Review: Francis De Erdely is a painterly footnote to L.A.’s artwork historical past

Is Francis De Erdely a grasp of radical portray who labored in Los Angeles within the years following World Struggle II however has since been unjustly forgotten?

That’s the peculiar competition being made in a small exhibition on the Laguna Artwork Museum, which suggests to revive curiosity within the Hungarian-born artist, who died in 1959 on the youthful age of simply 55. The work doesn’t come near supporting such a daring declare. In actuality, a conservative, if socially aware, painter occupies a modest historic nook.

The present’s catalog is the primary substantive publication on the artist, so it does start to fill a niche relating to a painter who ought to be higher identified, even when he doesn’t measure as much as his first- and even second-tier contemporaries. He was considerably outstanding throughout his day, and it’s price understanding why. However the guide’s additionally a combined bag.

The very best half: We get a substantial quantity of biographical info, useful in sorting by means of the present’s 24 easel work and 15 works on paper. (He was a gifted draftsman; the drawings stand out.) De Erdely was born in Budapest in 1904, rising up throughout a interval of utmost social misery, political chaos and epic bloodshed.

As historical past unfolded, he was receiving each a classical training and an instructional coaching in artwork, starting at age 15. He studied and labored in Spain, France and Belgium, lastly fleeing Europe in 1939, threatened by the Gestapo for his outspoken antifascist actions. With one world battle behind him and one other about to blow up, he emigrated to the US, dwelling first in New York, then Detroit, largely supporting himself with commissioned portraits. In 1944, De Erdely arrived in L.A., joined the USC college the next 12 months, and taught educational portray there till his loss of life.

The catalog’s low level: An artwork seller at a business gallery that has dealt with De Erdely’s work was invited to write down the enthusiastic introduction. The battle of curiosity for what purports to be a scholarly and unbiased museum research is apparent and disappointing. LAM ought to know higher.

De Erdely often turned to nonetheless life, however he was primarily a determine painter. As befits his biography, his artwork is an uneasy union of firmly educational self-discipline and the socially aware subject material that had gained traction in American portray within the Thirties. Staff are a standard theme, from a hard-hat laborer to a newspaper vendor, whereas Black and brown folks, as social outsiders, are plentiful. He labored from dwell fashions, often nonprofessional.

Francis De Erdely, “Pancho,” 1945, oil on canvas.

(Chaffey Group Museum of Artwork)

With scant exception, the faces are downcast and worn. Even a picture of a person cautiously stated within the portray’s subtitle to be resting — one arm slung over the again of a chair, his head mendacity on the opposite forearm unfold out on a desk — is pointedly juxtaposed with an empty wine bottle, compositionally wedged between bony arms. Resting, or handed out?

The spectacle of contemporary life as a debilitating circus, acquainted from predecessors as various as Picasso, Georges Seurat, Charles Demuth and Walt Kuhn, turns up within the raveled determine of “Huey the Clown,” his feeble smile painted on. In a small nonetheless life centered round candlelight, the standard image of hope and illumination, the candlesticks are damaged.

Stylistically, De Erdely may do easy realism, as in an exhausted determine of “Pancho,” resting limply on a bench. Most frequently, although, he melds the Cubist facture and Expressionist gesture that had been at a leading edge in Trendy European portray throughout his youth.

“Return of the Prodigal” (1950) is the present’s strongest image, notably reproduced on the catalog cowl. Father and son, now not estranged on this parable of a wayward baby’s redemption within the face of a compassionate grownup’s unconditional love, embrace in a dramatic whirlpool of hugging arms and clasping arms. They’re seen from an aerial vantage level — a celestial view, which the artist often employed — and rendered in stark contrasts of darkish and light-weight.

As he typically does, De Erdely outlines their physique elements in thick black strains, producing even better distinction. (The artist had studied at Madrid’s Royal Academy of Superb Arts in his 20s, and sure Spanish Baroque strategies by no means left him.) Each figures are wearing white enlivened with main flashes of pale blue, purple and yellow. The creases and folds are additionally principally rendered in linear strokes of darker paint, as if the varieties are carved into house.

Greater than something, although, the composition and its palette appear indebted to a painter like Viennese Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, whose well-known allegorical self-portrait along with his lover, Alma Mahler, completed in 1914, exhibits them locked collectively and floating anxiously in a turbulent swirl. Set in an summary area of darkly brushed coloration, De Erdely‘s portrait steadies Kokoschka’s turbulence. He bows the previous man’s head in gratitude, whereas the younger man’s is uplifted if unemotionally resigned. The nameless father’s face is hidden, the son’s haloed by golden hair. Gentle pours down into the darkness and onto the pair from an unseen supply.

A catalog cover with a portrait of a young man and older man hugging

The exhibition catalog cowl options De Erdely’s 1950 “Return of the Prodigal.”

(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Occasions)

The portray’s secular reinterpretation of the well-known New Testomony story (Luke 15:11-32) is obvious to see. De Erdely was amongst various postwar L.A. artists — amongst them Eugene Berman, Howard Warshaw and particularly Rico Lebrun — who had been dedicated to creative illustration of what was broadly often called “the human condition” (virtually at all times battered and grim). Abstraction or nonfigurative artwork was held, if not in some disdain, not less than as one thing much less urgent.

Like De Erdely, Berman and Lebrun had been European immigrants; Warshaw got here West from New York. Settling in a comparatively new metropolis that had scant alternative to see historic examples of European and American artwork, it’s as in the event that they determined to fill a niche with well-crafted photos.

Visitor curator Alissa Anderson Campbell identifies the artist’s radical political opinions, however their disjunction along with his dedication to conventional, even conservative portray kinds stays a conundrum. If De Erdely’s private politics is perhaps known as radical — or not less than liberal, particularly within the context of town’s thumping conservatism through the Pink Scare period — his artwork was not.

Different artwork was. Whereas De Erdely was portray “Return of the Prodigal,” John McLaughlin was starting to strip down the geometric abstraction of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian right into a perceptual simplicity inflected by Asian aesthetics that, a decade later, would give beginning to the Gentle and Area motion. Wallace Berman was cobbling collectively bits of refuse into sanctified objects of humility that may yield a widespread Assemblage artwork faction.

When De Erdely died, a cadre of youthful artists didn’t decide up his thread and weave it into the Sixties. In the long run, artists do have the ultimate say. That, reasonably than a disinterest amongst artwork historians or important arguments about figurative work versus abstraction, because the present proposes, is the first cause that his artwork slipped into obscurity. De Erdely is a curious footnote within the avant-garde story of postwar L.A. artwork.

‘Hanging Figures: Francis De Erdely’

The place: Laguna Artwork Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Seashore
When: Thursdays to Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Wednesdays. By Oct. 23.
Information: (949) 494-8971,