way a happier human 
existence on earth. Well, we didn't talk about that kind 
of thing at the school. I think that one would be a little 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 52 

embarrassed to speak in those terms directly, but under 
lying it all I think was that feeling; it was an optimism 
and an idealism and all sorts of trusts and expectations 
that seem to me to be completely out of the question now. 

PJK: Well, who were the important figures in these new develop 
ments in your opinion? Of course Clyfford Still is very 
much given the lion's share of the credit for bringing 
this new style, the new approach to the California School 
of Fine Arts. Would you agree with that? Was he the 
critical figure? What about some of the other factors? 

EB: Well, when I first was there, this is January of '46, 

Clyfford Still wasn't there. When I first arrived there, 
it struck me as an amazingly productive and amazingly 
spirited place. David Park was already there, Hassel 
Smith was already there, Clay Spohn was very influential. 

PJK: Were they painting non-objective pictures? 

EB: Oh yes. 

PJK: What we call now abstract expressionist pictures? 

EB: Well, yes. I'm trying to think what David Park was doing, 
what painting he was doing in early '46, whether it was a 
more formalistic thing than he later got into, I think it 
might have been at this point. But the students, I remem 
ber John Grillo, I remember he was a very much of a hot 
shot as a student there and he was painting these non- 
representational abstract expressionist paintings at that 
point. There were other students. It was by no means 
a dead place. It didn't have to wait for Clyfford Still 
to come along for it to come to life. It was already 
very much alive and kicking. 

PJK: Well then what was, in your opinion, Clyfford Still's role? 
What did he contribute? 

EB: He had a very strong mora.1 stance, a very uncompromising 
and stern posture. I don't think there were many artists 
-- in other words, I think he was stern enough so there'd 
be very, very few artists of the past on his list. Very, 
very few. And I think he was kind of unique in that sense 
as a purist. The virtue of this was that he instilled in 
the people, the students that became attached to him, that 
followed him, a tremendous feeling of purpose, a tremendous 
feeling of rectitude that carried for a long stretch of 
time. He was inspirational in this way. And from my 
understanding, he wouldn't spend much time criticizing 
individual paintings but he would be talking about attitudes, 
point of view, frame of mind and stance that the artist 
should take, and talking about the pitfalls and the enemies 
that exist in the world that the artist has to watch out for, 
especially in the market. And dealers (laughs). 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 33 

PJK: Hasn't changed much on that score. So you then feel that 
Still's primary contribution was inspirational perhaps 
more than providing a stylist model? 

EB: Well, he certainly provided his work, provided that for 
a number of students. No, I would certainly have to say 
that. His work was influential in that regard. I think 
Clyfford Still's contribution was a very valuable one. 
The only point I would question is whether or not the 
school would have existed without him, and I would argue 
that it certainly would have existed without him. I don't 
think there would have been all that great a change if 
there had been no Clyfford Still ever, but this is not 
to say that he did not make a contribution. I just don't 
think he made the school. I think there are some that 
would argue that he made it. (laughs) Until he appeared 
there was nothing, you know, it was a garbage dump, until 
he touched it with his magic wand. 

PJK: I also gather that you feel the ultimate source of abstract 
expressionism was New York, that at least the seeds came 
from New York and from experiments that were already going 
on there. 

EB: Oh, yes. I wouldn't at all want to maintain that if there 
were no New York, there would have been the school as it 
was, no. I wouldn't maintain that. If there were no 
New York, it could be that a lot of this would have emerged 
in the preceeding form, which would have been cubism, you 
see. Basically this was an anti-cubist move and derived 
much more from Eastern European sources, more specifically 
a person like Kandinsky was much more of a hero and Picasso 
was not, Braque was not. This was a moving away from the 
French and the French rationalism, French cubism, towards 
this art which partly stems then from the relative auto 
matism of the person like Kandinsky. Also I would say 
influenced by surrealist sources. 

PJK: By adopting a non-objective approach, not a figurative 
approach, the abstract expressionist style, you were 
rebelling against what had been very dear to you. You 
were rebelling against cubism. 

EB: Right, right. 

PJK: So this represented a revolt in a sense. 

EB: Right. Oh, yeah. 

PJK: Probably for most of the others, certainly those who had 
been trained at Cal. 

EB: Yes. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 34 

PJK: And I guess most of the other schools at that time? 

EB: Well, that's true, yeah. How many of the artists, though, 
start out with cubism or some form of Picasso? You go 
back to^ Gorky's background and you get real cubism and 
things a la Picasso and then a period where Gorky is 
obviously influenced by surrealism, very strongly influenced 
by surrealism and then eventually emerges into something less 
obviously, less conspicuously surrealism. So this kind of 
a transition from an early phase born out of cubism is prett) 
familiar. 

PJK: What about the other faculty members? You acknowledge 

Still's important contribution, that his presence did have 
something to do with it. But I also gather that you feel 
there were others who were perhaps equally important to 
the atmosphere at the school. Which ones would you site 
as particularly important? 

EB: Park and Hassel Smith and Clay Spohn I'd say primarily. 

PJK: And why? 

EB: Well, I just felt that their presence and the evidence 
of their presence in the work of the students, the evi 
dence of their presence in the spirit and the attitude 
that prevailed at the school was pretty marked, it was 
pretty strong. Of course, as I say, I had direct, very 
direct contact with Hassel Smith and David Park, and not 
with Clay Spohn. I never had contact with him socially 
except an occasional party. I was not good friends with 
Clay Spohn, but I think he had a very strong presence 
and there was a good deal of socializing. I did mention 
the studio visits. These studio visits were not something 
that all the faculty participated in obviously. I mean, 
it wasn't a formal thing, .certain people that you fell in 
with, who were particularly sympathetic with your work, 
and you'd find yourself setting up some kind of casual 
program of going around and having lunch and seeing what 
the work was in the studio. Aside from that, there were 
lots of parties. Parties were very, very popular and 
Doug MacAgy was always having a cocktail party for no 
particular reason at all, just a get-together. And then 
there were dances, it wasn't long before a band started 
up at the school, and these dances were something to see. 
Faculty came too and the students came to them and every 
body enjoyed them. They were very high-keyed, spirited 
affairs. I think that they reflected some of the kind 
of democratic and open and all-around responsiveness of 
the people at the school. Certainly it's the first time 
I'd encountered anything that was as fun-loving, as informal 
as these dances were. Sometimes I wonder if the early days, 
say the first four or five years of the German Bauhaus when 
they had a jazz band going and apparently a lot of partying, 
wasn't somewhat similar to this situation. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 35 

PJK: Sounds to me, though, as if all of you -- students and 

teachers alike -- did have a sense of your own community, 
and perhaps the importance of what you were doing. Or 
that you were involved in something special. You mentioned 
socializing, you mentioned certain faculty members acting 
in the community, criticizing one another's work, talking 
about art, sharing ideas. And this leads me to believe 
there was indeed a sense that something special was going 
on and that it somehow came to focus on abstract expres 
sionist painting. 

EB: Yes. Well, that's true. It depends on what you mean by 
"special," though. While I say there were these great 
expectations, you have to keep in mind these expectations 
existed in a certain realm. This is part of a whole trans 
formation of attitude that took place in me. This realm 
had nothing to do with success in the marketplace, nothing 
to do with success in ordinary, everyday terms. When you 
painted or when you sculpted, you fully expected that your 
paintings would just pile up in your studio, your sculpture 
would just pile up in the back yard or wherever it is. 
Never was there any expectation that this would go beyond 
the fringe that came in and saw it and appreciated your 
work. That was it. Your own appreciation and the appre 
ciation of a few colleagues, that was it, that was the end. 

PJK: There certainly wasn't any local market at that time. 

EB: There was no local market. This did induce some, what 
would be called carelessness in the materials. If you 
don't think this product of yours is ever going to go 
beyond serving the immediate purposes that I mentioned, 
living the short and rather limited life that I mentioned, 
then you're not pouring your money into the very best 
paints, the very best this, and you're not being very 
careful, maybe, about the mixture of your materials and 
so forth that go into the product. 

PJK: But that's a liberating attitude in itself. 

t 
EB: Sure. 

PJK: Then you're much more involved with process than product. 
EB: Right, right. That's true, yeah. 

PJK: Let me ask you a couple of questions, getting back specifi 
cally to you and your own experience. I wonder if you can 
remember the circumstances surrounding the creation of your 
first non- figurative painting, and what occasioned that 
remarkable shift. 

EB: Well, things generally happen by a relatively slow, gravi 
tating process, and I think rarely is it the case that you 
jump suddenly into painting a different way overnight. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 36 

PJK: But do you recognize or do you acknowledge one figure, 
one of your colleagues or some model you were looking 
to in connection with -- 

EB: There were a whole bunch of models, I would say, because 
of all this art going on, plus models from afar like 
New York reproductions, work from these artists, or what 
ever. All of this was very much influential. I wouldn't 
be able to single out any. I would say that in the long 
run, I'm more drawn to the work of Rothko than I was of 
Clyfford Still. But then I would have to say, too, I was 
influenced by the immediate work going on, I was influenced 
by the attributes of Hassel Smith, certain attributes of 
David Park's work, and a little less Clay Spohn. It would 
be a big combination of this. 



PJK 



Is it possible at all to isolate any of those aspects which 
attracted you? You say you were attracted to aspects of 
David Park's work. What were those aspects? 

EB: Well, the aspects were physicality. I don't think this 
would be true of, say, Rothko. There was a physicality 
in his work in paint. His movements of the pigments, the 
quality, I think this had a very strong effect. An effect 
a little bit like expressionism's effect 'cause there you've 
got a very powerful presence, very powerful material pre 
sence generally of the painting itself. The aspects of 
Hassel Smith would be a marvelous kind of slapstick quality 
of humor, tremendous inventiveness, of rambunctiousness in 
his work, physical in a very different way than Park is 
physical. He makes Park look very serious. Hassel was 
very sportive, very athletic generally speaking, on canvas. 
Rothko, I think especially of the earlier Rothko. They had 
a painting for a long time at the San Francisco museum 
called Three Figures by the &e_a , and this is a mytho 
logical style. Are you familiar with the earlier Rothko, 
these marks and lines around as opposed to the divisions 
that later set in? I thought the earlier style was abso 
lutely tremendous, I was very, very taken with that. And 
I guess the mystery. A tremendously mysterious painting, 
very present and very mysterious. It was this aspect that 
really captivated me about the Rothko. Full of suggestions. 
Tremendous power of suggestion, very poetic. The Rothko 
seemed loaded with overtones, more so than with Hassel's 
work or David Park's work. So each of these would have 
its own predominant characteristic that I happened to 
single out and I happened to be particularly susceptible to. 

PJK: What about your own teaching at that time? You were 

obviously now moving into a situation where you were dealing 
with much more serious students than you had to bluff back 
in high school. So it must have been an entirely different 
experience with older students. Are there any students 
of these years -- I'm sure there are -- who are the students 
that you remember that maybe you gained something from or 
that you would single out. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 57 

EB: You mean not necessarily students that I had. I remember 
Ernie Briggs and from a distance -- I never had him as a 
student -- Dugmore. Both of them very impressive people. 
I mentioned John Grillo, he was very impressive as a student 

PJK: Was he a student of yours? Was he in any of your classes? 

EB : Don't recall his ever being enrolled, actually, in a class, 
no. I don't think he was ever enrolled in a class that I 
taught. Who else might there be at that time? Can't 
think of any others that I had direct contact with. 

PJK: What about the classes you taught? 

EB: Drawing and painting. And an occasional color^i class. 
It would be beginning. We taught all across the board. 
We'd teach beginning or advanced students, switch around, 
do one level and then we'd also teach night classes. 
It was very popular at that time to teach night classes 
because the students at the night classes were just as 
good as the day students. The night students were at the 
same level. It's not like walking into a night class 
where you had a bunch of old ladies. 

PJK: How would a life drawing class fit into the -- 
EB: Maybe I ought to take that "old ladies" out. 

PJK: How would a life drawing class fit into the program at 
California School of Fine Arts at that time? Did you 
teach life drawing? 

EB: Yeah. 

PJK: So you or the faculty still felt this kind of training 

was important although almost everybody was painting non- 
objectively? 

EB: Oh yes. 

PJK: You saw no conflict? You'did feel this was important still? 

EB: Yes, because it was taken as a learning process, taken as 
a disciplinary process, taken as a way of expanding your 
vision, too, increasing your resourcefulness about form 
ideas. It had a whole bunch of other virtues attached 
to it. 

PJK: Was it required? 

EB: I'm trying to recall whether it was optional or required, 
whether it was elective or not. I don't recall whether it 
was required or an elective. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 58 

PJK: That would be interesting to check up on, to see, because 

I'm just sort of wondering if a student could have, at that 
time, or any time but especially then, enrolled and imme 
diately started expressing himself/herself in doing abstract 
expressionist paintings. 

EB: Oh, yes, I'm sure. 

PJK: In other words, did the school's faculty feel it was 
important to... or was there a progression involved in 
coming to that point? 

EB: Oh yes, there were beginning courses that you were obliged 
to take. You could start painting as a freshman. Now this 
is not true of most university departments, you start with 
black and white, then next you take courses in color, and 
then you paint on canvas, you know, meaning that this is 
a magnus opus to a degree, this is your poem, this is 
where you try to put everything together, as opposed to: 
this is an exercise; as opposed to: this is a class 
assignment. Generally speaking, all the work in the first 
two years in the university program was class assignments. 
You're not allowed to put things together, to write a poem 
or novel or short story in paint, until you're a junior. 
Well, at the San Francisco Art Institute, it was possible 
to have painting right off. So while you were taking 
beginning courses, in your painting course you might be 
doing non-representational work. Which I think is a very, 
very good scheme. Right off, you are saying, "This is not 
a matter of learning things and then later learning how 
to use them," which I think is a very, very dangerous 
process. It's like going to a finishing school, learning 
manners that have nothing to do with you as a person. You 
have to then go through the process of assimilating this, 
finding out how you're going to use this and putting it to 
some degree of testing right from the very beginning. 
Students complained about some departments where there's 
too much of the attitude of "we don't care how you use 
this. We're giving you the fundamentals, we're giving you 
this basic training. Af,ter you get out four years hence, 
five years hence, then it's up to you, that's your baby 
what you make of this." I've heard the music department 
at Cal is criticized for -- I don't know if it's changed 
or not, but criticized for being of this nature. So you're 
really producing archivists and historians. . That kind 
is fine, but it's only part of the scheme of things. 

PJK: In connection with the teaching program at the California 
School of Fine Arts at the time, how would a teacher cri 
ticize, on what basis would a teacher criticize non-obj ectivt 
painting? Now remembering, of course, that this was all 
quite new and all of a sudden you were confronted with 
something that hadn't been part of your own training ex 
perience, it seems to me certain standards or certain means 
of criticism had to be developed and developed pretty 
quickly. Can you enlighten me on that? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 39 

EB: (Laughs) Somebody had to come out with a rule book in 
a hurry. Well, no. You, if you were a teacher there, 
according to your own capacities and responsiveness, 
capacity for growth and so forth, you acquired over I 
think a fairly short period of time -- maybe you're in 
a state of bewilderment we'll say for a year, now that's 
a long time. When I say short period, long period, I'm 
speaking in these terms. A year's a" fairly long period 
of time. But because you're pretty much surrounded by 
it, because you're pretty much immersed in this and you're 
seeing example after example of your own students and you 
see in the hallways of some peoples' classes as well as 
in the museums and reproductions and so forth, you get a 
real crash course. I think you quickly get on to what is 
being mouthed, what a cliche is, what a platitude is, what 
is lacking in imagination, what is timid. All these qual 
ities that we don't prize in life begin to reveal themselves 
And then the opposite reveals itself, too, so if you have 
work that strikes you as being very strong and original 
and courageous, adventuresome, spirited, on and on and on, 
and which really gives you a lift, really makes a contri 
bution to your own feeling, your own thinking, as opposed 
to dragging you down or boring you or making you feel 
"Oh, my God, not again." And I don't think that it's 
long before you begin to form your own kind of capacity 
to evaluate, I think, very legitimately evaluate the work 
of people. I find that the concurrence of the faculty 
about work is very high for a great percentage in the 
middle bracket. The work is middling. If the work is 
very, very bad, there's generally a high concurrence, but 
there can be cases where a faculty member says, "Gee, that's 
pretty good." (laughs) It's becasue it's out of the common 
rut. It's amazing how much of it falls into a common rut 
where it's not difficult to spot this as mouthing something 
you've heard many times before. But if the work is very, 
very good, there can be high concurrence there, but again 
like the work that's very, very bad, there might be some 
people that don't like it because it's slick or it's pro 
fessional or something of this kind. You get into this. 

i 

PJK: Well let me ask you this also. Did you find yourself 

discussing at the early stage with your colleagues what 
makes for a good abstract expressionist picture? 

EB: No, no. 

PJK: I mean, it just seemed a natural extension then of your 
own backgrounds or that it was self-evident. 

EB: A good non- representative , a good abstract expressionist 
painting is one that knocks your hat off. 

PJK: It's that simple? 
EB: Right. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 40 

PJK: And it didn't really call for discussion? 

EB: It's outside of that. It's like Louis Armstrong said 

about jazz, "If you have to ask what it is, you never get 
to know." I think that the discussing and analyzing is 
most helpful and most pertinent to mediocre work. What 
I mean to say by that is that it's possible, I think, that 
a person can be dislodged from a mediocre realm by analysis 
and criticism of the work. I think you must have felt this 
about people who have potential, that under the right cir 
cumstances, something would really, really happen. Now 
most of the people, you feel this isn't so. I don't mean 
you're right or wrong in either case, but you feel this. 
If I think it actually exists, (I don't mean that I'm 
necessarily right or my guess is,) under the right cir 
cumstances and pushed in the right direction, some people 
you feel are going to profit if you give them a good 
stiff kick. Some people are going to profit if you give 
them some gentle pats. But there are cases, I think, 
when I see a painting that knocks my hat off, I don't 
feel like criticizing or analyzing or discussing it. 
It just doesn't lend itself to those kind of things. 

PJK: What interests me is at a time when you and others were 
involved in a rather different art form, you describe it 
as a break, a very exciting adventure, but you apparently 
didn't find yourself in completely unfamiliar territory, 
if you see what I mean. Apparently some of the same 
things, your equipment could be used, could be applied 
here. So in a sense there was more of a continuity than 
perhaps we sometimes think. This is what I was getting 
at -- you didn't feel the need to try to define what was 
involved. Maybe only art historians do that, do it ver 
bally. I'm interested in what you have to say about this. 

EB: Well, but again, don't you think that this has happened 

over and over again? I mentioned artists coming from the 
outside to Paris during the period of impressionism. 
If they came into contact and were susceptible to the work 
of the impressionists, it must have really caught fire 
in very much the same kind of way, they'd make the same 
kind of translation from their background and so forth. 
Think of a man, for example, in relation to cubism, like 
Marc Chagall who comes to Paris, and his marvelous early 
cubistic paintings when he was in Paris, these marvelous 
cubistic things. Well, there is a bringing of that par 
ticular background which was not cubism, with his own 
background, and being able to translate in very short, 
very effective, very unfumbling terms. I think that the 
greatest difficulty would occur if one is not involved in 
the painting as a thing in itself. For example, it seems 
like the person who has a background in illustration would 
have a very difficult time making this translation of what 
ever powers he has, whatever know-how he has, to whatever 
new thing he comes upon. But the training at Cal was not 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 41 

illustrational , the training at Cal was the concern about 
the picture, the concern about the formal qualities of the 
picture and so forth. In that sense, you could say it's 
a broad training, a broad background that would prepare 
you well for being susceptible to whatever vital things 
come along and strike you. 

PJK: What about a philosophical basis for abstract expressionist 
gestural painting? Is this something that was discussed 
over and over again as it apparently was in New York at 
the time? Would you say that there was a similar phenomenon 
around the California School of Fine Arts where the painting 
was really more than painting? Or at least apparently that 
was the case where there were philosophical underpinnings 
for it all. 

EB: No, MacAgy was to a degree interested in that. I remember 
at one point he was very keen about Collingwood ?3 , who was 
an English esthetician and wrote a book called Principles 
of Art. He's written other books, too, but MacAgy was 
interested in this. And he spoke about it. He was enthu 
siastic about it. But I don't recall it ever catching on 
and then ever becoming something that the faculty members 
engaged in. I don't think there was that kind of a bent, 
generally speaking, amongst the faculty. I think that 
would be a little too self-consciously intellectual to 
appeal to the faculty. Furthermore, I think it would have 
linked the work with the kind of exclusiveness that was 
not wanted, not part of the outlook. 

PJK: Did you ever sit in on any sessions with Clyfford Still? 
Sort of informal where you chatted? 

EB: No. 

PJK: Was he somewhat unapproachable? 

EB: Yes. Very much so. 

PJK: So he probably didn't really have a very close relationship 
with other faculty members? 

EB: No, he didn't. I'd say inaccessible, but I'm sure some of 
the students would say that's not true at all. 

PJK: But maybe his contact was much more with the students than 
with -- 

EB: Yes , it was . 

PJK: Was Frank Lobdell on the faculty then or was he a student? 

EB: He was a student. Frank and Jack Jefferson. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 42 

PJK: Diebenkorn? 

EB: Diebenkorn became a student while I was there. 

PJK: Was Diebenkorn ever a student of yours? 

EB: No. David Park but not Frank or Diebenkorn. 

PJK: How do you remember Richard Diebenkorn's student abstract 
expressionist work? 

EB: Well, I remember him very much as one of the outstanding 
students, in the same catagory as these other people that 
I mentioned, although I was more aware of these others 
than I was of Diebenkorn at the time, and came to know him 
later on mainly through David Park and studio visits and 
drawing sessions and that kind of thing that we participated 
in. That's how I got to know him. 

PJK: We were talking about the faculty at the California School 
of Fine Arts during the MacAgy years and the undeniable 
impact of Clyfford Still's arrival on the scene, a special 
role that he played in terms of representing sort of a 
New York connection. And perhaps even assuming a position 
for some as larger than life. How did other faculty members 
respond to this? Was there perhaps any kind of resentment 
of this or antagonism that developed as a result? 

EB: Well, it was a change from what had existed at this school 
from my first days there, the kind of availability, the 
amicability, mutual regard between the faculty members. 
It was a very conspicuous fact -- to me it was. I'd never 
experienced anything like that before, any situation where 
there was such a freedom from hierarchies of one kind or 
another. And Clyfford Still did represent a break from 
this, he did regard himself as something removed and su 
perior, and obviously this would bring about some kind of 
reaction on the part of the rest of the faculty. Still did 
form a group of students that was a kind of a circle, again 
removed, from the rest of the student body. These people 
saw themselves as a favorite group, closely connected with 
the master. To a certain extent, he was the creator of a 
small school within a school. That was something new and 
something that was not at all characteristic of the school 
that I had known. I don't know, the degree to which it 
was actually giving rise to resentment would be hard to say. 
There's not any clear picture in my mind that would provide 
evidence of this, anything as strong as resentment. David 
Park had, to a certain extent, authoritarian tendencies; 
he was a strong-willed person; he was, in the classroom, 
that way; his students often spoke of him in those terms, 
they liked him immensely, he was a very effective teacher, 
he was an excellent teacher, but he had this kind of ten 
dency and there could possibly have been some feeling on 
his part in regard to Still that would have been something 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 45 

less than warm and receptive and friendly. But David was 
not anything David was a gregarious person, he made 
himself present and available and was very warm towards 
people as a general sort of a tendency, not just a select 
few but to people in general. He was responsive and it 
was not hard to engage David in all sorts of situations. 
I remember he even undertook at one point, the assistant 
directorship of a summer session which most of the teachers 
wouldn't touch at all, they didn't want to have their 
summers gobbled up with administrative work. But this is 
something Still would never have done. So while there was 
a big difference between Park and Still, there was at the 
same time this thing in probably being somewhat authori 
tarian and demanding from friends and from students a degree 
of obedience, we'll say, obedience to their wishes which 
was not necessarily the practice of most of the faculty or 
the way of most of the other faculty. 

PJK: Would you go so far as to say that there were for a while, 
two camps, then, at the California School of Fine Arts? 

EB: Well, I can't say there were two camps because there was 

not a counterpart to the Clyfford Still group, the Clyfford 
Still circle. There was no "David Park circle," nothing of 
that nature. Clyfford's was more of a closed off, shut 
off situation, whereas the rest of the faculty, the rest 
of the student body was not fractured in that sense. There 
was no other camp. Now, it could be that later on, histor 
ically, all sorts of pictures could form in peoples' minds, 
especially outsiders, people who had nothing to do with us, 
would begin to see two very strongly defined, strongly 
opposed camps. Clyfford Still's camp on the one hand and 
the -- what on the other, I don't know. 

PJK: David Park? 

EB: David Park, yeah, something like that. It didn't exist at 
the time any more than there was a Clyfford Still camp and 
a Hassel Smith camp, or a Clyfford Still camp and a Clay 
Spohn camp. Nothing of that kind existed. 

PJK: Well, of course, David Park and you, for that matter, are 
very much associated with a development, a phenomenon that 
came to be called Bay Area Figurative Painting, essentially 
a return to the figure, to representation b^y employing 
the, we'll say, brushwork of abstract expressionism. 
Certain aspects of abstract expressionism were then applied 
to the figure. And I believe that David Park abandoned 
non- ob j ect ive painting around 1950 and you returned to the 
figure perhaps two years later. It seems, again looking 
back historically, that Park and several of his colleagues 
(including you) at the California School of Fine Arts 
reacted against what Clyfford Still stood for and what had 
been a very attractive and very exciting event at the 
California School of Fine Arts. It seems to me that that 
could bear some analysis. It's an interesting development. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 44 

EB: Well you say, what Clyfford Still stood for. Say what 
the whole group stood for since '46, since I was there. 
So Clyfford Still was one of the practioners, we'll say, 
his body of ideas we were all involved in. And the 
question arises, "Why switch away or turn away at this 
particular 'ism 1 and... so forth? Why a change in atti 
tude beginning at that time?" So taking it from a 
personal point of view, you could say, I think, that a 
certain amount of this must necessarily be a case of 
obviously cooling off to a certain degree in a belief, 
or a certain degree in a trust. Certainly there was a 
loss of urgency and also a sense of purpose in the par 
ticular forms that were involved in one's own work while 
pursuing an abstract expressionist direction. That's 
all putting it in a negative point of view. When that 
happens, there is this kind of a sense that things can 
no longer go on in this particular way. If one allows 
them to go on in this particular way, one is simply 
being enslaved, one is becoming the victim of stylistic 
tendencies, and one is running the risk of mouthing 
something that is not meant. Then you're wide open to 
some other set of possibilities that presents itself. 
Now, the other extreme or what one can see as another 
extreme from abstract expressionism would be working 
with a figure. There, you're starting with something 
that is given rather than starting with something that 
is not at all given, or you don't feel it's given. In 
abstract expressionism the possibilities are wide open, 
but the minute you start in figurative painting, there 
are certain things you can do and certain things you 
can't do unless you're engaged in fantasy, and this was 
not fantasy. You can't have things floating around in 
the air. You have to have a ground plane for them to 
stand on. The ground plane has to end someplace. It 
can end in atmosphere but it might end when it comes 
up to a wall, the ground plane ends and there's a wall. 
Or it might end where it comes to the ocean, or the 
horizon rather, and then something else sets in, the 
sky. So that you have all these kinds of conditions 
that exist that didn't ahd don't exist with abstract 
expressionism. Then it seems more humble in a sense. 
If one has cooled off with the abstract expressionist 
idea, meaning that one no longer believes in it as a 
language, then no one any longer believes in its com 
municative potential, then it seems like it's pretentious 
then it seems like it's very elitist, then it seems like 
it's very esoteric and very unapproachable by anybody 
but the initiated. 

PJK: Are you saying that you came to that point? 

EB: Yes, because you see, I think that's the sort of thing 
that's like falling out of love. Automatically this 
would bring a lot of these questions and doubts to mind. 



Fi ; RVIEK 

And then it becomes, as I say, pretentious in tiiat ense. 
It seems inauthentic, it seems cooked up. And the thought 
of starting with something external such as an apple on 
the table presents itself as a very strong alternative. 

PJK: What do'you think about chronology in this particular 

development? I mean, the fact is -- at least we're told 
the fact -- that David Park abandoned non-objective paint 
ing in 1950 and returned to the figurative. David Park, 
we've determined, was a very important presence at the 
school, I guess in the Bay Area, and certainly for you 
and several others. How then, would you describe his 
role in this new development? 

EB : Oh, very influential. 

PJK: I mean, was it a matter of watching David Park take these 
steps and then I don't want to say following -- but 
finding, establishing that understanding that this was a 
profitable direction to follow? Again essentially, how 
did it happen? 

EB: It's hard to say how much of that, you know, was influential, 
how much of a role it plays. Certainly you would have to 
credit him with playing a role, a pretty considerable role. 
The kind of enthusiasms that I generated right off in my 
own work were not necessarily his enthusiasms. I was keen 
about artists that he was not too keen about and I assimi 
lated them in color and form, in my own particular way so 
that there was -- but here, I don't think you're really 
asking that question. You're asking, "Here's a pioneer 
movement made by this individual and he sort of breaks the 
ground so there's a showing of the way, an opening up of 
this possibility." 

PJK: Is that true? 

EB: I think that is probably true. Right. 

PJK: Paul Mills, of course, in 1957 put together an exhibition 
at the Oakland Museum entitled "Contemporary Bay Area 
Figurative Painting," the. catalogue for which is quite rare 
now. But at any rate, this is very early on. And I think 
later on we might have occasion to talk about that, just how 
it happened. I think it's very interesting and important. 
But in this immediate connection, I'd like to read a very 
short quote that's attributed to David Park by Paul Mills, 
and then get your response to it. He says here, "The line 
of demarcation is often thin. The line between non-objective 
painting and figurative painting is no different than the line 
between still life and portrait paintings, and I don't think 
there's any idea of progress involved. Some painters talk 
as though progress was a kind of duty and that non-objective 
or some other kind of painting is progressive. I think con 
cepts of progress in painting are rather foolish." Would 
you agree with that? I think the main point here, actually, 



iLMiiR . ; JCHOFF INTERVIEW 

is the difference he draws between non-objective and figur 
ative painting. Or the fact that he really didn't see a 
difference, in other words? 

EB: Well, that is certainly at variance with other things that 
have been said, a difference in the premise of figurative 
and non- figurative painting. The nonrepresentational , say, 
or abstract expressionist if you want to use the more spe 
cific term, is automatically a more inner thing at the very 
outset, see. What you are dealing with you assume does not 
exist in any external form prior to your dealing with it. 
Certainly the kinds of relationships that you come up with, 
the kinds of interactions, correspondences to a form that 
you come up with don't exist before you. Therefore, all 
of these results on the canvas, you assume, are unique with 
that particular canvas, not repeated on another canvas, and 
it has a particular kind of significance and a kind of po 
tency unto itself. Whereas, in dealing with representational 
paintings, there's some of what has been said that would be 
true, but you're starting with things that exist externally 
to oneself, and you're talking about these things in terms 
of your response to them. You're not pretending that you're 
creating them out of the blue or out of your insides. There's 
a certain degree of that, the fact that you are talking about 
something which other people can identify, such as an apple 
or a horse or whatever it happens to be, to a degree it auto 
matically objectifies this and puts you on a basis where you 
might see that this is the right premise to start with. 
Maybe it takes pride, maybe it takes a certain degree of 
pride in the fact that it is relatively selfless, it is kind 
of saying, "Here is something that exists out in the world 
that I think is worth dealing with, that I have certain res 
ponses to, that I have a certain love for, possibly, and I 
want to show that in a canvas, I want to show my responses 
to this in the canvas," as opposed to inventing a brand new 
language . 

PJK: It seems to me, and as a matter of fact this quote surprised 
me a little bit, assuming it is authentic, because for one 
thing I think abstract expressionist painting is inherently 
egocentric. My feeling is that it stems from this, whereas 
figurative work does incorporate things from I don't mean 
to say from reality but from our world, objects from our 
world and one is dealing with them. 

EB: I think the idea of egocentric is a little bit strong. It 

puts a particular kind of a slant on it and I'm not too sure 
about that slant. In other words, let's put it this way: 
Supposing you were to move, we'll say, from a very organic 
painting that Jackson Pollock did to Mondrian. Now would 
you say that you're moving from more of an egocentric to less 
of an egocentric? 'Cause they're both abstract. Would you 
say that Mondrian is less egocentric than Pollock? 

PJK: Yes. 



. INTERVIEW r 

So you get into this. Of course, Mondrian is not what you'-i 
call abstract expressionism, it's a structuralist type of 
painting . 

PJK: That I think is a classicism and gets off into a whole other 
area of the romantic and the classical posture. 

EB: Yeah. So the romantic automatically would be more of the 

egocentric. So really the difference comes between romantic 
and classic then, rather than representational and non- 
representational . 

PJK: Well, of course, I'm creating great problems for myself 
right there in terms of applying -- 

EB: Who's more egocentric? Mondrian or Norman Rockwell? (laughs) 

PJK: But the curious thing, again getting back to this quote, 
is that Paul Mills -- and I don't expect you to speak for 
David Park, but it stimulates a response to certain ideas 

to quote Paul Mills, "Park says he felt and still feels 
that he was making no great departure from what other action 
painters have been doing." Would you agree with that? 

EB: Well, I guess I'd have to say yes and no. Certain aspects 
of representational painting, that you call figurative 
painting, have certain aspects of non-representational 
action painting, abstract expressionist painting. They have 
a lot in common. So you'd say yes there. Other aspects are 
very different. I remember David speaking of a statement of 
Robert Henri's. Henri was an American impressionist pretty 
much, and he speaks of the art as being valuable to him as 
a record of his state of being. The degree to which it 
records this almost mystical state of being or higher state 
of awareness, is the degree to which the art is significant, 
the art is meaningful, the art is important to him. Well, 
in a sense then, there's not much difference, right, between 
representational or figurative painting and the abstract 
expressionist painting. But then if we're talking about 
the kinds of basic assumptions regarding the mode of paint 
ing, abstract expressionist on the one hand and figurative 
on the other, they ' re. . .very , very different. And it's as 
though a certain kind of a climate might be very supportive 
of one but not at all supportive of the other. A climate 
that's supportive of impressionism, say, is a very different 
climate from one that's supportive of cubism. Impressionism 
requires, and I think this is important to remember, a fabu 
lous trust of one's senses, a fabulous trust of sensory res 
ponses. When you look at those canvases that were created 
by the impressionists and keep in mind what they were de 
parting from -- a good many of them had an academic training 
-- and keep in mind the immediate world from which they had 
emerged, you realize the exceeding daring they had in their 
use of paint on the canvas. In the same sort of way, a per 
son like Matisse had an absolutely fantastic trust of his own 
sort of responses, his own immediate responses. To me, cubism 
on the other hand, doesn't require nearly that degree of 
trust of your own immediate sensory responses. Cubism could 



ILMuR 3ISCMOFF INTERVIEW 

be plotted out, you can plot out, you can feel your way 
into it, you can calculate a lot. It invites that sort 
of thing. Impressionism does not invite calculating at all. 
Plotting out, no. You can't do it. I think the impression 
ists realized this. Almost all of them, as you know, brought 
their paintings back indoors, there's hardly an impressionist 
who continued painting out-of-doors. They all worked on them 
as though they were studio paintings. But they realized that 
in the course of doing this, it was very easy to kill the 
painting, very easy to move in the direction of the academy 
and have this full feeling of the vitality and vibrancy of 
nature, the sense of being out in nature, completely lost 
and chased out of the painting. 

PJK: It interests me that you keep invoking the impressionists as 
your examples time and time again. 

EB: Well, they were the first. You see, they were the first of 
the modernists . 

PJK: Did you personally feel a special relationship to impressionisn 

EB: No. 

PJK: Or have you ever? 

EB: No, not really. See, I think -- 

PJK: Monet? 

EB: Well, I admire them immensely, but no, I don't feel directly 
affected in my own work like I could point to other artists 
and say, well yes, certainly directly influenced by Edvard 
Munch, directly influenced by somebody like Bonnard, who had 
a lot of impressionist in him, but he was not an impression 
ist in that sense of the word. But not the impressionists, 
no. I think that the impressionists were people who had a 
very particular kind of a talent, I don't think everybody 
could be an impressionist. I think there had to be a kind 
of a quick responsiveness, very open and very, very quick 
responsiveness. I think they had to be able to put two and 
two together visually witnout the tremendous amount of 
snorting around. I have to snort around, make endless 
alterations and changes, and I don't have the kind of ap 
titude to make an impressionist. 

PJK: Well, ignoring for the moment the scientific basis for 
impressionism which is one part of a definition- theory- 
"seeing" and so forth, it does seem to me that you and the 
other Bay Area figurative painters adopted what we will say 
were impressionist subjects. Perhaps not for the same reason 
at all. Why the subjects? Why these particular subjects? 
Very often, it seems to me looking through catalogs and so 
forth, everyday subjects, the use of out-of-door figures. 
Again, maybe you think of Bonnard as an example. 






Lib: . . -ah, but look at the figurative paintings of Park 

or Diebenkorn or myself. I think especially with Park and 
myself, it seems like there're two catagories. There's the 
subject which may be, in his case, his wife, a friend, a 
scene indoors in the house, fairly identifiable as to lo 
cale and personages and so forth. Then there can be another 
thing which I think he got more into later on where the 
figures are obviously an invention and the locale is an 
invention. It's not his wife, it's not his house, it's 
not this particular spot and so forth. And I found myself 
vascillating between these two, except that I never did 
figurative paintings where the personages were identified 
or repeated. I never did my wife or I never did any par 
ticular room in the house. I did do paintings where that 
might raise that question -- "Is this that spot on the 
couch? Is this someone you know?" But this never was 
the case. And then there're other paintings where ob 
viously this is an invention. 



PJK: In the last interview, we ended up talking about the Bay 
Area figurative painting movement, I guess with a lower 
case "m" rather than a capital "M" for movement, but any 
way, you were beginning, I think, to describe your new 
relationship to the figure, the new position the figure 
took in your own work, and the fact that you weren't in 
volved in portraiture in any sense of the word or with 
specific locale, that it was more a generalized look at 
nature. Could you clarify that, expand a little bit? 

EB: Well, I suppose if you actually go out into nature and 

start a painting on the scene where the primary response 
is in the face of a particular scene, as many of the im 
pressionists did, I guess there may have been one or two 
exceptions, but they all took their paintings back in the 
studio and worked them over, even though they may have 
started them outdoors. But if you do the initial activity 
on the canvas in response to an actual scene in front of 
you, it would seem that all the more or less conscious 
introduction, of your art enthusiasms, say your fascination 
with certain qualities ofGoya, your fascination with cer 
tain qualities of Roman frescos, or any combination of 
things, they're going to come in, in a rather minor way. 
Whereas, I think the way we were working, I think this is 
true to a degree with David Park and Diebenkorn, was much 
more complex in its sources, much more complex in its range 
of basic motivations. A painting could start as a landscape, 
after it had a figure or two figures added, it could become 
an interior, or it could end up a landscape with no figures, 
it could undergo a very, very drastic change which obviously 
is not going to take place if you're painting a specific 
scene and you start out in nature dealing with that scene, 
you intend your painting to depict that scene finally. So as 
a consequence, the figurative painting, I would say, then 
could -- and as I mentioned earlier, did sometimes move more 
towards what you might call everyday actuality and further 
away from everyday actuality. It could make that kind of a 
switch back and forth. 






EB: 



PJK 



EB: 
PJK 
EB: 

PJK: 



V.culd you say that the subject ;;;atter then really was s :::: e- 
what incidental or almost accidental? You describe a situa 
tion where a single canvas could go through the various 
stages, transforming from a landscape to an interior and then 
maybe back again. So it seems to me that subject's almost 
like serendipity. Would you say that it was found through 
the process? 

Well, this moving from a painting that is basically a land 
scape to a painting that is basically figurative painting 
and so forth as I described, was done in an effort to get 
the painting to work. It wasn't done with a casualness about 
the material that was being used, but it was done to maintain, 
we'll say, a certain degree of malleability in the process of 
developing the painting that would be somewhat comparable to 
the malleability of the non- representational painting. You 
see, the opposite of this would be, as I say, you go out in 
nature and then you stick right with that particular theme. 
Maybe that particular time of day, even, a certain time of 
day. Then you are kind of accepting a kind of assignment, 
so to speak. You try to carry this assignment out. That's 
one way of proceeding, one way of working. If you, on the 
other hand, say that what you're undertaking in the painting 
is from many possible sources, then the painting itself can 
take many possible directions. That doesn't mean to say 
that at any one point you may not be very attached, very 
dedicated to the particular thing you are dealing with, but 
as much as you might be in love with the landscape, let's 
say, or the interior with the figures that you generate in 
the painting, the love of the painting itself, or the success 
of the painting, the pulling off, so to speak, of the paint 
ing itself is even more important. 



of a myth- 
guess it 



Somebody wrote somewhere that there was something 

ological quality or aspect to your figures, and I 

was Paul Mills writing in his catalogue as a matter of fact, 

that you developed your paintings around mythological subjects 

Is that right? 

Well, not particularly, no. 
How would you - - 

I never even thought of that as being mythological in 
actuality. I mean, strictly speaking I never gave any 
thought to the titles. 

What do you suppose he meant by that? Or do you have any 
idea? 'Cause I assume this was from conversation with you 
at the time or some sort of response to the work. 



EB: Well 



I think part of the figurative feeling, thinking, 
dealt with universals, and the figurative painting certainly 
was not interested in being regional, it was not interested 
in portraying California for Californians . I think I did 
want to take on some of the universality that was felt to 
be the realm of the abstract expressionist's work. There 
were deviations from this as I've already said. Some of the 



. ,, -T2. 

, . 11, a bather without a bathing suit, especially. 
PJK: That's what I mean, (laughter) 

EB: You put a bathing suit on them and it's going to be 1920s 
or '30s. 

PJK: But you stated that you weren't interested in portraiture, 
these are generalized figures. Was it the figure itself, 
did you see the human figure as having an evocative char 
acter that you specifically were going after in this paint 
ing? 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: Something in a non objective construction canvas was missing. 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: And so may I suggest then, that there was an element of say, 
a new humanism or humanistic concern? 

EB: Well, that term is used. I'm never quite clear what it 
means exactly, it's been so used and misused, I suppose. 
It would have to be laboriously defined before one would 
know how to take it or how to respond. The demands that 
the figure makes are conspicuous; every student who begins 
to draw figures is very much aware of how particular the 
figure is. You can do lots of things with a tree, you can 
do lots of things with a chair and infinite things with a 
cloud, but with a figure it has a particular look to it 
that insists that it be done in such and such a way, or 
otherwise it's corny or it looks malformed, cartoonish, 
idiotic, it has all sorts of registers, very particular 
registers. Maybe that's why it's still used for life 
classes for drawing, maybe that's why life classes are 
still carried on. So, let's see, your question was what? 
(laughs) 

PJK: Well, I've sort of phrased it and rephrased it, elaborated, 
so it probably got a little bit lost. But I think what I'm 
interested in is specifically your relationship to the figure 
Now, on one hand you say that it poses certain limitations 
and problems, a sense of discipline, I suppose, that was 
attractive. 

EB: Well, that never attracted me. That aspect never attracted 
me . 

PJK: Well, but that there were limitations then, and that this was 
a part of the appeal. We talked about this earlier on. So 
that would suggest to me that this is the reason for the fig 
ure rather than its associative value, its standard evocative 
potential -- we are human beings, we respond in a certain way 
to the image of the human being, and artists may use the figu 
This may be one reason for using the human figure. It's a 
means of communication, a common denominator, if you see what 
I mean. It's a loaded subject. It's always recognized. 



c .', 

k that was done was identifiable as subject, but ti 
was this desire at the same time to create a world and to 
create people in that world which were more timeless, were 
not fixed in time, were not dated in time. Well, possibly 
the minute you get into that, the painting has somewhat of 
a mythological look. I don't know. Some of the paintings 
may suggest, "Is that supposed to be Adam and Eve?" You 
know, (laughs) 

PJK: But you certainly weren't illustrating standard myths? 

EB: No. No. 

PJK: Okay. And you weren't basing your work on a system, even a 



Okay. And you weren't basing your work 
personal mythology, shall we say? 



EB: No. You mean by that if someone were to say, "Who are these 
people?" then you'd be able to answer it in a personal dream 
world way. 

PJK: Possibly? 

EB: No, none of that. It gets very tricky. It gets to be a 
rather complex kind of thing because you're not working 
within a tradition that supports that. Like for example, 
in the Renaissance there was a huge body of visions of the 
gods and goddesses of Greco-Roman mythology, there's all of 
this with a Christian iconography that the artist drew on, 
and he could make his own variations or he could follow in 
line pretty much with what his predecessors established in 
this way. Well, here in the case of figurative painting, 
Bay Area figurative painting, it's more likely when you 
invent these characters, these figures, these men and these 
women, mostly women, that they might look a little bit like 
you or look a little bit like your mother (laughs) or your 
wife . 

PJK: But that isn't what they're about? 

EB: But that's not what they're about, no. That just creeps in 
whether you like it or not. 

PJK: Let's try to, without belaboring the point, try to investi 
gate just what those figures are about. Or just what they 
really meant to you. I mean, the fact is that you with some 
others returned, embraced once again, the figurative mode, 
and a tremendous number of the paintings actually do incor 
porate figures. It's not just representational painting. 
The figures dominate, often nude, not always, and the bather 
motif reenters, which along with the nude the landscape, 
is of course one of the great subjects in the history of 
western painting. So to a certain extent, it's not specific, 
if you see what I mean. It's within the space of a tradition 
that almost maybe moves beyond a subject itself as a painter': 
tradition. 



... figure has a special evocative potential .:. : '.. . - 
:i used in a number of different ways, including in r t : 
quality. Does that, for example, come in? Was that of any 
interest or concern in your work at any point? 

EB: Well, evocative to oneself, that -- 
PJK: I mean more to the audience. 

EB: certainly that's the important part. But you have to 
remember that when we were in the throes of the abstract 
expressionism, that was evocative, that was (laughs) evoc 
ative as anything could possibly be. It'd be gestures 
that you'd put down on the canvas. In other words, what 
I'm saying is this: The answer to your question, I think, 
lies precisely in the fact that we were excited, passionate. 
So whatever you're dealing with, of course it can be the 
most evocative kind of thing. It cooled off with abstract 
expressionism. In a sense, the figurative painting was a 
kind of a revolt, the other extreme from abstract expression 
ism. So you mention the discipline aspect of it and limi 
tation aspect and so forth, but I don't think that was 
nearly as important as the positive things, all the potential 
poetry. This is what you're speaking of when you speak of 
the evocative powers of that mode of working. This was the 
thing that was exciting. So sure, it was full of wonder and 
full of possibilities. Whether or not these potencies would 
register on the observer was another matter. I don't think 
there was much concern about that. It was how you felt and 
how you were responding as an artist in doing this. How 
alive it made you in the studio, how excited it made you 
about painting. 

PJK: I see. That largely answers my question because it suggests 
that this then was a primary consideration rather than 
adopting new tools of communication. 

EB: Yes, that's right, that wasn't very important. 

PJK: Okay. You had an exhibition at the California College of 
Arts and Crafts, a one-man show, in January 1956, which -- 

t 
EB: Arts and Crafts? 

PJK: California College of Arts and Crafts, I believe, yeah. 

EB: San Francisco Art Institute. 

PJK: Well, let me take a look at, uh -- 

EB: I never have exhibited at the Arts and Crafts. San Franciscc 
Art Association Gallery in San Francisco in '56. 

PJK: Okay, I'm sorry. I had that wrong. I'm wondering if it -- 
EB: Did they make a mistake in the...? 



. . it's correct here. Okay, anyway, then at the 
ochool of Fine Arts Gallery. The importance of that <].;.., 
I gather, is that you were really the first of the group to 
have an exhibition, an entire exhibition of figurative work. 
Is that right? 

EB: Well 

PJK: This is pointed to as the first. 

EB: I'd have to check on that, I don't recall exactly. 

PJK: Well, Terry St. John, in his catalogue, cites it that way. 
I think also in Paul Mills. And of course the Paul Mills 
show followed only by a year, I think, that particular show. 
But I gather that this particular exhibition, your exhi 
bition, stimulated a great deal of interest that came as 
something of a surprise to those who weren't familiar with 
this. Do you remember it that way? 

EB: No, not especially. 

PJK: How do you remember it? Perhaps as not all that important? 

EB: I remember it as what I felt to be instrumental in getting 
me a job (laughs) under Gurdon Woods at the Art Institute 
because it was that fall in '56 after being in Marysville 
for three years, starting in '53, and then I came down in 
'56 to join the faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute. 

PJK: You had already been a faculty member earlier on. 
EB: Right. Earlier on I was, yeah. 

PJK: You introduced again this biographical line that we were 
trying to follow a little bit, and somehow we got to this 
point where you were returning from Marysville, and we had 
really never gotten you out of San Francisco. Why don't 
you, if you could, just briefly fill in the development 
there and how you happened to leave the Bay Area. 

EB: Well, I was working for a, year and a half for Railway Express 
I looked for a teaching job. I went all the way down to 
San Diego, as a matter of fact, hitting every place along 
the way that seemed at all a possibility, and had no success. 
So I got this job working on the loading trains and trucks 
and things like that with Railway Express. And virtually 
driving a truck for Railway Express. So after a year and 
a half of that, this possibility of a job at the junior 
college, Yuba College it's called, in Marysville, came up 
and I took it. This was in the fall of '53 that I started 
that job. The Railway Express job was pretty exhausting. 
It took too much energy physically to be a proper part- 
time job, to do and accomplish a lot in your studio. The 
best part about the Railway Express job was I got a lot of 
drawing done. I got painting done, but mostly drawing done. 






I'his was rli;!it at the point where I was ;.-' i ) i ve i 
with figurative painting and found myself drawing figures 
at every opportunity. I parked my truck outside of a 
Foster Cafeteria anil sat in the truck with a pencil and 
pad and spent a lunchtime sometimes taking more lunch 
than I should, drawing people through the glass, drawing 
people sitting, having lunch, drinking coffee, chatting 
at the tables and so forth. Then, as I say, I went up 
to Marysville, took the job at Yuba College and did a lot 
of work there. That was a teaching job which took up per 
haps 20 and 25 hours a week, left some time over for 
painting. Best time, of course, was in the summers, and 
I worked all summer long when I was up there, painting, 
and would get up during the school year at four o'clock 
in the morning and work before classes. So this show 
was the result of a quite intensive period of productivity. 
And as I say, I think that it had some bearing on my being 
invited down to the job at the Art Institute. We call it 
San Francisco Art Institute, we call it California School 
of Fine Arts, and everybody knows that they're the same 
place . 

PJK: The place changes names periodically. 

EB: Well, I think it only changed its name once. 

PJK: Well, at least in recent history. Let me ask you this, then 
Why did you leave the California School of Fine Arts in '52? 

EB: Change of director, Ernest Mundt became the director and 
he had a very different esthetic from Doug MacAgy. He 
was beginning to employ his own people, or a faculty that 
he thought would be more compatible to his purposes at 
the school. We saw the handwriting on the wall. 

PJK: Was there something of a mass exodus? Was there quite a 
turnover under the new administration? 

EB: Ed Corbett had been let go, fired I guess is the correct 

term for it. This really frightened us because Ed Corbett 
was very first-rate -- absolutely first-rate artist, first- 
rate teacher. We were flabbergasted that a man of that 
caliber would be let go from the school. And rumor had 
it, I think a very well-founded rumor, that Hassel Smith 
was going to be the next one to be let go. So David Park 
and I went to Ernest Mundt and said, "If you fire Hassel, 
we quit." So he fired Hassel and we quit. (laughs) 
It's as simple as that. 

PJK: You provided him a beautiful setup. He only had to fire 
one instead of three. What did David Park do after that? 

EB: So then I was driving a truck for Railway Express. 
PJK: What did Park do? What did Hassel Smith do? 



PJK 
EB: 
PJK 

EB: 
PJK 



EB: 

PJK 
EB: 



PJK 

EB: 

PJK: 

EB: 

PJK: 

EB: 



: ; < -.' L '.< ;''.'.' tO il i S 

;uess, licked his wounds, 

aid various things: he put 

liquor distributor. He did 



jrchard in Sebas* : I in-.l, 

I don ' t know . Then ! ; , 
up liquor displays for some 
that for a while and some 



other things , and 
at the University 



then eventually, 
of California. 



of course, got the job 



What year did he get that? 



In fifty- . . . 

I don ' t know . 
about that. I 
fairly -- 



We have a letter 
don ' t remember . 



in the 
But it 



Archives 
seems to 



that talks 
me that's 



Oh, it seems to me most of us were sort of foraging around, 
just finding ways of making ends meet. 

It's interesting, though, that a new administrator would 
come in and, well maybe this happens more often than one 
thinks, has such different ideas that they're just im- 
compatible with the existing atmosphere and instruction 
and faculty at an institution. 

Yeah, but it happened with MacAgy, and he certainly em 
ployed a brand new faculty. 

There was no such thing as tenure. 

No, no tenure. That was one of the things about the 
school that made it possible for it to come to life 
overnight, dramatically. And MacAgy, as I say, employed 
a whole new faculty practically, and the very few people 
left over from the previous administration, so Ernest 
Mundt did what was more or less typical then. Gurdon 
Woods came along and again, did the same kind of thing, 
mass firing, 
much. 



mass hiring. So that's been the story pretty 



So you came in with one administration and went out with 
another one and came back in with Gurdon Woods. And you 
say largely as a result, you feel, of the exhibition in '56 

Well, I was never told that. I just imagined that helped. 

Did you know Gurdon Woods before? 

No. 

Now, who else in your group was hired at that time? 

Well, the people that were there, a fellow named Ralph 
Putzker, Roger Barr, I didn't know their work too well, 
and I didn't know them at all. There were a number of 
others, I can't remember the names of the other people. 



I was the fir^t of the new ^roup that >..t- 
it wasn't long after I was there they brought in r'ruiir 
Lobdell and Jack Jefferson, Jerry Ilato Csk>; Jim Weeks, 
Diebenkorn. 

PJK: Many of whom had been students then, during your first 
stint at the California School of Fine Arts? 

EB: Right. 

PJK: You were chairman of the graduate department there from 
1 56 to 



EB: 



Well, that was the job I was brought down to do, to teach 
and to be chairman of the graduate department program. 



PJK: I see. What about those years? Is there anything that 
stands out? Incidently, I'm curious -- when you were 
teaching over there, were you living in San Francisco 
or did you commute? 

EB: Well, no, I was living in San Francisco until '59. I was 
living in the Montgomery block. Coming down from Marys- 
ville, I lived in Berkeley a year, and then moved over to 
San Francisco. 

PJK: What about those years, your second session at the Art 
Institute? 

EB: Well, it was different than the first session. I mentioned 
in the first period there under MacAgy when I arrived, the 
school struck me as absolutely fantastic, just a fantastic 
place and very much alive and kicking and didn't change 
appreciably the whole time I was there. I was trying to 
point that out in our previous talk about this, that it 
wasn't a graveyard until Clyfford Still appeared (laughs). 
At the school when I came back to it in '56, then it was 
primarily a job of reforming the school. Woods had been 
there, I think about a year before I arrived, so that it 
was just in the beginning stages of being reformed under 
his regime, and a lot of the people under Ernest Mundt 
then were let go or shunted off into night classes, and 
then all of these new people were brought in. So this was 
a different kind of a situation. It became then something 
I thought was marvelously exciting, in the process of this 
transformation under Gurdon Woods, it became a marvelously 
exciting place. 

PJK: Once again. 

EB: Yeah. 

PJK: Why was that? 

EB: Of course, you taught younger students, not the G.I.s who 
were there in great numbers in the first instance. These 
students then under Gurdon were typically college age 
students, but there were some very good ones nevertheless. 









- : -omc of your favorite students or those \ 

felt at the time had the most promise and perhaps real::-.. 
that promise. Or in some cases maybe haven't. 

EB: Well, certainly Joan Brown would be way up there on the list 
PJK: What was she like as a student? I've interviewed her. 

EB: Well, not very different than she is at present (laughs), 
an adult right now, very enthusiastic, very positive, 
very energetic, very imaginative person. Obviously a 
joy to have as a student, a joy to work with. 

PJK: She came, if I remember correctly, with virtually no 
training . 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: Very, very little background if any, and I gather it wasn't 
much of a handicap. 

EB: Well, she has a lot of just innate talent. Talented person. 

PJK: Quick learner. 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: Who else? 

EB: Bill Brown. He was her first husband. I'm not thinking 
of William Theo Brown, another Bill Brown. 

PJK: Well, this is a Bill Brown that exhibited in the first 
1957 exhibition, isn't that right? 

EB: I think so. 

PJK: I mean, it wasn't William T. Brown, it was another. 

EB: Urn . And Manuel Neri , I certainly remember him as being an 
outstanding student. And then of course there was William 
Wiley and Bob Hudson and*Bill Geis -- these came a little 
bit later on. Oh and many, many more great students. 
Bill Allan, yes. Deborah Remington, and David Simpson, 
Wally Hedrick and one or two others. They'd come up from 
Pasadena to join us and Hayward King. 

PJK: How do you account for this? It's very interesting 

because in a way, there may be more names that are familiar 
to me, at least, I don't know if this is generally true, 
from the second period under Gurdon Woods at the Art 
Institute than the perhaps more famous days when Clyfford 
Still was there. Looking back, do you feel maybe that's 
true? It seems like the students, certainly, were an 
interesting group. 

EB: Yeah, I don't know how to explain that. 



ittr acted them? What happened? It s .. : . _ 
super star period was -- 

EB: You're suggesting there's a higher mortality rate among 
the students in the first case? 

PJK: Maybe, I don't know. But do you see what I mean? What 
was the special appeal then, this new appeal, at the 
San Francisco Art Institute? Obviously word had gotten 
around something exciting was happening. 

EB: Right. Word had gotten around. I think their teachers 
at other institutions had become aware of this, they 
suggested, "Gee, go here, go to this place, something 
great happening , you 1 d profit from that environment, that 
faculty," and so forth. But a lot of this kind of thing 
goes on. I know I do that if I think there's a great 
place for a student to go, I push it, recommend it. 

PJK: Because Wiley and Allan and these people came all the way 
down from Washington. 

EB: Well, it's because of the urging of their instructor up 

there. I forget where it was. Washington or was is Oregon? 

PJK: Washington. 

EB: Sure, that's how it happens. 

PJK: Bill Wiley's certainly a student of that generation, the 
times when you were the head of the graduate school, as a 
matter of fact, who perhaps has achieved the greatest inter 
national reputation. Do you remember him as a student? 
I mean, did he distinguish himself? 

EB: Oh, yes, a real hot shot. Oh, yes, he was. There were 

others that were hot shots, too, but he was the most out 
standing. There was no mistaking that there was something 
very special in his abilities. And one of these people 
that're very, very quick on the uptake. He'd be dealing 
with a new thing practically overnight but it would look 
as though he had some considerable experience with it. 
Very, very quick talent. 

PJK: Another quick learner. 
EB: Yes. 

PJK: Are you able to identify, thinking back to those days, 
some special quality that might describe the situation 
there? Because certainly something did develop out of 
those years. And one aspect of it eventually came to be 
called "funk," perhaps, although that's not a very popular 
term, but maybe it'll serve the purpose. 

EB: Yes. 



: - .. 60 

.Vas there a sense of some real change, perhaps in esth 
and ideas, and that this was focused at the Art Institute? 

EB: A change? 

PJK: Well, a shift certainly from the 1945-50 days, the MacAgy 
years or Ernest Mundt period, a sense that something spe 
cial was happening, because this was the beginning of the 
move into the so-called "beatnik" period, the beat gener 
ation, and it was something of a homogenous group, at 
least from where I sit, with certain shared ideas, these 
students that you listed. You know, many of them fit 
pretty well together. 

EB: Well, yes, there was a bit more diversity than the MacAgy 
period. I don't know just how to put this. There was a 
bigger range of attitudes, I would say. It's like the 
situation that exists today (but not quite to the extent 
that it exists today) where you go into an art class in an 
art department or art school, and you see everything under 
the sun going on, everything going on concurrently. Well, 
it wasn't as extreme as that in the Woods period, but it 
was headed more in that direction than, say, what existed 
at the school under MacAgy. I think the overall attitudes 
under MacAgy and the whole spirit of the school was, while 
it was very, very spirited, more solemn, more serious. 
There was that aspect that existed during the Woods period, 
but it was intermixed with all sorts of other things. Then 
you mention "funk." Well, funk is really in the spirit of 
having (laughs) conspicuous fun and poking somebody in the 
ribs and getting a kick out of doing something that was 
brash and slapstick. And maybe not burying that aspect, 
not having that as a subordinate but making that predominant, 
that's the major issue. 

PJK: I'm just curious how that came about because it seems to me 
that the dish was really cooked and served up out of the 
San Francisco Art Institute, and because most of the people, 
most of the young artists have come to be associated or at 
one time were associated with funk sensibility, whatever 
that may be, are counted among the students at that institu 
tion at the time. And one wonders just how this came about, 
if it was visible at the time? Sort of almost neo-dada 
approach . 

EB: It would seem, though, that the only way you could explain 
how that comes about is by searching way out beyond this 
locale. I don't mean to say that this was happening in 
every part of the country all at the same time, but I think 
the attitude was trying to suggest that there was this in 
crease in diversity of viewpoints, a kind of relative frac 
turing is taking place, starting back in that period as 
opposed to the MacAgy era at the school. The fact that 
there could be a very solemn student working right along 
side a student who was a big cutup. And, too, them toler 
ating one another and seeing themselves as just part of the 
art world, that's not a thing that's gone on, you know, for 



;r it length of tine. It's a fairly recent ph< 
:her it will continue or not, I have no idea. 

PJK: Maybe I'm asking a broader question than that which has 
more to do with the Bay Area, although I suppose if not 
the heart, the important focus of the art world in the 
Bay Area has been the Art Institute. But about that time, 
maybe a little afterwards as it matured, something that 
came to be called "funk," a certain sensibility, a certain 
attitude, came to be identified with the Bay Area. Perhaps 
more than it should have been. Perhaps earlier, every 
body thought of Bay Area figurative for a while, that it 
was California art or at least Northern California art. 
Then later on it came to be funk. And you say this was 
happening, certainly some of these attitudes were being 
encountered elsewhere in other parts of the country. But 
nevertheless, no other part of the country that I can think 
of became characterized, almost exclusively for a while, by 
this one sensibility, this one expression, the manifestation, 

EB: You mean funk? 

PJK: Yeah. 

EB: Really? 

PJK: I hate to use the word, but we have to use some word. 

EB: You think that was the note that was being struck? 

PJK: Well, it was very much associated with the Bay Area, yeah. 
As a matter of fact, if you look at a number of the artists 
ranging from, say Gilhooly and Arneson and those working 
with ceramics and pottery, to Bruce Conner who came here, 
of course, or Wally Hedrick, one of the progenitors of this 
special kind of irreverent expression, aspects of Wiley 
are not unrelated to it. Joan Brown even can be brought 
in with certain pieces, although I don't think it charac 
terizes her. You see what I mean? Or do you think maybe 
this is an artificial kind of classification that really 
doesn't hold? 

EB: Well, I think that the other influences would -- of course 
you mention the figurative influence, but I think the Frank 
Lobdell influence, now that's not funk at all, it's very, 
very serious and harkens back to the kind of devotion and 
almost religious period of the earlier days, the MacAgy era 
and certainly it reflects very strongly the influence of 
Clyfford Still. And I look upon this as being very strong, 
very vigorous, very potent note in this scene that existed 
there at the Art Institute. It has nothing to do with funk. 
Now, I think Wiley was influenced by Lobdell, Bill Geis and 
his sculpture. Now you can say they're funk aspects to 
Bill Geis. I would say that's the secondary note; it's 
not the primary note. I don't even think that funk is a 
major note in Bill Wiley's work. Joan Brown took a fur coat 
out of the garbage can and made a ta<^k- out of it (laughs) one 
time. Now that was really funk art. 




::. . 62. 

X : fhat ' s vo ry funky . 

EB: That's very, very funky. But her work isn't funky. 
PJK: No. . 



Not really funky in the way that fur padc was. That was 
unadulterated, flat out funky. Did you ever see that 

rack?., (laughs) 
^/>*/- 

PJK: Yeah. Doesn't she have it at her house? 

EB: Well, I think she sold it some years ago. I thought the 

University Art Museum bought it, I'm not sure. But at any 
rate, you're right in saying there's this funk element. 
I would put it sort of along side of a whole bunch of other 
elements and fantasy. Sometimes a personal fantasy enters 
into it. Sometimes it's been -- I'm thinking now just of 
another phase of Bay Area work. It started out in the years 
we were talking about, in the Gurdon Woods years, and has 
become one of the prevailing directions, one of the pre 
vailing modes. Sometimes it's called personal surrealism, 
subjective surrealism. 

PJK: Which artists would you mention, just as illustrations? 

EB: Stiegelmeyer , I don't know the names too well. Bruce 

Conner actually might come just as well in that category 
as in the funk, I think more likely in that category than 
in the funk. I think of funk as having less humor in it. 

PJK: Well, everybody seems to understand funk differently, that's 
one of the problems. It needs a clearer definition. Never 
theless, whatever funk may be, that particular phenomenon 
did attract a great deal of attention, it did focus atten 
tion on this area. Perhaps it wasn't really representative 
as you suggest, or at least it wasn't the whole picture. 
But that leads me to something else: How would you char 
acterize, if you had to, the Bay Area art world in terms of 
perhaps an indigenous sensibility, expression? Is there 
something that you would associate with this area that's 
unusual? 

EB: You mean for all periods, not just one period? 
PJK: Yeah, something that cuts across it, perhaps. 

EB: I don't think I could single out, you know, a set of char 
acteristics that I would say hold true for all time in the 
Bay Area. 

PJK: Well, not for all time, perhaps. 

EB: I think that it's true that there's been for a considerable 
time, a high degree of productivity in the Bay Area. I 
think that's one of the things I like about it, the Bay Area, 
a center where people produce art and there's a lot of en 
thusiasm that exists, a lot of concern. I think we were 






y; ..,, 



talking ai-'Out 
free from the 



this before. This seems to 
commerical aspects, it's not 



' - c ' ; 

based o n a 



market, it's not based on the collectors, there're no great 
collections in the Bay Area, there's no great money going 
into art in the Bay Area. Nevertheless, there's been this 
zeal, there's been this high-keyed activity in art as long 
as I can remember. 

PJK: Okay. How do you explain that? 

EB: I don't know. It's a very tough one to explain. 

PJK: Well, put into personal terms, you've obviously made a 

decision to remain in this area and I think a part of it 
had to do with various teaching jobs and so forth, but you 
must have, at some point, considered there might be advan 
tages to, say, moving to New York. This must have suggested 
itself to you, a closer association with a gallery although 
Staempfli was representing you -- I don't know, when did 
you go with him? 



EB: It was '59. 

PJK: Yeah. So at 
occur to you 
to. 



least you had 
that perhaps 



that outlet. But didn't it ever 
as an artist you might be able 



EB: 



PJK 
EB: 



PJK 



EB: 
PJK: 



Well, no. I think that I have always felt so 
the physical environment, of drawing on that, 
of wedded to it, I guess, in a way, that when 
elsewhere, I've felt a bit like a fish out of 
sure if I stayed elsewhere long enough I would 
over this. But I'm very attached to this area 
a lot to me and I think the fact that it has a 
back to my early days, memories of scenes and 
quality of streets I walked since I was a litt 



conscious of 
of being kind 
I ' ve been 
water . I'm 
have gotten 
, it means 
Iways , going 
the constant 
le kid. 



But that's the 
area and - - 



attraction of the location, of this particular 



I'm lucky 
goes on. 



that 

i 



this happens to be a place where all this art 
It's not as though you're in some cultural desert 
some place, you're in a very lively place. Part of it could 
be the big cluster of institutions in which art is taught 
that exist in the Bay Area, part of it could be that. 

But part of the aspect of the common wisdom for years around 
here, I gather, has been you make certain professional sac 
rifices by choosing to stay in the Bay Area. At least, I've 
heard this from others that one has a feeling that you're 
giving something up. 

If you stay in the Bay Area? 

Yeah, that it isn't really where it happens. 



. 

. . : . that? 

PJK: It doesn't matter (laughs). I assure you somebody says it. 
That somehow the New York art world has been a more serious 
art world and maybe tougher, but that's where one has, say, 
more opportunities through contact with galleries or what 
ever , to make it . 

EB: You're talking about commerically? The commeri/cal aspect? 

PJK: Yes, exactly. And some people even feel perhaps that the 
excitement of New York, the constant discussions of ideas, 
the more intellectual and philosophical orientation -- 

EB: Well, that would be more important. The museums. The 

museums are marvelous, they're very educational themselves. 

PJK: But this, I gather, you weighed these things in the balance 
a long time ago, I gather -- 

EB: Yes. Yeah, I think you have to really determine as best 

you can what's best for your own nature and your own makeup, 
I've never felt a kind of a dearth of stimuli. Now that 
could be because I'm very slow. We were talking about a 
person like Bill Wiley who's amazingly quick; I think 
Diebenkorn's very, very quick in his ability to grasp, 
to understand and make sense of a particular set of things. 
I'm very, very slow, and so that a situation like this 
which every New Yorker will say is very slow paced, is 
just right for me. And I think New York is paced a little 
too fast and I'm sure I would miss all sorts of treasures 
because they'd go by so fast. Right? 

PJK: I don't know, (laughs) 

EB: An environment like this gives a lot of time to mull things 
over, I think, and there's nobody hasseling you, there's 
nobody breathing down your neck. I like the idea of having 
a dealer that's 3,000 miles away. 

PJK: Are you still associated f with Staempfli, is that right? 

EB: Well, yeah, but he's not too interested in this work I'm 
doing now, the non- representational work, and so I think 
we're gradually, through the ages, drifting apart. 

PJK: Let me ask you another question -- 

EB: I think he sent me a Christmas card, it was crazy. 

PJK: Speaking of Staempfli, I gather that he was the dealer who 
first was attracted or became interested in Bay Area figur 
ative, or at least the first New York dealer. 

EB: Yes. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 



65 



PJK 
EB: 

{ 

PJK: 
EB: 



PJK: 
EB: 

PJK: 

EB: 
PJK: 
EB: 
PJK: 

EB: 
PJK: 

EB: 



PJK 



And I guess played an important role in what was national 
interest in this phenomenon. 

* 

'Yes. ,, 
How did that come about? Do you remember? 

Well, he just came out here with his check book in his hand. 
Like I said, it was the first time I'd ever encountered any 
thing like that, and he wrote out a check. He bought up 
things like crazy, he bought up ten paintings like that for 
a particular sum of money and then signed you up to become 
a member of his stable. He did this with David Park, I 
guess later on with Joan Brown, made some overtures to 
Bill Wiley, I've forgotten who else. 

But how did he discover you? 

I don't know. I don't know how that happened. I had 
gotten a Ford Foundation grant just before he came out. 
This was given some publicity, and it could have been that. 

Because it seems he was very much attracted to Bay Area 

figurative painting -- 

Right. 

-- that he recognized it as a movement -- 

Yes. 

-- and tried to contact, tried to establish a relation with 
some of the artists involved. Did you get the feeling that 
he was really excited about this as a new development? 

Yes, oh, very much so. 

Did you feel that he really understood what was happening? 
As it, in a sense he was something of a kindred spirit? 

Well, yes, he certainly responded in a way which made you 
feel was with his very w*hole heart. It was by no means a 
dollars and cents response, it was personal, it was passion 
ate, and very excited kind of response. The work that he 
lived with in his apartment back in New York, the work that 
you would see hanging on the walls and the sculptures you'd 
see sitting on the coffee table, was a very, very different 
order. It was not at all like my work or David Park's work 
or Joan Brown's work, but nevertheless, there was this side 
of him that was very susceptible to figurative painting. 



Well, he certainly does seem to 

dealers who bothered to come to 

to the Bay Area -- I don't know if he went 

the state -- with the idea of locating and 



be one of the 
California, 



New York 
or at least 
elsewhere in 
showing artists 



out here. And I don't think at that time there were too man 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 66 

EB: No, there weren't. 

PJK: Well, before Staempfli, you had had a few exhibitions. 
Any in commercial galleries? 

EB: Well, let me see. There was the Kantor Gallery -- 

PJK: In '55 in Los Angeles. Did you sell anything from that 
showing? 

EB: No. 

PJK: And then I'm sure nothing was sold from a one man 
exhibition in "53 from King Ubu Gallery. 

EB: No. 

PJK: So prior to 1960 and George Staempfli, you had only two 
exhibitions in commercial galleries? 

EB: Yeah, I guess that's right. That would be about it. 

PJK: So you really hadn't sold any paintings at these two 

galleries . 

EB: No. 

PJK: I imagine you'd sold things out of your studio? 

EB: Yeah, but very little. 

PJK: So you really had supported yourself almost 1001 by teaching. 

EB: Oh, yes. 

PJK: Where did that change, then? 

EB: Well, I'm still supporting myself by teaching. (Laughs) 

PJK: Well, yes, but not that it's reversed but -- 

EB: I've augmented that teaching salary with a few sales. 

PJK: Let's put it this way: When did you start to make enough 
sales to make some difference? Was it with Staempfli? 

EB: Some difference in the sense of what? 

PJK: Well, where it was worth noting, that you felt that you 

were painting with the idea that there were those who would 
buy, some collectors. 

EB: Well, it never made a difference in that way. It made a 

difference in income tax, that's where it made a difference. 
And eventually, I had to get somebody else to make my in 
come tax out. If I understand you correctly, you're saying 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 67 

that there would be a change in the studio, a change in 
the feeling of the act of painting that now these things 
are being sold and that enhances the value of painting. 
Is tha what you're suggesting? 

PJK: Well, I'm not sure. That could be one ramification. 

But there came a point, I would expect, when you saw that 
your pictures were actually selling, or there was a pos 
sibility that they were going to sell, which wasn't the 
case for a number of years, at least to any extent. 
I don't know what kind of difference this makes to an 
artist in the way he or she views the work and the act 
of creating it. That's a little more profound question, 
I suppose. But I suppose all I was really trying to do 
was pin down the time when you felt you were starting, 
really, to get some attention and -- 

EB: Actually, the Ford grant was the thing, that was the very 
first instance where I was kind of surprised by the work 
getting this much attention and the work getting this 
kind of evaluation and so forth. That was brought about 
by national competition, this Ford grant. It was a rather 
elaborate scheme they had worked up which started with 
competition within regions and spread out until it took 
in the whole United States. So I was rather pleased with 
the fact that my work had made it through all those ob 
stacles and I ended up getting this very generous $10,000 
grant of money. That was really the first time having 
anything like that kind of experience. Now, does that 
answer your question? 

PJK: I think so. I guess I'm trying to a certain extent, to 
establish Staempfli's role -- if it was such a role -- 
in bringing Elmer Bischoff to a more prominent station. 

EB: Oh, well what he did was to get paintings into the New 

York Museum of Modern Art, for example, and the Whitney. 
He did a lot of that kind of thing, so Rockefeller bought 
paintings and so forth. He was very good in that way, a 
live wire. 

PJK: You, for the most part, were presented, I gather, with 
David Park and Richard Diebenkorn and others, again in 
connection with the Bay Area figurative school. Certainly 
Staempfli exhibited you in that context several times. 
Do you feel that the two things went together: the greater 
attention to Elmer Bischoff, but also increasing national 
interest in Bay Area figurative painting? And how do you 
feel about that? Was it just a fact of history, the way 
it happened? 

EB: Yeah. What you're saying is when you're part of a movement 
and also you're an individual, and you'd rather have the 
fact of your individuality take the precedence over the 
fact that you're a member of this club or this group. I 
think that's very true, yeah. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 68 

PJK: I mean, afterall it was something -- 

EB: But as you say, you have to sort of accept it as a fact 
of life. 

, .- . !! , 

PJK: Because there was, I suppose, a movement, although I kind 
of doubt that you who were involved, made much of that 
fact. I mean, did you feel that you were a member of a 
club and so forth, or did you feel this was kind of imposed 

from outside? 

EB: Well, no, I thought it was imposed from the outside. It 
was a simplification that was a matter of convenience for 
journalists and for historians and for middlemen. It 
happens over and over again. Isn't that true? 

PJK: Well, I think so. What do you think of Paul Mills's 
original grouping way back in '57, which was early on 
in the game? Several different artists, I believe, were 
included in that show. And if you glance through the 
catalogue, you're more struck, I think, by the differences 
in some respects, than the similarities. Nobody, I would 
think, would say that there was any close-knit group, 
stylistically, tagged together or committed to the same 
stylistic notions. 

EB: No. 

PJK: I mean, David Park, you, Diebenkorn, and a number of other 
artists, some of who are associated, or have been, with 
Bay Area figurative. I guess Jim Weeks would fit into 
that, Paul Wonner. I gather some of these people, some 
of them I'd never heard of -- Robert Qualters for instance, 
Bruce McGaw, Robert Downs, you know they're really just 
a few from that year. 

EB: Qualters and McGaw and Downs were students at the Art 

Institute, mainly influenced by Diebenkorn more than any 
body else. This would be true of Bruce McGaw, certainly. 
Well, I mean if you're really trying to see this as some 
thing new and something different, and you see it in the 
context of what was going'on at that time and what was the 
predominant thing, the predominant "isms" that existed at 
that time, which were not figurative, then you could make 
this into a brand new direction and lump all these people 
together. I think, looking back on it now that there's 
been a span of time, you see that figurative painting 
from a distance takes on a different complexion, and you 
wouldn't say it's kind of arbitrary picking out of those 
particular people, lumping them all together under this 
one banner. 

PJK: Do you feel that Paul Mills then was fairly astute in 

recognizing, and so early on describing, this phenomenon? 
I guess what I'm asking you is how do you feel about that 
show and the way Paul Mills selected and then wrote about it? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 69 

EB: Well, I suppose I just assumed that he was genuinely caught 
up with this look which was given the name "figurative 
painting," and saw it had great potential. I'm sure there 
must ha^ve been that element in it, too, that he felt that 
it was .something that was probably 'going to catch on and 
be a great moment historically, maybe not just locally, 
you see. 

PJK: But you must have had some sense of really participating 
in history, or at least that there was the possibility 
that you were making history? 

EB: Well, not to the degree that I guess Paul Mills felt. 

I think that the feeling within your own studio, you're 
making history, is just as tenable an idea, you know, 
I don't know. You've asked that, I can see this is some 
thing in your mind because you've asked that in other 
connections, for example at the school under Gurdon Woods, 
was there an awareness that this was something special 
and something unique and so forth. Well, not in the way 
a journalist would see it as special and unique, not the 
way an historian would see it as something special and 
unique, not the way a person who's working on his PhD 
and using this as a thesis subject would see it as special 
and unique. I think that when I'm doing something that 
really makes a connection in my own feeling, I see that as 
special and unique, but not in the same way. I see it as 
having tremendous potential, but not in the same way. 
It's as though if I were to do it in the same way, I'd have 
to go out and make a study of what has a big potential 
today. Does that make any sense? 

PJK: I think so. I think I'm probably asking more or less 

a difficult question to go back and then try to determine 
degree of historical self-consciousness. 

EB: Well, right, you see, it's very much like say, Staempfli 
comes out here and when he invests in this figurative 
painting, when he invites figurative painters to exhibit, 
to become part of the stable, and to exhibit in his gallery 
in New York, how much of, that is a shrewdness about some 
thing that has a great future historically. And God knows 
what importance it has -- how much is he even concerned 
about that and how much is he just caught up with the 
falling in love with this "ism"? 

PJK: It's got to be both if he's an art dealer, he's in business 
and he has to do a little bit of both. 

EB: Well, but then you would say, "What does a painter, while 

he is getting ecstatic about what's happening in his paint 
ing, does he also have his mind on 'Oh, wow, this is going 
to sell like crazy' or 'Is somebody else going to love this 
and buy this for a big, fat sum?' and 'Think of all the fun 
I'll have carrying all that money to the bank.'" Is he 
thinking about all those things? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 70 

PJK: Oh, no, painters are special, you see. (Laughter) I have 
a romantic notion that they don't care about those things 
such as money. 

. 
EB: You see, I think that the situation really changes. I 

often think of this as though you are involved with some 
thing, you're caught up with something, you even forget 
about the time, you forget about looking at your watch, 
it's just that absorbing to you. Somebody looks over your 
shoulder, snatches this thing away from you, and says, 
"This is worth a thousand dollars." Then later on, some 
body comes along and says, "When Paul was all absorbed, 
he knew that was worth a thousand dollars. Now don't kid 
me, he knew that, that's why he was so absorbed -- Baloney." 
And you won't be able to wiggle out of this. They will 
insist that you must be like what you're saying all the 
dealers must be, you know, they know they're going to make 
a million dollars so it's partly the love of the thing, 
it's partly the love of that buck that the thing's going 
to bring. 

PJK: I would think most dealers are that way, we won't say all 
of them. 

EB: Well, I don't know. In Staempfli's case, I don't know. 
I just assume because of the way he had responded in the 
studio, the way he responded in the presence of my work 
while he was in the studio and back there at the gallery 
convinced me that he really liked this. He was really 
knocked out by it. 

PJK: But that's okay because the assumption is then that this 
is quality and he should be able to sell it. 

EB: No, it's not necessarily quality, it's just that he likes it 

PJK: Well, I know, but if anybody respects one's own taste, then 
you assume they go together -- you like it and it has 
quality. But that opens up a... 

EB: Well, yeah. (Laughs) It gets very complex because the 

minute you say that, it takes me back to the time when we 
had the studio visits, when our peers -- now these are 
artists, and I'm thinking of people like David Park or 
even Frank Lobdell -- would come around and look at the 
work at the studio. Then I would say this, if they like 
it, this is quality. I'd never say this about a dealer. 
Never think of it. I think, "They like it." I don't say 
it's quality. But if a fellow artist whose work I know 
thoroughly and respect thoroughly says something is good 
when he comes in the studio, this, to me, is quality then. 
I say, "I've done something of quality." It never entered 
my mind to treat anything in the words of a dealer's as 
indicating quality. I'm not trying to suggest that the 
dealer has no taste, I'm not trying to suggest that if a 
dealer says something is good that it automatically is 
going to be questionable. I'm just saying that I've never 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 71 

thought of this as being a clear indication of anything 
more than that person's preferences. 

PJK: 'Right. But that person, I would assume, would think that 
because he liked the work, it has quality. The two go 
together. Otherwise, you would have to call into question 
his own taste. 

EB: Oh, sure. 

PJK: So that's all I was saying. It seems to me that about 

that time, about 1959, when you got the Ford grant, 1960, 
first one-man show in New York, from that time on -- per 
haps with some breaks -- you really started to get quite 
a bit more exposure and move around. It sort of marks 
another stage of your career. Would you say that that's 
true? 

EB: Yes. When was it when the jazz and poetry readings in 
North Beach first got attention? 

PJK: Well, that was the late fifties. 

EB: Late fifties. So that a kind of national awareness -- 
through Look magazine, maybe, through Life magazine 
-- that there's something going on here in this area, 
started to dawn about that time. The first instance of 
it was the jazz and poetry stuff in North Beach. 

PJK: So do you think this affected your fortunes at all? 

EB: Well, no, but I think it's part of a same kind of movement, 
so to speak. 

PJK: I see. What I'm asking is, do you feel that because 

attention became focused on jazz and poetry readings and 
so forth, that then there was a looking around, a closer 
look at other aspects of the arts than in a way would 
have been? 

EB: That's right, that's right. I think there was that, 
certainly. 

PJK: You even went off as visiting critic to Yale in, I believe 
in 1961? 

EB: Well, yes, that was after the summer at Skowhegan. 
PJK: Why was it a visitingcritic? Or is this more in -- 

EB: No, that's just a term. It was to talk with students and 
to look at their work and discuss their work. 

PJK: It's more like artist in residence or something? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 72 

EB: Yeah, but it was only two days. It was at the tale end 
of the summer session that I spent at Skowhegan. 

PJK: But at any rate, it seems that from that time on, you were 
include^ in many more shows, in group shows and in one-man 
shows, so your career was on an entirely new footing and 
had pretty much remained that way. A few years later, 
you for some reason, switched from the San Francisco Art 
Institute across the Bay to the faculty of the University 
of California. How did that come about? 

EB: Well, I was just invited to come over there and join the 
faculty. They made me an offer I couldn't resist. I 
couldn't refuse, I think is the way it goes. 

PJK: And that was in 1963. You've been on the faculty ever since? 
EB: Yes. 

PJK: And so really the lion's share of your teaching career -- 
well, I don't know if it quite works out to that -- has 
been at the University of California. 

EB: '63 to the present, 14 years. I guess I was 13 years all 
together at the Art Institute. So, yeah. That's true. 

PJK: You've taught a good number of years. You've been a regu 
lar -- 

EB: .J've taught all my life. 

. ' ' r .; ' .' * 

PJK: Yeah. -- regular teacher, regular fellow, regular teacher. 
I know for a fact that you have some very definite ideas 
about teaching and education and so forth. What about 
differences you've found, not as a student but as a teacher, 
between the University of California students and the Art 
Institute? The students themselves and perhaps the program 
as those two relate. 

EB: Well, I think one of the major differences is the environment 
When you go into the Art Institute, it's all art and you're 
aware of this the minute'y u look inside the door. The 
availability, the ease with which you can see painting and 
sculpture, and actually see this going on, the accessibility 
of the classrooms and all that, makes a big difference at 
the Art Institute. The situation at the University is not 
ideal in terms of the physical setup. We share the build 
ing with anthropology. Aside from a few glass cases down 
on the main floor that have exhibits of class work rather 
indifferently selected for the most part and very often 
displayed not much better than a Boy Scout display (laughs), 
aside from that, you wouldn't know there's any art that 
goes on in the building until when you get up on the second 
floor and third floor where you find classrooms. There's 
a degree of isolation and a degree of a kind of inappro 
priate setting, I would say, for art at the university. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 73 

I remember reading once in some recommendation by the 
Ford Foundation committee that art departments in uni 
versities be located off campus. And that makes sense, 
in a way. I don't think the campus is a very compatible 
environment for art. I guess in every university, there's 
a consciousness of the primacy of science. Science is the 
most respected of all the disciplines, and most of the 
disciplines attempt to pattern themselves after science. 
The more scientific they become, the more prestigious 
they become. And that doesn't strike me as the most 
compatible environment for art. As opposed to that, 
then the art school is free from that kind of pressure, 
free from that sort of a climate, and better off for it, 
I believe. 

PJK: Do you feel that there is any benefit to the art student 
of being in the university setting where there, theoreti 
cally, is exposure to an intellectual environment, intel 
lectual stimulation, of people involved in research and 
learning in all different areas, exposure let's say, to 
art historians who, again theoretically, should share 
some common interests? They don't always do that. This 
is something the university's uniquely qualified to pro 
vide whereas California School of Fine Arts, Art Institute, 
is very specialized and limited. Do you feel that this 
is -- you mentioned some disadvantages in a university 
setting, but is that balanced? 

EB: Well, I've argued with some university people about this. 
They say that people at the Art Institute are barbarians 
Claughs) . 

PJK: Well, are they? 

EB: Hardly out of the trees. And we at the University of 

California educate ours so they're bound to produce more 
profound work. 

PJK: I gather by your laughter you don't think there's a 
connection. 

EB: I think it's a simplistic* notion. We talked about this 
before . 

PJK: Yes, at lunch. The idea of ideas, perhaps the desirability 
of ideas to an artist. 

EB: Well, I suppose to a parent, to parents whose child is 
very average, I would suggest they go to the university 
if they're interested in art. But if their child is very 
special, I would suggest they send him to an art school. 
Art schools have compromised -- unfortunately -- so much 
to degrees and all of this kind of thing to attract more 
students and so parents would send their children to the 
art school, and they're getting more than just art. They're 
getting a more rounded education and they'll get a teach 
ing degree or something like that. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 74 

PJK: So the art school isn't what it used to be by any means. 

EB: .But the university, as you're pointing out, it does have 
Its. virtues , it does offer a tremendous amount in the way 
of resources and the intellectual stimuli that you're 
speaking of, certainly there is that aspect of things. 
The university, I think, has been a little embarrassed, 
though, on the other hand, by the fact that it's drawn 
so much of its faculty from the Art Institute. And it's 
the Art Institute which has produced the people, by and 
large, who've gotten the best jobs and have the biggest 
names and so forth. So somehow these barbarians are able 
to pull off a thing or two for the record. 

PJK: I was just going to ask you, you found it very easy to 

list names of students at the Art Institute who accomplish 
ed, who distinguished themself, and indeed, their names are 
familiar to me and others. I gather it would be much more 
difficult for you to create a similar list from your 
experience at the University of California? I'm not sure 
what that means. 

EB: Well, most of the people of course, like Diebenkorn was 

there for a year, a semester, something like that, although 
he finished up at Stanford. I think Sam Francis was there, 
and Mark DiSuvero, was it, I'm not sure. 

PJK: Fred Martin was there, wasn't he? 
EB: Yes. 

. : ' 

PJK: Jay de Feo. 
EB: Right, yes. 

PJK: But basically, well, I leave it up to you. I pose the 

question does that hold up? Do you find that it's a 

little more difficult to create as long a list of dis 
tinguished graduates? And why? 

EB: I would have to do some research on it. I don't know, 
somehow it seems if a person went to the Art Institute, 
they went to the Art Institute. If they go to Cal, they 
could have been another major and then taken a few courses, 
then finished up some place else, and so on. It's a little 
bit harder. That's why I said I'd have to do some research 
to make sure who is who. 

PJK: Well, I suppose it's no great surprise that universities 
don't necessarily produce the greatest artists because 
that doesn't go together, it's a different type of thing. 
I suppose what I'm probing for, interested in, is the value 
of the university to, and the acknowledged opportunities, 
to a young artist. 






ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 75 

EB: Well, it's hard to say. See, you do have the demise of 
art schools, which is a factor. How much of this weighs 
into the balance is hard to say. You've got people arguing 
.most artists are not produced by art departments, and isn't 
this going' to affect the art? Speaking in those terms, it 
would seem that as you have an increase in art that makes 
use of science, makes use of computers, and possibly an art 
which is cerebral, possibly an art where you have students 
that have talents in the sciences becoming artists, moving 
into the realm of art, that as this increases -- if it is 
to increase -- the university art departments are in a 
better and better position to cater to the art, to the 
art student. But then you would say, "Well, what's 
influencing what? How do you know the university isn't 
actually encouraging a more cerebral and instrument oriented 
type of art which it can really deal with?" So that the 
art department and the art curriculum as it stands now, is 
outmoded for a number of art students. They would much 
rather have a great deal more mobility between art and 
science courses, for example, or certainly between science 
facilities and art department facilities. Sometimes they 
have to go to great trouble to try to get access, say, to 
scientific instruments and so forth, great trouble doing 
what they would like to have just as part of the setup. 
Or the setup for their convenience. Now you see, here's 
where an art school doesn't begin to have the money to 
provide these facilities. And furthermore, as I said, 
it's not a very encouraging environment to start with, for 
this kind of wedding of art and science or art and computers 
and the conceptual way, intellectualized way of working. 



, 



PJK: You yourself, I know, are interested in and conversant with 
art history. Not all artists are, especially not all art 
students are. I was wondering how important you feel 
that is. Is this something you encourage students to be 
come involved with? 

EB: Well, yes. Yeah, I think that it's exceedingly important 
for the individual's own nourishment, the development of 
his own potential 'cause I like to think of the artist as 
not only free to, but sorf of obliged to form his own 
tradition right in his own lifetime, to have his own 
tradition in the sense that he is drawing from far and 
wide and he can be influenced by Sumerian art as well as 
he can be influenced by the latest thing in the magazines, 
that he spans that whole gamut. So without an awareness 
of art history, it seems to be cutting yourself off from 
a tremendous source of nourishment. 

PJK: What interests me, talking with artists, is that so many 

of them -- and in some cases contemporary artists who would 
be considered fairly avant-garde in what they're doing, 
certainly not traditional -- have as their heroes, the 
artists they most admire, historical figures. Many of the 
same names come up again and again. Of course, it's very 
reassuring. Rembrandt is one of them. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 76 

EB: Now this is in interviewing artists you find this? 

PJK: Yeah, just in talking with them. I don't want to draw 

any generalization now, but it seems that they can be very 
comfort'able and very at home with Velazquez or Rembrandt, 
maybe Titian, I don't know. But old masters. And I mean 
really old masters. Appreciate these artists, admire them, 
and yet, their work has -- it seems to me -- almost nothing 
to do specifically with the artist. 

EB: You don't see the connection in the work is what you're 
saying? 

PJK: Generally not. So they're looking to these artists for 
other reasons, and they keep citing them, and you don't 
hear as often reference to contemporary figures or even 
modern masters, Picasso -- well maybe -- early 20th century 
figures to a certain extent. But more often, they go back. 
I find this interesting, and this also, I think, ties in 
with the importance of familiarity with the tradition, the 
art tradition which the young artist inherits whether he 
or she likes it or not. And yet, so many of them seem to 
be, I think, woefully ignorant in that area. Goya is a 
figure that often comes up, much, much admired, I think, 
by many artists. And let me carry it one step further -- 
in talking with some of the artists that come out of the 
Art Institute, and some are very accomplished artists, I'm 
surprised at how little they know about art history. On 
one occasion I talked with an exception to that rule, also 
out of the Art Institute who does know historical figures. 
And he made the remark that in the Bay Area, many of the 
artists are quite ignorant in this respect, especially 
Art Institute products. Now what comes of that, how you're 
supposed to respond to that statement, I don't know. It's 
just an observation. 

EB: Yeah. If you see the awareness of art history in a formal 
sense, I can see where there'd be a lot to complain about. 
But I don't think that's necessarily the right way to see it 
I think the things that an artist picks up on his own out 
side of the scheme, that /ou don't know just what time in 
his development he's going to pick up on such and such, you 
don't know just exactly when he's going to find out about 
these things on his own. Self- training kind of thing. 
It puts a whole different picture on it. Take, for example, 
the business of learning how to draw, say learning how to 
draw representationally . I can't say that I really learned 
how to draw until I started to draw during the Railway 
Express days. I think a person could have said, "Well, that 
person doesn't know how to draw." And after I did some of 
that, people say, "That guy knows how to draw." (Laughs) 
But the self-educated, I think perhaps takes place to a 
greater extent in the art. I'm sure it's for the poet, too, 
and for the musician, also, for the composer. It does not 
exist for the engineer, it doesn't exist for the doctor. 
The doctor does have to, during the course of his formal 
education, learn particular things. He can't learn these 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 

things on his own later on, he has to accomplish this and 
show that he's accomplished this before he can operate. 
, Right? 
(\ 
PJK: I would hope so. If he's going to operate on me, anyway. 

EB: And it'd be true of the lawyer, too. But I think that 
this is another situation where our training in the 
university scheme of things is not quite at home, you 
see, where it's living in a bit of a foreign world. 

PJK: Let's move on to something else. I'm struck, in looking 
through for instance, the catalogue for your Oakland show 
which was in '75, Oakland Museum or for that matter seeing 
the show -- which I did -- a certain quality of romanticism 
in your work. And a special quality, I found anyway, of 
mystery in the images, in the scenes. Now, I'm wondering 
if you feel that you are participating in a broader sense 
in this romantic tradition, but specifically in terms of 
that element or line that has run through American paint 
ing, and I guess may be best represented by an artist like 
Albert Pinkham Ryder. Do you feel any affinities there? 

EB: I like his work very much and admire his work, but he's 
such a different kind of a person than I am. He's more 
of a visionary artist, which I'm not. Meaning by that it 
seems like what he does arises out of a very quirky kind 
of condition, very quirky nature. It comes naturally. 

.PJK: I, of course, don't mean to say that your paintings look 
like Ryder's paintings, although actually looking through 
I see some motifs that are rather shared. I mean, they're 
out of the romantic heritage. For instance, the seascape 
of '67 is an image much loved by Ryder -- but then a lot 
of other artists as well. And I realize you're probably 
seeking other things. But nevertheless, what strikes 
me in much of your work, first of all is the tremendous 
interest in color. I remember seeing the Oakland show, 
the Figure with Tree from 1972 reminded me very much of 
Titian . 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: And I think actually at that time I asked you about that, 
and you were sort of surprised, "What's this quack talking 
about?" But in the paint or the quality, and the color to 
a certain extent, and then I think the picture I recall in 
this connection is the Bacchus figure in the Titian in the 
National Gallery in London. I think I have that right. 
But anyway, there's a particular composition I had in mind. 

EB: Well, I'm very keen about Titian, the late Titian, the last 
15 years of his life. 

PJK: When it begins to dissolve a little bit. 






ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 78 

EB: Well yes, but it's still very substantial. 

PJK: Yes. What some people describe as Titian moving into his 
pre- impressionist . But what about Titian? I know I keep 
trying .to pin you down, but you say you're keen about him? 

EB: Oh, yes. Everything about him. It would be hard to des 
cribe. In 1966, my wife and I went through a number of 
countries in Europe and spent a great deal of time going 
to the museums -- did I mention this before? I guess I 
did. There was in Munich, in the Pinakothek, this very, 
very late Titian Christ Crowned with Thorns , a large 
painting. He had done a version of this about 20 or 30 
years earlier which is in the Lourve in Paris, a very 
small painting. And this one in Munich, I thought was 
absolutely tremendous, the greatest painting I'd ever seen 
in my life, or ever hoped to see. And then a painting that 
was later still, actually not completed by Titian, com 
pleted by a long-time student or disciple of his, Palma 
Vecchio, this painting is a Pieta in the Accademia in 
Venice, and this I thought was as good as the Christ 
Crowned with Thorns , and again a painting that just knocked 
my head off. Two of the strongest experiences I've had. 
But both of these, you see, very late in his... 

PJK: That's interesting. But I'm not surprised to hear that. 
EB: From looking at my work? 

PJK: Yes. It's one of the things that struck me right off. 
Another thing that strikes me, maybe way off the mark, 
talking again about our American tradition of realism, 
one I suppose could even make certain observations about 
Bay Area Figurative in connection with the American tra 
dition of realism. But I'm thinking of Hopper particularly, 
some of the New York scene painters, but particularly 
Hopper because of a quality of loneliness, an isolation, 
maybe timelessness about his scenes. I feel that in 
connection with some of your paintings and some of the 
Bay Area figurative work. Not necessarily that this was 
the intention or subject -- 

EB: No, it comes about because I had too much trouble trying 
to get more than one figure to work, (laughs) 

PJK: I'm thinking especially, I suppose of the generalized 
figures in interiors, where the figures don't seem to 
relate in really a psychological sense. Now, one didn't 
have to read that in terms of -- 

EB: You mean where there' re two figures, they don't relate? 

PJK: Yes. These two, for instance. I suppose what I'm asking 
is do you feel that comparison means anything to you? 
How do you feel about that? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 79 

EB: Well, I can't answer because it was not my intention to 
make the figures look lonely. I would want them to re 
late, but they'd just come out that way. If you see them 
that way, that's the way they are. Out of communication. 
There is 1 ) a painting I did where the man is sitting in a 
chair facing out of the painting, facing the viewer, and 
the woman is in the background looking in another direction. 
Well, obviously in this case there's no attempt to get these 
two people looking like they're talking and looking like 
they're having an exchange of any kind. But then, most of 
the time, the figures are in a position where they could 
be acknowledging each other's presence, at least. 

PJK: So you really don't feel there's any connection, any 

special affinity between your work and the work of Hopper? 

EB: No. 

PJK: You never were especially attracted to his? 

EB: No, I was never especially attracted to Hopper's paintings. 
I've never examined them or studied them. I've looked at 
them but I've never been drawn to examine or study or to 
dwell with them to any great extent. But I think that 
Hopper was just as interested in, we'll say, the room in 
which the figure exists and the light coming into the room, 
and in that sense, he's a little bit like Vermeer. I think 
that this is true of Vermeer, too, he's really painting a 
situation where the figure is part of that situation, and 
whether it's an exterior or interior. And I have felt the 
same way in my paintings, again getting back to this idea 
of maybe a painting in the course of development, trans 
forming from an interior to an exterior, becoming just a 
landscape -- this can arise if the quality or the character 
that begins to generate itself in the earth or the sky, 
begins to really captivate one so it becomes just as com 
pelling in the process of painting as the figure. And the 
figure can then be removed. I've seen that Hopper's paint 
ings are very much like this, that he's painting that world, 
he's really painting that condition, he's painting the light, 
he's painting the mood of f the day or of the time of day. 
And I certainly share that with him, but not quite in the 
way you present this. 

PJK: I have one last question, or at least one last topic I'd 

like to discuss with you. It certainly requires discussion. 
We've been spending a lot of time talking about the figura 
tive work, and in 1972, I guess, you switched again, and 
began painting large scale abstractions. So all of a 
sudden you retreat from the figure -- 

EB: Advance, (laughs) 

PJK: -- and I gather also, well I don't know if you changed your 

medium at this point, or rather changed from oil to acrylic -- 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 80 

EB: Right. 

PJK: \,-i at that point. Can you tell me how that came about? 
l' t What occasioned this? 

EB: Well, dissatisfaction with the way things were going with 
the figurative work. I suppose that kind of negative 
thing I mentioned would have to accompany any big trans 
formation, any big change. Part of it is a rebellion, 
part of it is moving away from and a reaction against 
what had existed. The painting had slowed down too much 
for me. It also was too much a matter of pulling teeth, 
it was too much of a one-way operation. I function best 
when there is a response going on between myself and the 
canvas as though the canvas is alive and it's another 
person making all sorts of suggestions, saying yes to this 
and no to that, all this kind of thing. Well, the paint 
ing had stopped daing that for some reason or other. 
I guess that would be a kind of a description of when 
things blew cold, and would seem as though too much of 
the time is a matter of putting things into the canvas 
from the outside and having them do nothing and suggest 
nothing and the whole canvas falls mute. It was rebellion 
against that. I can't really explain it any better than 
just saying that. I don't know why that happened. 

PJK: Seems there're two alternatives available, either non- 
objective or representational, and that when one doesn't 
answer one's needs, one of these alternatives, it's a move 
to the other. 

EB: Yes. 

PJK: That becomes exhausted and it's a move back again. 

EB: Well, we hope that doesn't go on too much, back and forth. 

PJK: But it would suggest -- and this would seem to validate 

it to a certain extent what David Park is quoted as saying, 
Paul Mills quoting Park, that there really is very little 
difference between non-objective and figurative painting. 

EB: Well, there's a lot of difference, though, if you put it 
as you're putting it. You've got this -- 

PJK: Well, if your concerns are changing rapidly, but if they're 
just different arenas in which to work out essential, 
fundamental concerns of painting, if you follow me? 

EB: Well, they're more different, I think, than blondes and 
brunettes. I think they're more different than that. 

PJK: Certainly your recent abstractions, I haven't seen very 

much of your early non-objective work, so I really shouldn't 
pretend as if I have, but I imagine there's quite a differ 
ence? In other words, you haven't returned to the 1945 
depictions? 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 81 

EB: Oh, no, no. There is a difference. A real different 

attitude. These are painted with a good deal more con 
sciousness, I would say, and a good deal more conscious 
'discipline than my earlier abstractions were. Here, 
where there seems like anything goes, endless possibil 
ities, you can put anything in or make it any size, and 
in the course of the painting turn it upside down and 
keep on working. Any way is up until you finally decide 
and write on the back of the canvas "Up." (laughs) But 
up to that point, it could be almost any... So there is, 
you know, endless variability, but the introduction of a 
kind of a discipline, the introduction of saying you're 
going to allow this and not that, allow these occurrences 
to exist in this way but not in that way, then it becomes 
something that is not dictated from the outside but purely 
inner dictation. Say in figurative painting, unless you 
get into a Marc Chagall kind of world where goats can be 
up in the air playing violins, you do have to have a 
ground plane and things do have to fit on that ground 
plane. There're all these laws of nature, there's grav 
ity to insure that things are not going to be floating 
around in the air unless they're made to do so, like air 
planes and so forth. And in figurative painting, you're 
constantly dealing with, and you're constantly aware of 
that sort of thing. Sometimes the fact that you do have 
a horizon and a sky above that and earth below that, can 
be very oppressive. It repeats, it insists that it has 
to be this way. One way you can get away from that is by 
dissolving the horizon by a heavy vapor, you know, (laughs) 
That's good for only so long. So people say here there're 
not those restrictions, this doesn't have to be sky, this 
doesn't have to be earth, these things don't have to sit 
in a particular kind of relationship, and so forth. 
So that then what you permit and what you don't permit 
becomes an inner decision. It's not dictated, the mater 
ial's not dictated by the subject or theme. 

PJK: But still, you remark that your recent abstractions involve 
a great deal more control and perhaps calculation than the 
abstract expressionist work. 

EB: A lot more censoring. In the act of painting, there's as 
much spontaneity, as much intuitive working, but then 
there's a stepping back and the decisions, the results, 
and the cancelling of this and the changing of that. 

PJK: You know, there's an interesting parallel again, if you'll 
excuse me, between your development and progress here, and 
that of Richard Diebenkorn, it seems to me. Not to say 
that your work looks the same or anything like that, but 
he of course, after an initial abstract expressionist phase, 
then moved to the figure, as did you, and I'm not sure 
exactly when, began the -- I suppose with the Ocean Park 
series -- a return to a non-objective painting, but a much 
more controlled, in this case almost geometric form. 



ELMER BISCHOFF INTERVIEW 



82 



And there seems to be some parallel then between the way 
he's moved ahead and you've moved ahead. I'm not sug 
gesting there's influence back and forth. 

', 

EB: There could be the same kind of response in ways that 
I described my response. A certain point you reach a 
road block. But as I mentioned, the idea of painting, 
pulling off a painting and realizing having a painting 
emerge that you can really stand behind, really feel 
good about, being more important than whether or not 
there's a figure in it -- 



APPENDICES 



A. Positions, Honors and Awards, Solo Exhibitions, Selected Group 
Exhibitions, Public Collections. 

B. "Figurative Expression and Abstract Concern," by Robert M. Frash, 
Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California; and "Walking a 
Tightrope," by Jan Butterfield, for catalogue Elmer Bischoff. 1947- 
1985. 

C. "Elmer Bischoff: Against the Grain," by Marcia E. Vetrocq, Art in 
America. October 1986. 

D. An interview by Chiori Santiago, Metier. Winter 1985. 

E. "Kaffee Klatsch," by Harriet Swift, Oakland Tribune. February 24, 
1991. 

F. "Recollections of John A. Bischoff, Jr.," an interview with Elmer 
Bischoff 's brother recorded by Andrea Gabriel, from The Rockridge 
News. April 11, 1987. 



Appendix A. 

JOHN BERGGRUEN GALLERY 

::> C.KANT AVENLE SAN IKANi IM (.. t \I.lloK\IA "-tins i! ! - ! * 7H J-?" I AX 4 1 s 'x| ,i]2ft 

ELMER BISCHOFF 

Born: Berkeley, CA, 1916 

Education: 

University of California, Berkeley, MA 
University of California, Berkeley, BA 

Positions: 

1965-85 Professor, University of California, Berkeley 
1963-65 Associate Professor, University of California, 

Berkeley 
1956-63 Instructor and Chairman of Graduate Program, San 

Francisco Art Institute 

1953-56 Instructor/ Yuba College, Marysville, CA 
1946-52 Instructor, California School of Fine Arts, San 

Francisco 

Honor and Awards: 

1973 Election of National Academy of Design 

1967 Election to Board of Governors, Skowhegan School 

of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME 
1966-67 Appointment to Institute for Creative Arts, 

University of California 
1964 Art Institute of Chicago, Norman Wait Harris 

Bronze Medal and Prize 

1963 National Institution of Arts and Letters Grant 
1959 Ford Foundation Grant 
1957 Oakland Art Museum Purchase Prize 

Solo Exhibitions: 

1989 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA 
1988 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA 
1986-85 "Elmer Bischoff, 1947-85," a retrospective, 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Laguna 
Beach Museum of Art, Laguna Beach, CA; The 
Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. ; Greenville 
(S.C.) County Museum of Art; Hirschl and Adler 
Modern, New York, NY 

1983 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA 
1982 "Matrix 55: Elmer Bischoff," University Art 

Museum, Berkeley, CA 
1980 "Elmer Bischoff, Recent Paintings," The Arts Club 

of Chicago 

1979 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA 
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA 



Elmer Bischoff 
Page Two 



1975 



1974 

1971 
1969 

1968 
1964 

1962 
1961 
1960 
1956 
1955 
1953 
1947 



San Francisco Art Institute, CA 

University Art Museum, University of California, 

Berkeley 

Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA 

Charles Campbell Gallery, San Francisco, CA 

Art Academy of Cincinatti, OH 

Boston University Art Gallery (with Richard 

Diebenkom) , MA 

San Francisco Museum of Art, CA 

Staempli Gallery, New York 

Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA 

Henry Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle 

E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA 

Staempfli Gallery, New York, NY 

Staempfli Gallery, New York, NY 

M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA 

Staempfli Gallery, New York, NY 

San Francisco Art Association Gallery, CA 

Paul Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles, CA 

King Ubu Gallery, San Francisco, CA 

California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San 

Francisco, CA 



Selected Group Exhibition: 

1989 

1988 



1984 



1981 



1980 



"Artists of the California Landscape," 

Natsoulas/Novdozo Gallery, Davis, CA 

"Elmer Bischoff, Sidney Gordin, Erie Loran; 

Drawings," Gallery Paule Anglim 

"Peter Selz Select's Show," Berkeley Arts Festival 

"The Figurative Mode: Bay Area Painting 1956-66," 

Grey Art Gallery & Study Center, New York 

University, New York; New Harbor Art Museum, 

Newport Beach; traveling exhibition 

"Twentieth Century Drawings: The Figure in 

Context," International Exhibition Foundation, 

Washington, D.C. 

"California: State of Landscape 1872-1981," 

Newport Art Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 

CA 

"Realism and Realities: The Other Side of American 

Paintings: 1940-1060," Rutgers University Art 

Gallery, New Brunswick, NJ; Montgomery Museum of 

Fine Art, Montgomery, AL; The Art Gallery, 

University of Maryland, College Park, MD 

"The Human Force," Corcoran Gallery of Art, 

Washington , D.C. 

"The Figurative Tradition," Whitney museum of 

American Art, New York, NY 



ELMER BISCHOFF 
Page Three 



1979-78 



1978 



1977 



1976 



1975 



1974 
1973 



1972 



1971 
1970 



"American Painting of the 197 O's," The Albright- 

Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; touring 

exhibition 

"Bay Area Painters," touring exhibit organized by 

the Western Association of Art Museums, Oakland, 

CA 

"Art Faculty Resources Exhibition," Worth Ryder 

Gallery, University of California, Berkeley 

"The Modern Era: Bay Area Update," touring 

exhibition organized by the Quay Gallery, San 

Francisco, CA 

"California Figurative Painters," Tortue Gallery, 

Santa Monica, CA 

"20 Bay Area Painters," Richmond Art Center, 

Richmond, CA 

"Paintings and Sculptures in California: The 

Modern Era," Touring exhibit organized by the San 

Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Meredith Long 

Gallery, Houston, TX 

"Drawing Invitational," Santa Rosa Junior College, 

Santa Rosa, CA 

"California Landscape," Oakland Museum, Oakland, 

CA 

"Art Faculty Show," Worth Ryder Gallery, 

University of California, Berkeley, CA 

"Staempfli in LA," Ankrum Gallery, Los Angeles, CA 

"Hansen-Fuller Pays Tribute to the San Francisco 

Art Institute," Hansen Fuller Gallery, San 

Francisco, CA 

Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois 

"Drawing Invitational," San Francisco Art 

Institute, CA 

"Drawing from Life and Studio Set-ups," Oakland 

Museum, Oakland, CA 

"Now Drawings," Charles Campbell Gallery, San 

Francisco, CA 

"The MacAgy Years 1945-1950," Oakland Museum, 

Oakland , CA 

"A Sense of Place: The Artist and the American 

Land," Sheldon Art Gallery, University of Nebraska 

"Art on Paper 1973," Weatherspoon Gallery, 

University of North Carolina, Greensboro 

"California Works on Paper: 1950-1971," University 

Art Museum, Berkeley, CA 

Galerie Smith Andersen, Palo Alto, CA 

New York Studio School, New York, New York 

(benefit) 

"Drawings, USA 1971," Minnesota Museum of Art, St. 

Paul, MN 

"Expo' 70," Osaka, Japan 



Elmer Bischoff 
Page Four 

"American Painting 1970," Virginia Museum, 

Richmond, VA 

"Looking West 1970," Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE 

"Faculty Show," University Art Museum, Berkeley, 

CA 

"Second National Invitational Exhibition of 

Drawings," University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, 

Wisconsin 
1969 "American Drawings of the Sixties," New School Art 

Center, New York 

"Art on Paper," Skowhegan School of Painting and 

Sculpture exhibition at Lee Nordness Gallery, New 

York 
1968 "Figurative Four," Bernharz Gallery, Los Angeles, 

CA 

"Selection of Paintings from James A. Michener 

Foundation Collection," Brooks Memorial Art 

Gallery, Memphis, TN 

"An American Collection (Neuberger Collection)," 

Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, 

and Smithsonian Institute 

"1961-Growth-1965," San Francisco Museum of Art, 

CA 

"On Looking Back: Bay Area 1945-1962," Bolles 

Gallery, San Francisco, CA 

"Skohegan School Fourth Annual Exhibition and 

Sale," Nation Academy of Design, New York 

"Humanist Tradition in Contemporary American 

Painting," New School Art Center, New York, NY 
1967 "Faculty Show," University of California, 

Berkeley, CA 

"International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting 

and Sculpture," Pittsburg, PA 

Annual Exhibition and Sale, Lenox Hill Hospital 

and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 

New York 
1966 "American Art Masters," Collector's Gallery, 

Miami, Florida 

"American Painting, 1966," Virginia Museum of Fine 

Arts, Richmond Virginia 

"Drawing Exhibition," for Benefit of the 

Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts, New 

York 

"Contemporary Urban Visions," New School Art 

Center, New York 

"Seventh Annual Exhibition of Drawings," 

California State College, Long Beach, CA 

"1966 Midyear Exhibition," Butler Institute of 

American Art, Youngstown, OH 

University of Texas Art Museum, Austin, TX 

Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles, CA 



Elmer Bischoff 
Page Five 

1965 "Drawing Exhibition," Laguna Beach Art Association 

Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA 

"The Faculty, University of California Art 

Department," Hollis Gallery, San Francisco, CA 

University of California Art Gallery, Berkeley, CA 

"Contemporary Studies of the Nude," Davis Gallery, 

New York 

University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 

"Pittsburg International," Pittsburg, PA 

"29th Biennial Exhibition," Corcoran Gallery of 

Art, Washington, D.C. 

"Three California Painters," Staempfli Gallery, 

New York, NY 

"Selections from the Work of California Artists," 

San Antonio Art League, Witte Memorial Museum, 

San Antonio, TX 

"Annual Art Exhibition and Sale, Lenox Hospital 

and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture," 

New York, NY 

"American Exhibition of American Painting, 11 

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 
1964 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL 

"Art Gallery '64," Hall of Education, World's 

Fair, New York, NY 

l "54- / 64,: Painting and Sculpture of a Decade," 

Tate Gallery, London 

"Seven California Painters," Staempfli Gallery, 

New York 

"Between the Fairs: 25 Years of American Art 1936- 

64," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 

"The Friends Collect," Loan exhibition of recent 

acquisitions by Friends of the Whitney Museum, New 

York 

"Contemporary Bay Area Painting and Sculpture," 

Stanford Art Museum, Stanford University, CA 

"Second Biennial of American Art," Cordoba, 

Argentina 

"Four California Painters," The Obelisk Gallery, 

New York, NY 

"A Decade of New Talent," American Federation of 

the Art, Washington, D.C. 
1963 "28th Biennial Exhibition," Corcoran Gallery of 

Art, Washington, D.C. 

National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, 

NY 

"Landscapes in Recent American Painting," The Art 

Center, New School for Social Research, New York, 

NY 

Salt Lake City Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah 



Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, California 
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 
CA 

Elmer Bischoff 
Page Six 

"Art of the Landscape, Gallery, New York, NY 

"Art: USA," Touring exhibition of the Johnson and 

Son, Inc. collection 

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 
1962 Stanford University Art Gallery, Stanford, CA 

"Fifty California Artists," touring exhibition 

organised by the San Francisco Museum of Art and 

the Los Angeles County of Art 

"The Artist's Environment: The West Coast," 

Touring exhibition presented by Amon Carter Museum 

of Western Art (Fort Worth) 

"Ford Foundation Grant Winners 7 Exhibition," 

Silvermine Guild of Artists, CT 

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 
1961 "Faculty Exhibition," San Francisco Art Institute 

"Painting from the Pacific," Auckland City Art 

Gallery, New Zealand 
1960 Denver Art Museum 

"Bischoff, Diebenkorn, Park," Staempfli Gallery, 

New York 

Bolles Gallery, San Francisco 

"9th Annual Mid-Year Show," Butler Institute of 

American Art, Youngstown, OH 

"Winter Invitational," California Palace of the 

Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA 

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 

"Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture," 

University of Illinois 
1958 American Federation of the Arts touring exhibition 

"Biennial," University of Illinois, Chicago 

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 

"New Directions in Painting," Florida State 

University 
1957 Oakland Museum 

"Art: USA," New York, NY 

Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Minneapolis, MN 

San Francisco Museum of Art 
1956 San Francisco Museum of Art 

Richmond Art Museum, Richmond, CA 
1955 Richmond Art Museum, Richmond, CA 
1952 San Francisco Museum of Art 
1951 San Francisco Museum of Art 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art 
1948 San Francisco Museum of Art 

Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA 
1947 San Francisco Museum of Art 
1946 San Francisco Museum of Art 
1944 San Francisco Museum of Art 



1942 San Francisco Museum of Art 



Elmer Bischoff 
Page Seven 

Public Collections: 

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NtY 

Art Institute of Chicago, IL 

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA 

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. 

Honolulu Academy of Arts, HI 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 

Museum of Art, New York, NY 

National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C. 

Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, Purchase, NY 

New School, New York, NY 

The Oakland Museum, CA 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA 

University of Kansas Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS 

University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, WI 

Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, 

Greensboro, NC 

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 

Yale University Art Gallery, CT 



Appendix B, 



Elmer Bischoff 



1947-1985 



Robert M. Frasb 

Laguna Art Museum 
Laguna Beach, California 



Thi.s exhibition was lundcd in part 
hy ;i gram Irom i he National Kiulo\vman 
tor (he Arts, \\ashingli >n, D.i:.. .1 I vdcnil 
a^i nc\. 



Figurative Expression and 
Abstract Concern 

California, the nation's third-largest state is also its longest, providing a diversity of 
climate, life-style and aesthetics. Yet, it is nature that controls this mini civili/.ation, 
with weather both mild and scorching, and tectonic characteristics that can he idyllic 
anil destructive. 

Major catastrophes are taken in stride, and looked u|x>n not with resignation hut 
with understanding, and (xrhaps. a sense of pride and triumph. The San I-' rancisco earth 
quake of I9(M> was both disaster and lesson. While most of the city lay in ruin, one AS 
room house stood intact. It had lost merely 19 bricks from two of its chimneys, and 
inside, the enormous drawers containing folded table-linens had not been disturbed. 
Today, that house is still standing, occupied, and in handsome condition.' 

The California sun, in a Ix-nign mood slows the movement of people, while it 
speeds the growth of all living things in gardens. Yet, trees falling on houses are not 
uncommon in heavy storms, as air and water act to change the landscape. 

The Pacific Ocean lies to California's west, a source of undisputed power, pleasure, 
and terror. Coastal communities are often shrouded in fog at dawn, yet are cooled by t he- 
ocean's moist bree/.es. The ocean changes the coastline gradually (through tidal action), 
and suddenly as its aspect changes from bright, clear blue to dark, brooding grey, as 
evidence-el in a winter storm. 

These- distinctions of nature in California are unique. So. too, is the |xrception of its 
landscape. One hill, for example, can be seen as blue, green, brown, black, or even reel, 
clcpeneling on merely one asjx-ct of nature light. 

li was into this environment that F.lmer Bischoff was born in Berkeley in 1916, ten 
years after the San Francisco earthquake, and into the midst of World War I. His child 
hood was infused with an interest in music, shared by all family members. Other artistic 
interests do not seem to have received much attention. Rather, Bischoffs introduction to 
the visual arts took the form of "cartooning" which he refers to as a form of relaxation, 
along with baseball. 

Bischofl entered the I niversiiy of California in I'M i with art as his major. All of the 
instructors were themselves artists anil the instruction under Influential teachers such as 
F.rle l/>ran anel Margaret IVterson focuseel on pictorial structure and composition rather 
than representational concern. The curriculum followed the traditional order of first 
drawing, then light and dark and then color. 

While the influence of Giotto was well intrenched, Margaret Peterson guided the 
receptive student's attention into quite a different direction. Her enthusiasm for Picasso's 
work was boundless and formidable. Bischoff was receptive to this new aesthetic experi 
ence and acknowledged his attachment to Picasso's work. He says, " The big still lifes 
that Picasso painted in the JO's . . . For a time my paintings were homages to Picasso. 
Picasso represented to me the maximum of alive-ness on canvas."' 

Bisi hoff received his M.A. in I9.A9 and took a teaching position at the Sacramento 
High Sch(K)l until going into service (Intelligence Section) with the F.ighth Air Force in 
England in I9<*2. 

He returned to San Francisco in 19-4S anel in early 1946 accepted a position as 
instructor uneler Douglas MacAgy at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco. 
He held the |X>sition until 19S2. 

BischofFs reaction to the vigorous free wheeling independent structure ol this 
school can Ix- aptly describee! in a passage from Proust's Rcim-ihmin.v i>/ Thiiifts /Hvf, 
in which he identifies |xrcep(ion as the faeultx of seeing - "that is to say of feeling a 
profound astonishment."' I ' 



Rigidity and certain historical doctrines were virtually absent from the school's 
curriculum. It reflected, rather, the quality of an informal and engaging forum in its 
varied individual concepts of personal freedom in painting. Solutions to the problems 
involving line, form, structure and paint were infinite and imaginative There was no 
evidence of a formalist atmosphere. Opinion and comment between instructors and 
students were without constraint. "It was a community of peers without the usual 
hierarchy.'" Abstract Expressionism was an unquestioned dominant in the school's 
structure. 

Specific representation and image were no longer dominants in painting. The 
Abstract Expressionist movement was new. And at first, to give serious consideration to 
its position was considered something of an affront. Realistically though contemporarily 
new, its tenets and objectives were very much in place. 

Meyer Schapiro comments on its emergence and position in Contemporary art: 

"... the painters who freed themselves from the necessity of repre 
sentation discovered wholly new fields of form-construction and 
expression, . . . came to believe . . . that every work of art has an 
individual order or coherence, a quality of unity and necessity in 
its structure regardless of the kind of forms used; and, that the 
forms and colors chosen have decided expressive physiognomy, 
that they speak to us as a feeling-charged whole, through the 
intrinsic power of colors and lines "* 

Abstract Expressionism was at once both an aesthetic siren song and a challenge. 
Uischoff says: 

"The forms that emerged on the canvas were looked upon 
as a sign language, a kind of Esperanto that could he read by 
anyone."" 

The attitudes toward this mode were critically suspicious of Cubism (especially 
Picasso and Unique) and inclined with a casualness more toward the self-impulsion of 
Kandinsky and the structuralist position of Monclrian. Hischoffs feeling for Picasso, 
however, remained undiminished. 

In contrast, Abstract Expressionism was felt by many to exemplify "gestures of 
freedom." While exulxrr.incc and enthusiasm for this manner of paiming were evident in 
countless canvases, acceptance was hesitant and indecisive. For it was something so new 
as to be almost frightening. 

In a review of works by Uischoff, David l*ark and Hassel Smith at the SFMA in I'MH, 
Erie Loran wrote that 

"it was the most complete release from restraints of all kinds ihat 
had ever occurred." 

Museum goers were caught unaware at the paintings' new, idiomatic language: the 
familiar concept of the recognizable image seemed to have disappeared. Certain large 
areas suggested form but did not necessarily specifically define it. Areas appeared to 
float suspended and unsupported while the paint itself conveyed a ferocious application. 

Earlier cubist influences were not entirely absent, of course, hut as Uischoff has 
said, "Cubism can be "plotted out". It does not require nearly that degree ol trust of 
your immediate responses. Calculation is an element of Cubist painting."" Abstract 
Expressionism was, regionally, new and 'immediacy" was one of its many identifiable 
working features 

One painting in the exhibition exemplifies Uischoffs early Abstract Expressionist 
involvement: Lintitled, 194H (fig. 1). It reflects the spontaneity of the new non-objective 
direction. Its large areas have quickly received attention and these spaces (and the colors 
that till them) are both final and secure. Major "line" is absent. As a humorous 
1 2 addendum, its slight central image possibly a small figure is one that might well 



have been facctioush added In Miro himself. 

The "siren song" of the school's abstractionist commitment did not go unacknow 
ledged. Its effect <>n Uischoff was evident hut slowly its attraction lessened. He resigned 
his position as instructor in 19S2 and joined the faculty of Yuha College, Marysville, 
California, as an instructor a year and a half later His time away from the California 
School of l-'ine Arts was short-lived, however, for he returned there in l l >5(> under the 
directorship of (iurdon Woods, lie was appointed Chairman of the Graduate Depart 
ment. .1 position he held until I9(>.V 

The move to\\ard representational painting began in I9S2 and Hischoffs comments 
on (he change arc not profuse. He has commented on the change: 

"the thing (Abstract Kxprc.ssioni.sm) was playing itself dry. There 
was a definite cooling off. . . When I was in the real grip of 
Abstract Impressionism, the marks and gestures had a hyper 
existence. Hut it was your own passion that inflamed those 
things, and there was just a gradual loss of this passion."" 

The new representational direction did not, in any manner, diminish his feeling for the 
Abstract impressionist character to which he, at first, gave enthusiastic attention. Indeed, 
certain elements ot the earlier movement are evident in paintings throughout the 60s. 
The distinctive structures and forms evident in paintings of both periods would seem to 
indicate a disparate divergence in his original intentions. This however, would be an 
erroneous assumption. While the academics of form, structure, color and paint reflect 
dissimilar evidence of the Abstract impressionist and Figurative |x.-riods, a singular, 
private aesthetic principle guided both the initial concepts and later direction of the 
works of both (XTiods. 
Hischoff comments 

"Ideally, one would wish to do away with the tangible facts of 
things seen of people, houses, paint on canvas, the rectangle 
of canvas anil deal directly with the matter of feeling. One 
dreams of moving free of the shapeliness of shapes and the color- 
fulness of colors 

And again, more directly, to the critic, Thomas Albright: 

"A 'unity of feeling' is the principal end. What you present in a 
painting is something that is immediate If it makes a total impact, 
people are not going to pull it apart for anecdotal references. 
They're going to be hit engulfed to experience this world 
of the painting. What is most desired in the final outcome is a 
condition of form which dissolves all tangible facts into intangi 
bles of feeling." " 

The change in I9S2 to the Figurative Period was an acknowledgement of a 
representational thesis that embraced his energetic attraction to regional landscajx and 
his committed approach to and involvement with "the figure" 

"I never did figurative painting where the personages were identi 
fied or repeated. Figurative painting was not regional. |l| wanted 
to lake on some of the "universality" that was left to be the realm 
of the abstract expressionist's work ... to create a world and to 
create people in that world w ho were more timeless, were not 
fixed in time, were not dated in time."'' 

That the change did not lake a pronounced classical direction was not unexpected. 
Soon, critical opinion was not hesitant in suggesting a prolusion of "earlier influences" 
and "parallels". Included were sin h artists as Giotio. Sargent, Honnard, Toulouse- I S 



Lainrcc. Munch, K viler, Ballhus. Hopper anil rather distinctly, Cc/annc. Although lie 
readily acknowledged the influence of Picasso. Munch anil Giotto. Bischotfs comments 
on the subject .ire reticent anil curt. The implied position, however, of some of those 
suggested was tenuous. Not surprisingly, Hopper. Concerning his work, Bischoff says "I 
res|n-ci his paintings hut was never cs|xvially attracted to them.'"' 

Certain tenets of the Ahstract Expressionist mode could not lx - entirely ignored. 
Bischoff had immersed hiins. II in its abandonment of recognizable form, its intensity, 
and the limitless variations given to form, structure and line. Gradually, priorital 
attentions to these lessened. 

The volatility of paint, however, excepted it from figurative inattention. It can be 
dripped, thrown, swirled, layered and even sculpted. It may obliterate, underscore, veil 
or suggest. It is an important element in shaping a painting's "finish." As an ingredient, it 
may accentuate or limit an aesthetic intention. 

The manner and sup|x>rtivc purpose underscoring the use of paint in Bischoff s 
representational pha.se caused questionable and critical comment. G.R. Swenson says: 

"l-lmcr Bix hull's (Stacmpfli) use of thick, heavily brushed paint 
is ostentatious anil self-glorifying the mis-application of a 
technique which interests itself with paint to a subject-matter 
(landscaix's. nudes) which demands tlxit fxiint <(n<ilit)' hi' used 
for its rvscnihUiiii'i- 1<> llw subject-matter (of which Courlx-t is 
the master), if paint quality be noticeable at all. This is separate 
from the question of style as the natural outcome of personal 
idiosyncrasies. 

Hilton Kramer, in a detailed and perceptive article on the Figurative painting of the 
Bay Area Sch(x>l, discusses the continued employment of certain earlier Abstract 
Kxprcssionist dicta. Among these are the various methods of paint application for which 
he holds little patience. In Bischoff s landscapes, however, the relationship between 
paint and subject matter is not incompatible. The initial intentions are controlled and 
quietly reali/ed. The basic aesthetic is both sound anil credible. Mr. Kramer takes note: 

"Where one feels the native, existential element in Bischoff s 
work ... is in the delineation of the West Coast landscape itself. 
In Bischoffs work it remains an unreali/.ed subject but the only 
one in whii h one senses the presence of a deeply felt 
experience." 1 ' 

And where structural elements are included houses perhaps the total pictorial 
equation remains unchanged: 

"It is precisely the kind of pictorial definition one finds here, 
in which the cubic density of buildings and the open space 
behind them are both clearly given without subterfuge or 
ambiguity, 

When, however, the figurative image was an element in a work, the independent, 
regional methods for handling paint became another matter. A certain concern and 
unfavorable comment surfaced, questioning the apparent reluctance to abandon certain 
established painterly patterns of the Abstract Expressionist period. And Bischoffs work 
did not escape the critic's attention. 

"Bischoffs figures tend to triviali/e and diminish his landscape 
vision; one is left with an acute sense of the disparity which 
exists between the feeling lavished on the empty landscape space 
and the tenuously reali/eil figures, which seem to have been 
arrived at by some purely external necessity."' 17 



Mr. Kramer's gcncial assessment of the situation relict Is his distinct displeasure: 

I ihink there is .1 reason for this disparity, and it goes to the heart 
or the matter of this entire approach to figurative painting at the 
present moment. In painting a wide o|x-n landscape space, these 
painters are under no obligation to ch<x>sc Ix'twcen the fast 
brush of the Abstract Impressionist method and their subject 
matter. So long as they confine themselves to landscape space, 
they can have it both ways. 

All critical opinion did not take this direction While Bischoffs uses of earlier 
methods of paint application may have been critically censured, they are legitimate as an 
element in a figurative work's initial concept. 

Dore Ashton's assessment illustrates this judgment: 

"... he places a figure in a landscape. But he carries over the long, 
broad stroke of previous abstractions the squigglcs, curlicues 
and loose Imtshwork. The technique by its very nature is 
designed to suggest llux. a soft drifting continuum. And that is 
just what happens. K\ erything about the landscape and the figure 
is soft. A tree melts liquidly into the liquid sky. The figure blends 
with the rocks. There is no hardness in the terrain and no con 
trasting flcshlincss in the human body."' 

( )ne of Bischoffs intentions was to convey a certain condition of feeling that was 
personal, private, and not often shared. And so it is no surprise that no work of his 
involves |x:ople groups. Nor docs he ever imply intense activities or energies, liven in 
the interior paintings, background and accessory provide only a structural responsibility. 
The valid and acknowledged supports for his figures are the landscape, tile sea and the 
clouds. 

l-ach of these supports reflected its own particular quality of light. Bischoff was well 
aware of the.se distinctions and made use of their diversified qualities when "translating" 
light into color. 

Mastal Ml.. DOtrange comments on the resultant variants: 

"Here is no pastel prcttincss, but all the violence and vibrancy of 
this golden land, the raw sienna of the fertile earth, the lush blue- 
green of cxulx-rant vegetation, the shameless indigo and cobalt 
of an almost invariably radiant sky unless there sweeps across 
it the swift anger of sulphur-hued tempest clouds."" 1 

\\'(inicin iritb llcciil on lltnul (fig. 2) certainly a timeless triumph is intimately 
reflective in character and VC'onuin Drcssiiifi (fig. S) evokes a similar feeling although its 
isolative element is less strong. The colors in these works are rich and moodish. They 
support a quality of permanence, and the distant quality of the dark backgrounds force 
the images forward. 

The selection of colors and their countless variations in the figurative paintings 
seem almost instinctive. They imply the intended evocation of certain moods as in 
(jmniry Ktxtni (fig. -4) and Omnfn' Suvalvr (fig. e >). Fury is suggested by their direct and 
primary character in lin'tikcrx (fig. 6). And in (-irl with Mirror (fig. 7 ) their I'auvc like 
directness conveys the harshness that is a quality common to reflection. 

With the works that employ more than one figurative image, a change in color 
values is evident l-'igurcs continue to reflect the solitary element of the single images hut 
to a lesser degree. There is a new finish in these paintings and one senses something 
of the "moment" that is common to a photograph These works are quiet in character 
hut not withdrawn. In both 'lira /'if'iiiv.'s U'ilh Vvrmillion /./X'/>/(fig H) and 77v \\'hili> 
/7o -/( fig. 9) a relaxed gentleness is evident. Their colors, muted and low keyed, an- IV 



equally unassuming And the variaicd whiles, happily, .ire just where they should he. 

Implied silences arc common in Bischoffs figurative work and any suggested 
evidences of communication arc rare as well. Ik'iJnioni (fig. 10) is an exception in that it 
reflects little, if any, of either. There is a casualness about its elemental structure that 
marks it as informal and domestic in character with its white bowl, unmade bed and a 
conversation that. I am certain has, for the moment, just finished. The warmth and 
variants of its color contribute to the scene and its informality is further underscored by 
brushwork that is appropriate and joyous. 

Drawings and sketches often provided figurative subject matter that found its way, 
with certain mandatory adjustments, onto canvas. Bischoff did not paint directly from a 
model However, his fascination with the figure was furthered through sketching sessions 
with Richard Dicbcnkorn, David Kirk, and other friends. 

Major attention was given to the model whose positions were a far cry from earlier 
classical and formal (Tostures. The sessions were informal and casual amid certain acces 
sories which prompted Dicbcnkorn to comment to me, "If you look carefully you'll find 
identical pieces of furniture in drawings by most of us." 

The drawings were not duplicated in Bischoffs paintings. The positions of the 
models arms, legs and hands were more severely angled than what one might expect. 
Yet they reflect an assured elegance and confirm an attribute for the medium. 

Modi-Is III (fig. 1 1) is classically positioned and executed. The dexterous use of 
charcoal and black and grey wash give it a finished disparity, h'nll U'Hf>th Nude I'rofilc 
.S't'rt//(fig. 12) gives forth a similar richness and grace. The figures in Animals unil 
Hasclwll (fig. 13) are humorously imaginative and might be thought of as a light-hearted 
parody of Hieronymus Bosch with a baseball and pitcher. 

Models (fig. U), a charcoal wash on paper, is an exception. The figures are carried 
off three sicles of the pajx-r wilh windows continuing off the lop margin. The positions 
of the heads, cast downward and the rather exaggerated positions of the models' legs, 
arms and hands bring Balthus to mind at once. Mis oblique- suggestion, drive and sullen 
private preoccupation, however, are lacking in this drawing of Hischoffs whose render 
ing carries no implied overtones that are elements in Malthas' figurative works. HischofTs 
models are recorded with a simple pleasure and their grace is evident. Certain figurative 
misrepresentation is, interestingly, common to both. Balthus' are remote and withdrawn. 
While both artists are obviously knowledgeable regarding details of the human figure, 
pictorial evidence indicates consistently dissimilar interpretations of it. Bischoff dis 
claims any Balthus influence though he was aware of him as a painter. 

Bischoffs figurative painting lasted just short of two decades. In the early '7()'s he 
returned to the abstract mode in which he has painted without interruption. 

Bischoff comments on the change. 

"A revitali/ation seemed to be in order, . . In most of my experi 
ence as a painter, from I l >i6 on, the painting has stxx>d, in relation 
to me, like another person there's a give and take, a momen 
tum is set up, you propose something and the painting proposes 
something, like a conversation. But the figurative painting was 
getting to be too much of a one-way street, like sitting and talking 
with a person who doesn't say a goddam (sic) word.""' 1 

and describes his objectives: 

"I want the com|X>siiion to be a total event determined by the will 
of the individual images. For this, I have found the most helpful 
state of affairs within the canvas to be one of dynamic interac 
tions bordering on anarchy." ' 

The return to abstraction, however, was one marked b\ his figurative experience. 
Although much altered, elements from both earlier periods are apparent in the new 2 1 



work. The ix.Tmis.sivc direction ol the California School of l-'ine Arts "where \ou could 
start a canvas actually with ureas of color"" and the informal attention to structure and 
unrccogni/ahle image are again evident, but to a much more direct and assured degree. 

The newer work contains a freedom and authority that was not always evident in 
paintings of the earlier abstract period. The image is no longer specifically defined by 
excessive "bonding" or "edge" as in / nlitled, W(fig. 15) and entitled. /94#(fig. 1). 
.support surfaces are lighter in tone and the images find their own positions. These 
amorphous sha|xs. though not directly recognizable, may suggest organic forms, 
common objects or even elements of nature. Their character is straightforward and 
direct and their unquestioned volition is apparent. They may work together or in 
isolation. They may remain still or join with other forms. They may position themselves 
in the foreground of a work or remain as the slightest of shadows. Regardless of their 
diversity, they are integral components of a complete visual experience. 

Variants of both white and color provide background. An initial tone may perhaps 
Ix changed in value if the form and image appear to be uncomfortable around it. Then it 
may Ix ovcrpaintcd, veiled, retextured or scraped away altogether. The images 
dominate. 

The early ////V/iY/(t'ig. l(>) reflects this casual and rather open feeling. Humorous 
images come forward from a flat white background. This is in contrast to /Vo. 4j (fig. 17) 
with its dark areas at the extreme top, bottom and left edges of the canvas. The shapes 
are denser and less fragile than in earlier work. They reflect an independent quality that 
is supported by com|xiitivc tonal variations of red. 

The tonal gradation from light to dark (from left to right) is a distinction of No. (i2 
(fig. IK). The colored images, authoritatively structured, are confident and direct as 
though asserting their own dominance over a background barely discerned. AV>. 72 
(fig. 19) recalls something of the landscape and figurative periods in its general, 
harmonious textures. Color areas are casually rectangular without defined edges and a 
few stronger-lined shapes quietly assert their contrast. 

The most recent work (I9H5) in the exhibition is No. 87 (#20). Its images, positioned 
forward, are specifically defined. Lighter tonal variations are minimal and jXTspcctive, 
suggested through isolated areas of translucent overpainting, is barely discernible. The 
work reflects dynamic action and reaction; it suggests that its images, with little trouble, 
found their own positions. Grace Cilucck comments on the work in a recent A't'tt 1 York 
Times review: 

"A particularly beautiful one is the very new 'No. 87,' a work of 
boldly outlined forms and free areas, in predominant shades of 
mauve and blue, established by the subtlest brushing. Spiritedly 
manipulating edge against edge and coaxing color into discourse 
with color, Hischoff gives joyful orchestration to these surfaces.""' 

It has the directness and "finish" of a very goxl piece of modern sculpture. 

Hischoff s current abstract attention continues a long and creditable career. That he 
chose to face its many new challenges is not at all surprising. The earlier figurative period 
went forward with assurance anil brought to Bischoff a national reputation. The abstract 
era continues certain of its aesthetic elements as he continues to investigate and develop 
this newer period which is of a different definition. 

Creatively, writing may be synonymous with painting. And so, as a tribute to Klmer 
Hischoff, I am using the thoughts of one writer about another. Taken from the text of the 
Kede Lecture delivered by l-.M. l-'orster in the Senate House, Cambridge, on May 29, 
I9-I. the subject was the work of Virginia W<x>lf, who had died in March of the same 
year, lie said ol her: 

"She was full of interests, and their number increased as she grew 
older, she was curious about life, and she was tough, sensitive 
but tough." 23 



.mil later in (he lecture: 

"She liked receiving sens.itions sights, sounds, tastes passing 
them through her mind, where they encountered theories and 
memories. . ." 

Klmcr iJischoff and \ 'hginia W(X)lf parallel one another in many ways. Their sense 
of total commitment have harbored no interference, and their energies have been proven 
limitless. Automatically, each has absorbed myriads of diverse sensations from every 
where, and then put the best of them to good use. F.ach has automatically disregarded 
"materials " and ideas (hat were not relevant to the moment. And neither has been 
ailver.se to striking out a phrase or eradicating an area of paint from a canvas. 

I am grateful for |x-rmission to use E.M. Forster's professionally faultless phrasing 
to suggest, albeit second hand, something of the elements that are not only strikingly 
similar to tho.se of Virginia Woolf, but are vital, important ingredients in Klmer Bischoffs 
accomplishments. 1 like to think that they would have enjoyed knowing one another. 

Robert M. Frash 

Curator 

Special Fxhibitions 



The California Historical Society 
JUVD J.ick Street 
San l : rancisco, CA 

Klmcr HischolT interview-it l>\ Paul J 
Karlxtrom, August. l')7~ p. 3 Archives of 
American Art. Smithsonian Institution, 
Washington. I).C. 

Proust. Marcel. KfiiH-mhrmm- "/ il'iii^ I'usl. 
(\\illiin \ Itiitlilini! (.inii-i. l.M,l.ni i luii.-X 
\\ iiuliiv I" il. i- idl 

HIM holt was familiar \\iih I'must'sgrcal 
work In a letter, January J-i. !""(>. to 
Mr l-loyd I Amsdcn whose private collection 
included one of his drawings. Hischoff wrote: 
"It was through reading I'roust. years hack, 
that I came to feel that an artist is doing most 
when he is projecting his own humanness 
and doing this with the utmost intimacy, 
candor and precision. I think this is the surest 
way to give rise here and there to work that 
can expand and heighten our perception of 
what il is to he a human being " 

Klmcr Hischoff interview, p. 27 

Schapiro. Meyer. Modern Art l<)tb anil J'ltb 
Centuries. New York: George Hra/illcr. I9~H. 
p JIS 

Elmer Bischoff interview, p. i l ) 

Uiran. Krle, "San l ; rancisco." Art News 
Scptcmhcr 19 |9, pp. S. *>1 A 

Klmer Hischoff interview, p. 47 

Alhrighl. I homas, 'Elmer Hischoft: Hay Area 



l-'inurative." Current. IK-cemlXT l S-|.inu:iry 
l i ;H(i, pp. Vi- il. =>(>-" 

'"Chipp. llerschel H.. "An News from 
San l-'rancisco," An \vtrs. March lySft. p. SS 

"Alhrighl. p. K) 

'-'l-:inier Hischoll 'interview, p. Si I 

"I'llmcr HischolT interview, p ~ l > 

s.iiul CHMCXVV 



s, n-.-n i. K . KI 
.\rl \i-/i >. summer 



' i. p. 



"Kramer. Hilton. "Elmer HiMholl and ihc S.m 
Francisco Si-hool of l-'iguratives." .l/V.v. 
January I9(x>. pp iJ-S 

"Ibid., p. -I.4 
'"Ibid., p 43 
'"lbid.,p 43 

'''Ashton. Dorc, "Art. Elmer Hischoff's Paintings 
at the Staempni." AVw Ynrlt Times, January H, 



-'"D'Otrange. Mastal M.I... "News Irom New 
York, A/xillo. March I9HJ, pp. (>()-H 

-'Albright, p. 57 

-'-'Hopkins, Henry T. "Is the Mainstream 
Flowing West?" Art Mews. January IVHJ, p. 75 

-'' Elmer Uischoff interview, p 3 

-'-'Glucck, Cirace. "Elmer Hischoff." AVir Yurk 
Times. March 22. 19HS 

-'Forslcr, E.M., \'ir){i>iiti Wool/. New Yoik: 
llarcourl, Hrace and Company, Inc.. IViJ, 
pp. >, (> 



25 



Walking A Tightrope 



'You have to bring off a fusion of your interest both in the subject 
;iinl in the painting It's like walking j tightrope VC'hcn you are 
too enamored ol nature you tan lose touch with the demands of 
the p.mniMi; Conversely, with too little involvement with the 
subject, the painting can degenerate into a formal exercise. My 
aim has been to have the paint on the canvas play a double role 
one as an alive, sensual thing in itself, and the other conveying 
a response to the subject. Between the two is this tightrope." 

- Elmer Hiscboff 

Elmer Bischoff's evolution is fascinating. He started as an abstract painter, during the 
high (X-riod of Abstract Expressionism, then began painting representational!} 1 in 
I9SJ, and soon Ix'iamc one ol the most important of the Bay Area Figurative painters. 
Now. just as it has become fashionable to paint figuratively again, Bischoff has returned 
to abstraction, just as intuitively a- lie h.id left it behind. 

Bischoff's figurative paintings, which rise thickly and richly out of their medium, 
have always Ixvn closer to abstraction than they are to figuration. The "it is" of his paint 
is undeniablv a .statement littered from within the Abstract Expressionists' "arena in 
which to act." 

hx>king hard at Bischolfs octivrc. it is clear that it is not only the specific and the 
literal with which Bischoff is concerned, but also that the rich mixes of paint which 
color his canvases are an integral part of his capacity to achieve his particular reality. 
Seldom does one see the intuitive, instinctual mix of paint on canvas which blends and 
fuses the dark, briny tones with drifts of pearlescence and passages of scumbled orange, 
tor example, that one .sees with Bischoff, or streaks of luminescent fire which pierce the 
veiled skin of his later paintings. His mixtures, which often confound, seem 
unrc|X-atablc, yet deliberate, and they approach a kind ol alchemy. 

"Throughout the figurative and the non representational work, all 
the mixing of the paint lakes place on the canvas. I want a play 
between soft, fused edges and sharp, hard edges . . . opaque paint 
and translucent paint . . slowly applied paint and rapid 
brushwork . . . anil paint put on with a w-et rag, a knife or a hand 
as well as a brush." 

Moving from the Abstract Expressionists' credo (It isn't about anything It is."). 
evidenced in his very early abstractions, to the figurative works with their own powerful 
raisoii il'ctrv. to the abstract works of the last decade. Bischoff has come full circle. The 
new abstractions are glorious collisions of color and light which fairly whirl anil twist 
with their power. Historically there are echoes here, of early Kandinsky, and ol Gorky 
(for example, ol the surety ol color and placement of (iorky's "Water of the Elowery 
Mill"). 

The newest abstractions, done over the last ten years, fall roughly into two 
categories: organic and architectural. In most of them, the cubist grid provides the 
structure but more often than not it is implicit rather than explicit*, and within its 
parameters the paintings soar In these paintings circles, coils and triangles float up and 
around and through the rich matrix of color whirling, reeling, tumbling, colliding, 
given voice by a thickened paint so rich that there is meaning in its very presence. These 
are gloriously s|x>ntancous paintings, but they are also intelligent ones. The monitoring 
is there they walk Bischotl's self-defined tightrope. His eye and his intuition are sure 
and clear and the channels lor receptivity to (he images are wide open, yet it is the mind 39 



which shapes, measures, ;IIK! balances, si raping portions of the painting down again and 
again painting and repainting until the desired end is achieved. 

There are many layers in these paintings. There is much putting on and scraping oil. 
Most of the images are composites of a series of previous underlying images that have 
been partially demolished. There is a constant working and reworking until it is right. 

In the early 1950s, when Bischoff was painting abstractions in lull force, the images 
were hold and executed with broad swaths of paint and a large brush. The ground was 
often thick, opaque white, and it provided serious support for the imagery, which 
seemed from time to time to be virtually figurative. 

When Bischoff Ix'gan painting abstractly again in I97J, after nearly two decades 
of remarkable Bay Area figurative works, the painting Ix-gan very differently than the 
earlier abstractions Irom the 1950s. In them still was the familiar white ground, yet 
floating in front of it were rectilinear abstract elements grounded by their own 
geometry, which shimmered behind a transparent veil. These canvases, which were 
sometimes bordered along their edges with rainbowed paint, contained kaleidoscopic 
images which appeared to shift and flash and move about the canvas. 

Then, sometime in the 1970s, the patterning of the works broke up, and miniscule 
hits ami pieces of imagery began to float about the canvas, coloring portions of the 
ground as they passed by. 

In the Uile 19^0s color began to come back into the canvas in a new way. IX'cply 
colored grounds in rich turquoises, hot pinks and blues now supported the imagery. In 
these works, the images were no longer contained by the grid, and they began to move 
anil fairly bounce about the canvas. There were other more stabili/ed works, now 
whirling about like fireworks, leaving in their wake a shower of colored sparks which 
flew like Fourth ol July nebulae. 

In the beginning of the l9K()s. as Bischoff continued to work the ground with 
new color, the images too became more colorful; wiggling and snapping across the 
canvas, they moved into the paintings from the outside edges, as if the canvas were only 
a window on another reality which it could not fully contain. 

Many ol the newest abstractions rely very much on an architectural structure. In 
these paintings there is a lyrical, rainbowed palette reminiscent of early Kandinsky, 
which lends great power and grace to the imagery as planes (ill. float and move in from 
of one another, glowing from within. These are structmcd, yet chaotic works in which 
movement plays an important role. At the same time, there are also elements ol stasis 
which provide a grounding. Throughout it all Bischoff skillfully weaves his paint now 
thick, now thin; here dense, there opaque so thai the visual voices become a kind of 
chorus against which the primary drama is played. In other works, it is the organic 
which takes hold. These paintings are far less structured anil more random works which 
contain little explosions of color and small rivulets of liquid blue or scarlet which ripple 
across the canvas, catching fire in a sudden green phosphorescence, then burning off 
suddenly in smoke or ether as they are subsumed by other colors on the canvas. 

"In the non-representational works there is a shifting between 
the organic and the architectural. In the architectural ones there- 
might momentarily appear a grid arrangement along with an 
overall vertical and hori/ontal alignment, and in the organic ones 
a diagonal alignment Now. you can read the organic works as 
lending toward ihe romantic, and (he non-organic toward 
the classical. But regardless, there is a play between the two 
polarities which produces in me an action and a reaction con 
tributing to the momentum in the studio." 

In these works, uncanny phosphorescences lead both ebullience and light to the 
paintings causing them to glow from within. These images which they contained are 
now shaped in brilliant reds, yellows and blues as \\ell as in (he familiar iridescences. 



I IK s suddenly hci'omc thicker. Ixiklcr .IN well, coming much closer ID the early 
.ibstiaciions of the 1950s. In many of them the forms were cither organic or erratic. Like 
curious proto/oa, they seem t<> float in and out of the veiled layers of the painting which 
lorni its skin. Rolling, floating, they move in a blur, back into a deepened space not 
possible in their gridded predecessors. These are all new paintings, drawn up from a rich 
reservoir which is very much the artists own. They are not about the work of others. 
Bischofl is not drawing from an art historical pantheon, but from his own: 

"During my years of figurative painting from 1952 to 1974, a host 
of masters from the distant and not-so-distant past were in my 
mind, and Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco, Bonnard, Munch, and 
Lautrec were among those of major interest to me. I spent time 
kx)king closely at their work. 

Since I97t, I have not been drawn to study any artists as I 
previously did. Nourishment is gotten from the work of others, 
but indirectly and less consciously. The territory I am in is rather 
unfamiliar and everything has to be summmoned up from 
scratch with each new painting looking for guidance only to 
perhaps the half do/.en preceding ones." 

'hunters paintings" - these new canvases by Bischoff are among the very best 
gestural works lu'ingdone today on either coast. These are paintings to revel in, to 
lK - come immersed in, to Ixr consumed by. Seldom does a painter approaching his 
seventieth year find his stride yet again with all of the power, intensity and fervor of a 
young artist in the flush of his first major work yet Bischoff has done it. These 
paintings are as powerful and sure as any he created in the fifties, yet they speak with a 
different voice. It is almost as if their joy and lyricism have released them, taking them 
out into the sunlight where the figurative works could only dream of going. 

Jan Butierfield 
October, 1985 



4 1 



Appendix C. 




liw BUc*4ff: Woo 



Jilt, tU M CMM4 W* * ir+ M*M. 



Elmer Bischoff : 
Against the Grain 



4 traveling retrospective of the almost 40-year career 
: of flmer Bischoff documents his move from abstraction to 

figuration and back again. Revealed is an artist of 

independent spirit who has always avoided both stylistic rigidity 

and the orthodoxy of the moment. 



Alt L AjMrtet/Oolotar It 
14* 




No. 72, 1963, eryUe of tav+t, U I* U uclui. 
Collection Uu Morgtut flagg family 



BY MARCIA E. VETROCQ 



Tbe Elmer Bischoff retrospective currently touring the Unit 
ed States offers not only its own material richness, but also 
the opportunity to consider a career in which shifts in subject 
matter or format occurred around a Axed center of faith in 
painting's essential worthiness and humanity. For a viewer 
weary of today's irony and appropriation, there may be a mea 
sure (4 nostalgia in admiring BischotTs steadfastness, but there 
is certainly no condescension, for he makes the paint deliver. 
The shimmering spaciousness and palpable silence of Orange 
Sweater (1966), the familiar domestic solitude of Woman Dress 
ing (11*58), the ripely sensuous seclusion of Girl Wading (1969), 
all h4ve been seen and felt and captured with assurance and 
pleasure. There is judicious liberality, but never self-indulgence, 
in th extra pats and ribbons of paint with which Bischoff 
enlivens a breeze-tossed branch or anchors a nude's blunt 
stance. Whether the starting point of a composition was the 



Alt u AMric*/Ociatar 1986 
147 



There is judicious liberality, 
but never self-indulgence, in the 
extra pats and ribbons off paint 
with which Bischoff enlivens a 
breeze-tossed branch or anchors 
a nude's blunt stance. 



rocky Pacific Coast or two figures lounging on opposing twin 
beds, the disparate natures of earth, water, sky and flesh are 
resolved by Bischoff in the single substance of paint. 

BischofTs name is inextricably linked with the story of the 
Bay Area Figurative "School" artists like David Park and Rich 
ard Diebenkorn who restored imagery to their paintings in the 
early 1960s just as pure abstraction seemed to be achieving 
apodictic grace in New York. Pa/k led the way in 1960 with the 
shockingly and stubbornly prosaic Kids on Bikes. BischofTs 
figural work began two years later. Yet the defection from New 
York-style abstraction was neither total nor, in retrospect, sur 
prising. Stylistic orthodoxy hat never been a hallmark of Cali 
fornia art, northern or southern. Bischoff and the others (all 
under 40 at the time) had invested youthful enthusiasm but not 
mature commitment in abstraction's cause. Moreover, what they 
retained of nonobjective art proved substantial. Bischoff, Park 
and Diebenkorn returned to the figure and the landscape with 
out unseating gesture and the materiality of paint aa the sine 
qua non of postwar art. 

For well over a decade the Bay Area painters generally would 
present the human body as passive, even leaden; the figure is 
seemingly lost in thought, gazing out to sea, or paired with 
another in a silence that at time* seems companionable, at times 
verges on estrangement When they first appeared, these works, 
BischofTs in particular, disappointed critics who expected the 
figure to return bearing a new package of existential meaning. 1 
But Bischoff is emphatically a painter, not a philosopher. He 
deals not in psychological penetration but in experiences of the 
visual kind. Ultimately it is (he total force of the painted 
surface, not a face or body, which carries the expressive load. In 
Woman on Sofa (1969) the tarry texture, thick downstrokes of 
the brush and inky field occupying the top half of the canvas all 
convey a state of troubled reveru*. The woman's face, however, is 
a near blank, her poised hand a flattened lump of meaty paint. 
There is no glint in the woman's eye, but a shower of glancing 
yellow strokes on her sleeve electrifies the composition. In a 
work by Bischoff the paint forever remains more interesting 
than the images. It is the artist's own vitality, expressed in the 
first person, which comes acroi*. 

If in BischofTs figural world we find a suppression of the 
idiosyncratic qualities and narrative potential usually asso 
ciated with the human body, in the pure landscapes it is nature 
animated, dramatized and particularized that the artist offers. 
With almost carnal strata of pigment he renders, in his smallest 
and finest landscapes, an equivalent of the paradoxical bulk and 
delicacy of the northern California hills. Thick, organic sauces of 
paint course and curl into trees, acrub, rocks and clouds. Flouting 



lS3, oU M CMDM, SI ty JO tec*** 

HuttiAfto* Art Gallery, 
*f frjtM at AtutU. 



Art m AMria/Octefar JIM 
141 




litcrior wllk Two PtfVM, IMS, oU M co*u, M tec*M 
CoUecUo* Mr. art Mn. CaH D. Loteil. 



In Bischoff 's work the paint 
forever remains more interesting 
than the images. It |s the artist's 
5 wn vitality, expressed in the first 
>erson, which comt t across. 



he conventional practice of using the heaviest impasto to rep- 
esent the nearest pictorial elements, Bischoff builds the fore- 
round paint of Orange Sky (1068) of suavely measured parallel 
trokes; by contrast, the distant hillside and sky seem (aid on 
Kith a trowel. Bischoff emphasizes the independent tangibility 
f the surface without betraying the composition's rootedness in 

scene observed. Less preoccupied with two-dimensional struc- 
ure than Diebenkorn, less willing to settle for the brute physi- 
ality of paint than Park, Bischoff attends to the claims of both 
erception and pictorial invention. 

When the Bay Area painters abandoned pure abstraction they 
2ft intact the ethos of Abstract Expressionism. Indeed, Bischoff 
nd his colleagues could stand as the quintessence of Abstract 
Ixpressionism's institutionalization of struggle and quest, wrest 



ing free of New York as New York had turned away from Paris. 
The Bay Area artists changed direction for entirely interior 
reasons. Recalibrating their art for authenticity's sake, they 
regained the passion which, as Bischoff later explained, had 
been waning: 

The thing was playing itself dry ... I can only compare it to the end of 
a love affair. When I was in the real grips of Abstract Expressionism, 
the marks and gestures had a hyper-existence. But it was your own 
passion that inflamed these things, and there was just a gradual losi of 
this passion. 1 

The challenge-conquest-exhaustion model of artistic progress 
would stay operative long after the original pitched battles of 
Abstract Expressionism had turned to faint saber rattling. It 
provides the key to BischoCTs re-embrace of abstraction in the 
early '70s, a development that coincided with Guston's fresh 
interest in the image and a general restoration of the figure in 
contemporary painting. Going against the current, as he had 20 
years earlier, Bischoff explained his separate direction as yet 
another retooling to get the juices flowing once ardor had cooled 
into habit "A revitallzation seemed to be In order ... the 
figurative painting was getting to be too much of a one-way 



Alt in AMrict/Octoter ISM 
160 




No. 85, lH4, terylie M eoww, *J <* SO itckei. 
Htnekl i Aditr Modtn. 



street, like sitting and talking with a person who doesn't say a 
goddam word." 1 

Abbreviated samplings of BischoflTs early and late abstrac 
tions bracket the flgural works and landscapes in the 
current retrospective. A handful of paintings from the late '40s 
rather perfunctorily documents the artist's change from the 
then-reigning lingua franco of biomorphic ovoids and Cubist 
infrastructure to an art of greater gestural openness with paint 
surfaces so thick the brush leaves treadmarks. One untitled 
work of 1962, with graffitilikf strokes in a vanilla ground, seems 
a harbinger of things to comj. 

Still, we are unprepared for the sheer exuberance of the late 
abstractions. The abandonment of the figure in the 1970s coin 
cided with a switch from oil ki acrylic As if he has literally shed 
weight, Bischoff spins out Jumpy, goofy, zero-gravity composi 
tions, explosions in a cartoon studio which send fur and eye 
brows and color charts flying. What seem to be shards of 
fractured images bounce and roll on choppy patchworks of 
pigment The '60s gestures (low, loving glides and painterly 
swirls have given way to a brisk brushiness, the acrylic some 
times wistfully watery and faintly sour, sometimes keen as a pot 
of grade-school tempera. 



The years tell in this recent work, and they tell of a painter 
fortunate to have escaped the deformations of celebrity and 
stylistic rigidity. At age 70 it is a new Bischoff we see, perhaps 
less noble and stalwart than before, but relaxed and humorous, 
easily renewing his hand at improvisation with no loss or denial 
of his painter's wisdom. D 



1. Sec, for example, Hilton Kramer, "Month In Review," XrU, vol. 34 (Jan. I860), 
p. 46. 

2. Quoted In Thomas Albright, Art in tkt San Fnneiico Ban * rf <* IMS -1 980, 
Berkeley, University of California Press. 1986, p. 6i 

3. Quoted in Robert M. Fraih, "Figurative Expreknion and Abntract Concern," 
Klmtr Bitckqf 1947-188S, Lafuna Beach, Calif., Lafuna Art Muieum, 1WJ6, p. 
21. 



"timer Backoff 1947-1985" original** Uut mnttr at On San Franeitco 
Museum ufMwiern Art, and wot mn recently at On QrttnntUt iSC.) County 
Muttvn of Art /Juiy 8-A*g 31); it Iravtii to tin fhiUipi CuUtction, WatHmg- 
tun, D.C. (S*pt. 10-Nov. I) o4 tlu Lag*** Art MUMMM, Lagvna Stack, Cattf. 
(Nov. Il-Jo*. 4. 1987). 



Author Mareia S. Vitroeq it auocvm prufutor o/orf liutory at tki Univtr- 
OrUaiu. 



Art la Ancnci/ October 1 MM 



Appendix D. 



17- 



10HN B 

;:.S v.KANT A~vTN~U~E 



ERGGRUEN GAL E Y 

-SAN FRANC'lSOO. CALIFORNIA ') 4 1 n S - .415'' 781-4629 



by Chiori Santiago 

It's difficult to interview Elmer Bischoff. but 
easy to converse with him. He's reticent about 
his own life but eager to hear about yours, asking 
questions as he stirs up two cups of hot Postum 
in his studio's tiny kitchen. He discusses the 
latest in kid's toys with the expertise of a father 
o' a 14-year-old son which he is. Retired this 
year from the art department of the University of 
California. Bischoff is far from inactive. Now that 
he has the time, he spends 10-hour workdays in 
his studio, and sums up his plans for retirement 
with one word: Paint 

Bischoff was bom in Berkeley in 1916, and 
since 1959 has kept a studio there, in a 
converted orgon factory hidden above a stretch 
downtown car dealerships and medical 
buildings. In this large, airy space he has 
produced the paintings and drawings contained 
in a major retrospective of his work at the San 
Francisco Museum of Modern An December 
5 February 9 The show, of course, includes 
many examples of the work that, along with that 
of Richard Diebenkom. David Park, 
and others, became known as the Bay Area 
figurative school. 

Pushing table and chairs around to make a 
comfortable seating arrangement (all the 
furniture is on wheels for easy mobility). Bischoff 
settles back, a calm and gentle Buddha, and 
retrospects 

CS. Looking back, was there a catalyst that 
inspired the Bay Area figurative school of 
painting? 

EB Well, after the war there was a great deal 
of excitement and a sense of purpose. There was 
a strong feeling of time lost from art The 
students at that time seemed to have more 



attention, were more focused. The director of the 
California School of Fine Arts. Doug McAgy. was 
marvelous; he did a lot in those five years. He 
was able to pick out people and assemble a 
group of artists to be teachers who worked well 
together, but who represented a gamut and 



they had the freedom to teach how they wanted 
to teach. When I started teaching, it was a long 
time before anyone even came in to see what I 
was teaching. 

My approach varied with each class and 
each individual. I played it by ear. I didn't have a 



BISCHOFF 




Yellow Sty. oil on canvas. 79 5/8" x 98V 



Elmer Bisctioff. 1967 



format. 

CS: Was it ever frustrating to spend time 
teaching when you wanted to paint instead? 
EB No. I've been fortunate to be in situations 
where there were interesting and lively 
students. If you don't have that, then it's very 
depressing. Most of us. as students of art. 
prepared ourselves to be teachers because 
that's how you made money, and I made that 
decision too 

CS What do you do when a student doesn't 
have much promise? 

B: The student that doesn't have promise is 
in a better position than the one who doesn't 
have interest The person's own attachment has 
a lot to do with their success. If they have little 
promise and a lot of interest, they could turn out 
to be Van Gogh. I've had students who didn't 
perform well, and a year later they burst into life. 
It's really marvelous, and it makes you wary 
about predicting. 

I've heard students say occasionally "I 
can't wait to get out of school so that I can paint 
the way I want to paint." as though they were 
painting to satisfy the instructor. I think that 
when they get out, they're going to see things 
the same way. but it's going to be a dealer who's 
telling them (how to paint) 
CS: Did you ever tell yourself you'd do 
whatever possible to make a living selling your 
paintings? 

EB: No. I never had spectacular talent I was 
not a star There were students way back in 
Willard (Junior High School), in my class like 
Phil J who. if you wanted any art work, you 
called on him He could do it. I never had that 
kind of ability. I was never singled out for those 
virtues 

(continued on page 23) 



METIER/ WWTER ISSUE 1985 5 



BiSChoff, (continued from page 5) 



If you had that kind of background, it's 
possible to think that you could pick and choose 
a way to paint. But I never had that. I wasn't 
versatile. 

CS: What ever happened to him' 
EB: He became a commercial artist and then 
died young, in an accident. 
CS: Do you feel like a star now? 
EB: No. I don't feel any different than I did 
then. I do what I can do. But if you have a 
commercial art background. I can see how this 
would make you feel that you could do anything 
under the sun paint like Picasso. 
Matisse and that's a- very different attitude 



toward oneself. Sort of. "have brush will travel." 
I think (today) there may be too much pressure on 
students to be ready for the gallery before 
they're even out of school. 
CS: Writers have given you a lot of labels. 
How would you describe yourself? 
EB: What you feel about yourself is very 
complex in some ways I feel that I'm 
successful: in other ways, I feel I should have 
achieved a lot more. But I do think I have the 
wisdom and the fortune from the outside world 
to be able to concentrate on my strengths. 

For me. the situation in terms of galleries 
began to change in '59. Nationally, galleries 
started to mushroom, more money was being 
spent. In '59 I got a grant from the Ford 
Foundation, and a dealer from New York came 
out with checkbook in hand, and bought a 
number of things. But this happened for all my 
friends, too. It was a shared experience 
CS: Thomas Albright wrote that you never 
worked in a style when everyone else was 
doing abstract expressionism, you turned to 
figurative work. Was this a definite act? 
EB Yes. but it was accompanied by two major 
responses on my part. The non-representational 
work that I had been doing had run dry of ideas. 
Along with that was the very compelling work 
that David Park was doing. He started doing 
figurative work first 

CS: Looking back, what works are your 
favorites? 

EB. The work I did after the War in the '40s. 
the abstract expressionist pieces there are not 
many I'm too keen about. I see them as too 
derivative, too reflective of other things, and it 
wasn't until I got into representational figurative 
that I thought things became more interesting in 
their own right 

CS: Who influences you now? 
EB There's nothing comparable. Park and I 
were very close. We exchanged influences, we 
would give each other criticism. He and I and 
Diebenkom went to each other's studios 
regularly to look at work. There's nothing like 
that now. 



Appendix E, 



Kaffee 

klatsch 

Artists fill up on ideas at weekly 
breakfasts, join for group show 




By Harriet Swift 

The Tribune 



THK LIFE OF an artist 
is a warm fantasy that 
almost everyone in- 
, in al some point or olher. 
.lusT the word "artist inspires 
images ol Henoir-likc boating 
parlies with artists and models, 
the camaraderie of New York's 
legendary Cedar Bar. the semi- 
ol final headquarters for the Ab 
stract Expressionists, and the in- 
lei woven love lives and philoso 
phies of those wonderful 19th 
century romance addicts, the 
I'le-Haphaclites. 

Heal life for contemporary 
ai lists is usually something alto 
gether different from the dream. 
as they scramble to pay the rent, 
buy supplies, carve out time 
horn day jobs" usually some 
kind ol teaching to do their 
art. and take care of the univer 
sal minutiae of life, just like ev- 
erytxMly else. 

The dream of artistic connec 
tions, communications, supporl 
and the elusive joic do vivredoes 
live in one odd corner locally - 
at Kam s Garden, a no-nonsense 
Chinese reslauranl in downlown 
Berkeley where a dedicaled 
group ol well-known arlists 
meet every Friday al 7 a.m. to 
talk about art. sports, life and 
the weather over breakfast. 

It started out as a lunch 
group." explained Jerome Car- 
lin. Ihe genial figurative painter 
who starled coming in Ihe '70s, 
hut il took up loo much lime in 
the middle of Ihe day, so we 
shifted il to breakfast." 

The group evolved from an In 
formal lunch meeting of art fac 
ulty from Ihe Universily of Cali 
fornia at Berkeley. Elmer Bis- 
< hull, (he painter, is usually 
credited wilh starling the group 
in ihe early '70s. although he 
now says lhal he can no longer 
remember exactly how it got 
started. 



Friends asked friends to come 
along and if there was a mutual 
liking, the guest became a regu 
lar. Membership, like every- 
Ihing else about the breakfast 
group, is completely without 
rules or planning. The group 
runs on compatibility and good 
will 

A group show 

On a recent Friday, practical 
ly the entire membership mow 
s'omewhcre around 15 or 16* 
showed up at Kam's. eager to 
discuss their group show, which 
nad opened the weekend before' 
al Holy Names College. It's only 
the second time thai the artists 
have shown together as a group, 
and they were pleased with ihe 
small-scale exhibilion. which in 
cludes one or iwo pieces from 
each artist. 

As more of the group arrived, 
the Kam's staff began adding 
more tables. Usually, explained 
sculptor Sidney Gordin. there 
were only two tables, with may 
be eight or so artists on hand for 
the weekly gathering. 

Friday there were visitors as 
well and the lalk broke mlo sev 
eral topics. Painter Charles 
Strong had brought along an ar 
chitect friend who was designing 
a new studio for him in New 
Mexico. That sparked talk ol 
Taos and Dennis Hopper at that 
end of the table, while a catalog 
of a recent Peter Voulkos show 
was handed around. 

The arrival of Joe Slusky. a 
San Francisco sculptor, was 
greeted with loud hoots. Slusky. 
one of the few avowed non-early 
risers in the group, is always a 
little late. In fact, he was a hold 
out from the lunch-to-breakfast 
switch. 

"It took me a couple of years 
to get with this breakfast thing. ' 
he admilled wilh a smile 



Oakland Tribune 
February 24, 1991 



Bui now he has goilcn with it 
and, like his fellow breakfast 
clubbers, finds the effort to gel 
to Berkeley al 7 rewarding. 

"This is experiencing an in the 
historical sense," said Slusky. 
"You would read about groups 
like this in college art history 
courses." 

Guillermo Pulido. the young 
est member of the group and the 
most non-traditional artist, 
made a video about the breakfast 
club to accompany the Holy 
Names opening. Pulido echoes 
Slusky in that being part of the 
group has enhanced his sense of 
being an artist. 

"Thib is the first time I felt an 
opportunity to be a part of a 
world I had just read about," he 
said during his video self-inter 
view. .|, 

'Against bad art' 

It was the kind of disagree 
ment that can lead to permanent 
ruptures, with Loran, the while 
intellectual, defending his use of 
the term as legitimate and Mon 
roe, who is black, condemning it 
as covert racism. Instead, they 
seem to have agreed to disagree, 
wilh Loran no longer using the 
term in his discussions with Mon 
roe. At the Friday breakfast. 
Unlike many artists' groups, 
past and present, the breakfas- 
lecrs have no common philoso 
phy or dogma of art. In fact, 
(heir arguments provide some of 
I heir most cherished moments. 
C'harles Strong, who curated the 
group's first show at Notre 
Dame College in Belmont a few 
years ago. thinks the closest he 
can come to characterizing a 
group outlook is being "united 
against bad art." 

That, of course, begs the ques 
tion, what is bad art? Strong con 
siders for a while and finally 
says. "Well. I don't think Julian 
Schnabcl (the trendy New York 
painter) would get too many 
points here." 

Painter Matt Phillips, who 
headed the art department of 
Bard College before retiring to 
San Francisco a few years ago, 
sees his fellow members with a 
little more detachment than 
most, having spent most of his 
career on the East Coast. He 
iincsn i sec a dominant theme in 
i lien work, but rather an overall 
belief in "the primacy of paint." 
"They believe in that visual 
language." he says, to convey 
ideas, thoughts and beliefs. Even 
the sculptors in the group. Phil- 



lips points out. make important 
use of paint in their work. 

Robert Simons, director of the 
Holy Names gallery and the cu 
rator of the show, calls the exhi 
bition a good 'cross section of 
contemporary trends in art," 
pointing out that the painting 
styles include abstraction, figu 
rative. landscape and several 
blends ol styles. 

Although there's no organized 
socializing outside of Friday 
mornings, such as studio visits 
or gallery trips, the artists seem 
to have had subtle effects on one 
another. Pulido credits Erie Lor- 
an. who made extensive studies' 
of Cezanne's work, with "rein- 
troducmg me" to the French 
painter. 

Agree to disagree 



I .'H.m. who is in his 80s, is one 
ol the group's leading lights, 
turning impatient with talk of 
the 49ers ("I've tried to explain 
to him how Joe Montana is an 
artist." says his nemesis and 
-t'.tcr fanatic Gordin) and other 
non-art topics One of the earli 
est and most important advo 
cates of All ican art in the Bay 
Area. I. or, MI found himself at 
odds with fellow painter Arthur 
Monroe over calling tribal work 
"primitive art." 

Monroe pulls up a chair beside 
Loran and they launch into a con 
versation, making a neat illus 
tration of the group's much 
prized give-and-take. 

"It's relaxed and informal," 
says Slusky of the breakfast 
club's popularity and longevity. 
"That's the bottom line. It's like, 
'Forget aesthetics let's have 
breakfast!' " 
And so they do. 

'The Breakfast Group," art 
work by Elmer Bischoff, Jerome 
Carlia. Sidney Gordin. Robert 
Loberg. Erie Loran. Arthur Mon 
roe. Philip Morsberger. Malt 
Phillips. Guillermo Pulido. Ter 
ry St. John. Peter Shoemaker. 
Joseph Slusky. Hassel Smith and 
Charles Strong, is on display at 
the Kennedy An Center Gallery 
of Holy Names College. 3500 
Mountain Blvd.. Oakland. 
through March 21. The gallery is 
open Sunday-Thursday from I <> 
4. Pulido's two-hour video. 'The 
Breakfast Group." may N- mvn 
at the gallery. Call 4M 1457 lot- 
more information. 



Appendix F. 



A ROCKRIDGE DIARY 



Recollections of John A. Bischoff, Jr. 

Oral History recorded by Andrea Gabriel 



Much of Rockridge' s growth occurred around 1910-12 when Fred Reed bought much of the land above Broadway and developed 
the neighborhood which was once farmland. There were independent builders too, in those early years. John A. Bischoff was an 
electrician in San Francisco with an aptitude for design and construction. He later moved to the East Bay and built several houses 
in Berkeley and Rockridge between 1910 and 1937. 

On a sunny but windy March day, I walked to a modest house off of Chabot Road to interview the eldest son of John Bischoff 
John A. Bischoff, Jr. I was met at the door by a soft spoken, slightly built energetic man in his mid 70" s. At his 
suggestion, we drove around Rockridge in his white Vega. Having a keen eye for well designed and constructed houses, he 
pointed out those houses which his father built, or those which he liked, or those which triggered a memory. In between, he 
revealed a bit of his own history. 

What follows is a portion of our interviews. Some of the questions have been reordered in this published version for clarity. 
A.C. 



We begin our tour by looking at a house his father built on 
Presley Way, head down Chabot Road and over to the 
magnificent Victorian house situated on the corner of Hudson 
and Shafter. 

Gabriel: Now this is a nice street (Presley Way]. There are 

some beautiful homes here. 
Bischoff: [Pointing to a nice gray house trimmed in white with 

a pale pink Japanese Magnolia just starting to bloom in the 

front yard] My father built that in 1931. 
Gabriel: Do you remember what this street looked like [then]? 
Bischoff: It was pretty well built up. 
Gabriel: Was it common for a contractor or someone like your 

father to build several houses on one block? 
Bischoff: He did that; what others did, I don't know. In his 

younger days he would build a whole string of houses. 
Gabriel: Do you know what year most of these houses on 

lower Chabot were built? 
Bischoff: I would say roughly 1915. 

We stop on Hudson at Shafter and admire the large, pale 
cream-colored Victorian. It has dark brown trim and its 
"gingerbread" decoration recalls another era. There is a large 
hardwood tree in the front yard; palm trees in the rear. The 
grounds take up half a block on Hudson. 
Bischoff: See, here it is. I was always fascinated [by it] as a 

child. See, this is Shafter Avenue, and we lived on Shafter 

when I started first grade it changes over, turning into 

what they call Keith Avenue but this was all Shafter and 

it had the train tracks on it 

The basement windows are nicely cut so it looks like a 

legitimate basement, and the attic up there I guess it's 

four stories, four floors showing as windows. 
Gabriel: The palms are beautiful too. It looks sort of out of 

place, don't you think? so massive. The houses around 

it look much smaller in comparison. 

Bischoff: Oh, yes. Oh well, I'm sure if you saw this when it 
was first built, there was nothing around, then gradually it 
sold off. They raise prices on the property so much that 
people don't want to hold it so they sell off. It would cost a 
fonune to build something like that now. They'll have 
houses just that big, but they're going to be cement not 
going to have any that look like works of art 

Gabriel: Now the house that you lived in on Shafter, is that 
still here or was that torn down by the freeway? 

Bischoff: No, it wasn't torn down by the freeway. Right next 



door to it is the firehouse and they tore it down for the 
firehouse, and the schoolgrounds were expanded. 

Gabriel: You went to Claremont School? 

Bischoff: Yes, I started [there]. I was there about two and a 
half years [from the] first grade. Of course, it's [the original 
school] been all torn down. It had to be earthquake proof, so 
they tore it down. It was built in 1913 and stood up all 
those years, but tear it down! 
The next leg of our journey takes us up College Avenue to 

Harwood where his father built several nouses winding up 

Florio and Mystic, crossing Claremont. 

Bischoff: This next street will be Harwood Avenue. Now this 
place right here [a large "four-plex" white apartment 
building with red trim], my father built and we moved in 
there the Christmas of 1914. 

Gabriel: Did you like that place? 

Bischoff: Oh, as a child you like eve" Thing [laughter]. I 
would say I like everything. When utey took me over to 
Shafter and put me in school, I didn't like that! 

Gabriel: As he built things, would he move [your family] into 
a place? 

Bischoff: No, not particularly. Actually, he was building a 
place on Russell Street and this was an intermediate move. 
He knew we weren't going to stay here. Then we moved in 
[to Russell Street] and I lived there for 58 years. 

Gabriel: Were you sad to give up that house? [Russell Street] 

Bischoff: No, and the reason I wasn't maybe fate fixed it so 
I wouldn't be sad the vandalism became a terror. I think 
of it how glad I am that my mother and father weren't 
around to see that 

Starting right here [Auburn Avenue] right down to the end, my 
father built all those. 

Gabriel: Are you amazed at the cost of houses these days? 

Bischoff: Oh, that's... outrageous. My father sold that house 
[points to a modest house on the comer of Auburn and 
Harwood] for 56,500 and I don't know what it sold for 
recently but I know that the real estate woman that sold my 
place on Russell Street had it for sale for $200,000. Isn't 
that outrageous? 

Gabriel: When did he build that? 

Bischoff: Oh, that would be about 1912 to 1915. 

Mr. Bischoff points out many houses built by his father. 
Almost all have a nice porch, one a Spanish style tiled roof, 
another a plain slate roof. As we creep along Harwood admiring 



The Rock ridge News 



April 11. 1987 



Page 3 



the homes, a curious mother and her children eye us. She 
inquires if we are waiting for her. Clearly, he is proud of his 
father's work; he answers, 

Bischoff: No, we were just talking about old houses. My 
father built that house, oh, way back about 1912. That 
apartment building back where the street curves? I lived 
in that when I was three years old! My father built that too! 

On to Eton Avenue and there is a large, pale yellow 
apartment building on a corner. Two white columns support a 
balcony with large arched windows another of Mr. Bischoff s 
buildings. We pass other buildings of his on Lewiston at 
Alcatraz, then back across Claremont. Heading up "The 
Uplands", down El Camino, a narrow winding street where 
large, beautiful houses are slapped next together, almost on top 
of one another. 

We slow as we approach a garage on El Camino and I see, 
as we follow on to Domingo, that the garage is part of an 
enormous home pale salmon colored, with a red tiled roof 
which rambles down the hill to Domingo. It is a magnificent 
home. We pass by it on to Plaza Drive on our way out back 
across Claremont to Alcatraz. 
Bischoff: Now here, see the back of this house? 
Gabriel: Yes, it's big! Is that one house? Actually there's an 

entrance on one street [El Camino] and an entrance on the 

other street [Domingo]? 
Bischoff: Yes. Do you like that? My father built that! The 

people's name was Kaufmann he built it for them. They 

asked him to build a house. 
Gabriel: Is that your favorite one that he built? 
Bischoff: It probably is. See this house here? [Points to a 

slate grey two story house, with a white picket fence on 

Plaza.] Do you like that? In 1931 I went to a party there 

a coming out party for a girl, April 1931. 
Gabriel: Did you have a good time at the party? 
Bischoff: I think so. I played the piano! 

We drive to Russell Street where he lived for 58 years in the 

house his father built. It is a deep coral color with many, many 

windows and a lot of ornately decorated trim. I ask about his 

father's work. 

i Gabriel: Would your father buy the land and then build a house 

on it and sell? 
Bischoff: Yes, he'd buy the property first. 

Gabriel: Would he have several people working on the 



house with him? 

Bischoff: Oh yes, he always had a team working about five, 

but he did all the designing and construction. Laying out 

the plans, that was all his. 
Gabriel: Would you go the visit your father sometime when he 

was working on these nouses? 
Bischoff: Oh yes! 
Gabriel: Did your father have a particular design that made his 

style distinctive? 
Bischoff: No. Very often he'd have something that wasn't 

typical. He'd put things in as a surprise. The door with 

these slashes [three long thin window panes in a door], he'd 

use things like that. 
Gabriel: Well, you can be proud of your father' s work, can't 

you? You can drive around and see [his work]. 
Bischoff: Oh yes. There's no doubt he was born with an 

exceptional talent 

On our way back to Rockridge, we pass some stores on 
College Avenue above Ashby and Mr. Bischoff tells me that his 
father built some of those, too. We turn onto Claremont near 
Brookside Drive Brookside curves behind Claremont a 
short block where two nouses now sit. 

Bischoff: See that? Well, when I was a child, it was all one 
big private estate just a beautiful estate a big, old 
fashioned, many-storied house. Fiat was the name. 
Anyway, I went in there once when I had absolutely no 
business in there, except that I looked in there and there was 
a little bridge and a pond going underneath the bridge. I 
went in there and you could see the goldfish. Alexander 
came up his father and mother owned the estate. [He] 
was on a pony and he ran the pony right up to me and said, 
"What are you doing here? You don't belong here, this is 
my property!" [Laughter] 

Of course it was true all very true. But the part I 
didn't like was the pony. I guess the pony was harmless, 
but the pony kept pressure on. That was my only recol 
lection. I told him [Alexander] I was looking at the fish! 
Gabriel: How old were you when this happened? 
Bischoff: I was eight 

Gabriel: What did you do, what did you say when he ran up? 
Bischoff: I don't know. I'm sure I told him I was looking at 
the fish and I don't know whether he said, "Go look at some 
other fish! [Laughter] If Alexander's alive, I guess he 
wishes they held it together. You can imagine what it's 
worth now! 



/K)S5