Edward Boccia dies -Washington University teacher and artist who became famous by doing things his way
May was head of the May Department Stores Co., which owned the Famous-Barr chain. He was an art collector of national renown, with the wherewithal to buy what he wanted.
Each spring, he visited Mr. Boccia’s studio in Webster Groves to look over works the artist had painted or drawn since his last annual visit.
May bought hundreds of the works, using a truck to haul them back to his home in Clayton. He kept buying until he died in 1983. What he didn’t keep, he gave to friends, colleagues, universities and museums.
In so doing, May became the Johnny Appleseed who spread Mr. Boccia’s work across the country.
Edward Eugene Boccia died Sept. 3, 2012, at his home in Webster Groves. He was diabetic and was diagnosed with pneumonia after he had undergone three surgeries since May, his family said.
Critics say Mr. Boccia created a style uniquely his own.
“He was one of those old-school, down-and-dirty painters who knew how to draw,” said A.J. Brewington, a gallery owner in the Central West End who is his agent. “He was gutsy and wasn’t concerned about whether anybody liked him or not.”
Mr. Boccia was a significant member of the Expressionist movement known for masterfully reconciling tone and color, said Petruta Lipan, director of museums and galleries at St. Louis University.
Mr. Boccia was best known for his large triptychs — three-panel paintings — and polyptychs, many with themes related to Catholic mysticism.
His work is included in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, the St. Louis University Museum of Art, Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the National Pinakothek in Athens, and more than 600 private collections.
Mr. Boccia was born in Newark, N.J. His father was an Italian immigrant who sold jewelry.
Mr. Boccia studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York. With World War II under way, he joined the Army in 1942.
He served in a battalion filled with other art school students. They set up inflatable rubber tanks and artillery along the coast of England to fool passing German planes.
Pvt. Boccia landed on a beach in Normandy a week after D-Day, then served across Europe. He never stopped painting and drawing.
He used art supplies his mother sent from home. He painted from foxholes and cafes when he could. Then he’d roll up his artwork and send it back to his mother.
“He did these during sometimes intense fighting,” said Judith Mitchell-Miller, a retired high school teacher here who owns seven of Mr. Boccia’s works.
He met Morton May, who introduced him to the work of Max Beckmann, a German Expressionist painter who had taught at Washington University in the late 1940s.
Mr. Boccia became a popular teacher. “He knew what was good in painting,” recalled former student Larry Kozuszek.
Mr. Boccia described his work as dealing with “love, lust and life.”
His works are filled with pagan and Christian themes.
A tragic influence on his life was the 1984 death of his son David at age 36.
Living in St. Louis and working at the university, he said, gave him the security “to paint what I want to paint. I don’t paint things that look well over the sofa.”
Mr. Boccia left behind some 1,400 paintings. His daughter, Alice Boccia of Los Angeles, is trying to locate and catalog all his works on his website.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Catholic Student Center Chapel at Washington University, 6352 Forsyth Boulevard. A private burial was held at St. Paul’s Churchyard.
In addition to his wife and daughter, among the survivors is a granddaughter.