About The Artist

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Edward E. Boccia (1921-2012) was an Italian-American artist active from ca. WW II-2012. Born to Italian parents in Newark Jersey,  Boccia attended the Newark School of Fine Arts. He studied at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League, New York, where he met his wife Madeleine Wysong. Boccia served in World War II, in the covert 603rd Camouflage engineer unit known today as the Ghost Army. He continued to paint and draw during his time overseas, sending his artwork home. After the war, Boccia earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at Columbia University, concurrently serving as Dean and teaching art at the Columbus Art School in Ohio, where he introduced the Bauhaus teaching method to his students.

In 1951, he was appointed Assistant Dean of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he taught painting for over 30 years, until his retirement in 1986.

 

Boccia was regarded as not only technically gifted, but also singularly independent and deeply dedicated to his craft. Called a Neo-Expressionist, the modern Neo-Renaissance painter and even a Magical Realist, Boccia’s practice was informed by the great masters as well as the work of 20th century modernists such as Max Beckmann and Oskar Kokoschka.

What makes Boccia unique, however is his creation of a unique pictorial language that synthesized the mid to late 20th century experience with motifs and themes from Catholicism, literary criticism, the politics of anti-materialism and the importance of craft. In addition to teaching, the artist spent countless solitary hours working on his large-scale triptych panel paintings, seeking neither official approval or an end to his exploration and experimentation, the artist painted into his eighties. A favorite artist of the important American art collector, Morton D. May, Boccia’s art is owned by over 600 private collectors and within the public collections of national museums and institutions such as the National Painting Gallery of Greece, Athens, The Mildred Lane Kemper Museum of Art, St. Louis, The St. Louis University Museum of Art and many others.



 

Boccia’s Legacy as a Teacher Lives on in University Exhibit at Missouri S&T

Edward Boccia was an American painter + professor of fine art at Washington University for over 30 years. his teaching legacy lives on symbolically in work on view at universities across the country.

On the landing between the first and second floors of the Humanities-Social Sciences Building sits The Sacrosanct, 1978, a triptych by Edward Boccia, an American poet and painter known for his large-scale paintings in Neo-Expressionist style. It was donated by Morton D. May.

https://magazine.mst.edu/2018/03/art-on-campus/

Be Part of the Dream! Help Make this Pioneering Project a Reality – the 1st Book on Edward Boccia

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Our patronage and donation program is officially live!

Edward E. Boccia, An American Artist is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of the book Edward E. Boccia, An American Artist. 

Donations may be made online here or if you prefer to donate via check kindly send to The Edward E. Boccia Artist Trust, 600 Harper Ave., St. Louis, MO 63119, USA. Please note that all checks must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. 

If you have questions please contact us at 646 595 9962.

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT THIS PROJECT. 

About the Book                                                                           

This is the first critical survey of the artist’s oeuvre and will include over 100 color plates of the artist’s paintings, including a number of pieces never before seen in public.

Four thematic sections will highlight the complex and engaging iconography of Boccia’s practice while also discussing his work in the context of 20th century American art history. The book will be printed by the prestigious art and architecture publisher Scheidegger and Speiss, Zurich in cooperation with Park Books and Chicago University Press, 2019. The primary author is Rosa JH Berland, Art Historian with contributions by CC Marsh and Alice Boccia.

Our professional editorial team includes Matthew Dunleavy, Project Editor, and Lisa D. Berland, Copy Editor (Volunteer). Sabrina Xiyin Lin, Project Assistant with Steven Leible, Photography.

We owe a special thanks to the Phoebe Weil, Hillary Kapan and Dr. Kevin Berland for their generosity as well.

 

DONATE 

 

 

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The Book -Edward E Boccia-An American Artist

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The Edward E. Boccia Artist Trust is delighted to announce we have selected Scheidegger & Spiess, one of Switzerland’s leading publishers for art, photography, and architecture for our upcoming monograph EDWARD E BOCCIA -AN AMERICAN ARTIST. This book is edited and written by Rosa JH Berland with contributions by Dr. Alice Boccia and CC Marsh.

It shall be the first critical full length study of the artist’s work and will serve as the authority on an important American artist while engaging in a more general discussion of hierarchies of style and genre within American twentieth century art.

The book will showcase photographs of never before seen artwork, reveal the innermost workings of the artist’s mind and technique and present a picture of  creativity in mid century to contemporary America.  Publication date is 2019-2020. We are currently in our editing phase and final fundraising efforts.

 

We welcome support of any kind to help us fund the publication of this innovative book, a first of its kind only possible through the patronage of our friends, family and colleagues. Please visit our donation page at Fractured Atlas, donations are tax deductible as per IRS regulations. 

 

Edward-Boccia, Contemporary-Art

 

 

 

Beckmann Looking at My Model -A late picture by Edward E Boccia

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Did you know that the American painter Edward Boccia worked at Washington University shortly after the appointment of Max Beckman. We know that the American artist was indebted to Beckman in many ways, and he often acknowledged the strength of the German Expressionist master’s work.

It’s interesting to note that Boccia would inherit Beckmann’s painting easel and use it among the many others in his studio through the years. Recently, a late smaller scale painting entitled Beckmann Looking at my Model (1991) resurfaced on the market -what a fascinating piece — a reflection not only of Beckmann’s legacy in the story of modern art, but a moment in Boccia’s own artistic life.

 

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Boccia’s 1958 Painting Adam + Eve

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Boccia’s painting of 1958 Adam and Eve recently sold at auction, truly a lovely very early piece featuring the puzzling yet fascinating motif seen throughout a lifetime of work —the Icarus like falling figure. Interesting fact: The picture won a special prize at show of Old Testament art in 1958.

 

Art, American Painting, 20th century Art, Old Testament Art

 

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Select Paintings by Edward Boccia

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Edward Boccia Nereus Reborn 1960 .jpg

Edward E. Boccia Nereus Reborn, 1960, oil on canvas triptych, side panels 93 x 25, center panel 93 x 48,  Collection of University of St. Louis, Missouri

 


Edward Boccia’s career as a painter may be poetically referred to as a grand house with many rooms. Some rooms, although elegant, are lived in briefly. Other rooms, made more comfortable by the artist’s personal associations, are occupied for years. No room is permanently closed. The artist moves freely from room to room, constantly borrowing ideas from where he has stayed before. The paintings and drawings in this exhibition are grouped by thematic concerns beginning with character sketches done in France during World War II and ending with a nine-panel painting, Eugene’s Journey (1996) that draws upon all of the artist’s skills as a painter and poet. (Museum of Contemporary Religious Art)

 

 

The American painter Edward E. Boccia’s most important works were large-scale, often as multiple panels. The oil on canvas pictures required a rather long process including a laborious building of composition, form, and pigment.

The artist was inspired in part by the traditions of ecclesiastical art, including altarpieces, while inflected with the tone, style and modern pictorial language of artists such as Max Beckmann. Often Boccia’s paintings seem alight with a sacral sense of light, and the eerie shadows and spotlighting of the Surrealist school. This admixture comes together to create an arresting pictorial language that remains quite his own.

This gallery offers a selection of key works by the artist, among them some of the largest and most ambitious works, as well as some of the more disturbing and puzzling pieces.

 

To see such work in reproduction is certainly no match for witnessing the presence and shocking iconography of Boccia’s work, that dance between desire, images of stigmata, crowded spaces peopled with strange creatures and self portraits, awash in ominous shadows and illuminated areas of paint.

 

Never the less, it is important to showcase these remarkable pieces in particular, and make images of this artist’s achievements accessible to the public. In many ways this curated galleries expresses the way Boccia saw style, as an ends to a mean, namely the creation of truly mysterious, atelier style painting that had echoes of historic greats, not in terms of formal cues, but in the sense that all art should evoke a sense of the anima, the spirit and soul.

On the occasion of Boccia’s monographic show at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art in 1996, the elusive and complex nature of Edward Boccia’s practice was summed up beautifully as follows

It is with the open eye of the painter surveying the pivotal movements in 20th-century art that we will see the work by Boccia that touches on Cubism and Surrealism, American Regionalism of the 1930s, German Expressionism of the 1920s, and Neo-Expressionism of the 1970s. For Boccia all rooms are open today, and it is for us to decide where we should linger. Boccia’s career literally spans a lifetime. (MOCRA)


 

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Edward E. Boccia Mystique Marriage, 1979, oil on canvas, triptych, Collection of Jennifer Paternikis, Athens, Greece

 

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Photograph of Boccia’s painting The Wedding Reception, oil on canvas, 55 x 63 in the artist’s studio c.1979

 

 

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Edward E. Boccia Dark Night of the Soul, 1987, oil on canvas, triptych, Private Collection

 

 

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Edward E. Boccia Eugene’s Journey, 1996, oil on canvas, 68 x 184, nine panel polyptych, Collection of The Artist Trust

 


All Rights Reserved, The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Artist Trust.

Art + the Sea -The Early Paintings of Edward E. Boccia

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fig-3-boccia-1958-dreams-of-sea-mythEdward E. Boccia Dreams of Sea Myth, 1958, oil on canvas diptych, each panel 47 x 23, Collection of The Artist Trust

Fresco like matte surface is matched by a whirling fluid dynamism in Boccia’s early paintings such as Sea Myth, 1958. In the exhibition catalog published on the occasion of one of many retrospectives, the artist comments on the significance of the sea in his work:

“And yet, it is the sea—that vast and primal home of early origins—which revitalizes, in its ebb and flow, the very soul wherefrom my stirrings take their form.” He elucidates that as well the white sail is the “torn spirit” the upturned boat is a metaphor for birth, what the artist calls a “world embryo” who will stop Nereus’ abduction of the bird woman.” (Some Notes by the Artist” in E. Boccia A Retrospective Exhibition. October 30 – December 8, 1960. The Pius XII Memorial Library, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri).

Edward Boccia Nereus Reborn 1960 .jpgEdward E. Boccia Nereus Reborn, 1960, oil on canvas triptych, center panel 93 x 48 and side panels: 93 x 25, Collection of University of St. Louis, Missouri

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An Interview about the Artist Edward Boccia on Meural

FROM MEURAL’S Deep Cuts, Episode 6: “Being lost in the color and a sense of beautiful nothingness.” 6.21.17.

 

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Edward E. Boccia, Last Supper for Wayne, 1968, oil on canvas, 88 x 55 inches, Collection of St. Louis University Museum of Art, Missouri. Image courtesy of the Edward E. & Madeleine J. Boccia Artist Trust, St. Louis. ©

Today we are speaking with Rosa JH Berland, an art historian, author, and curator. For Deep Cuts, she’ll be discussing Edward E. Boccia, a late American painter and long time professor of fine arts at Washington University, St. Louis. Rosa is currently writing the first critical monograph on the artist in cooperation with the artist’s estate.

How would you describe Boccia’s work to the uninitiated?

I would begin by describing the artist’s career. Edward Boccia was a post war painter born in 1921 who had served in WW II as part of the elite subterfuge unit charged with creating visual distractions to trick the Nazis.

Boccia was from the NYC area, and studied art at Pratt and Columbia and went on to teach in the Bauhaus method, serving as the youngest fine arts dean at the Columbus School of Art. He was recruited by Ken Hudson to join the faculty at Washington University, St. Louis. Hudson was part of a circle in St. Louis that included expatriate artists, modernists, art collectors, teachers, and museum curators such as Perry Rathbone, H.W. Janson, Morton May, and the Pulitzers. Former Hudson recruits included Max Beckmann, Philip Guston, and Stephen Green.

Boccia would go on to teach for over 30 years at the university and his character and high standards of workmanship and artistic fidelity would influence hundreds of students who became artists. I also think it is important to note that the Midwest was full of monumental American painting including the great murals of Thomas Hart Benton. In fact, I was quite struck by the way Boccia’s work reminded me of the heroism of Mexican Muralism. And so, in my research I came upon Ellen Landau’s work on Phillip Guston’s connection to muralism. Guston traveled with Ruben Kadish to paint a large-scale mural in Moralia, Mexico in 1935. Boccia’s work shares the muralist emphasis on expression set within an architectural structure. The style of dramatic narrative and grandeur is a tradition that continues today with contemporary murals throughout cities worldwide.

To understand Boccia’s work, you must know that artist spent countless hours in the studio making large scale paintings, the most famous of which are triptychs –or panel paintings and measure up to six feet tall. They have a sort of shocking quality, in the sense that the technical aspect is remarkable, the subject matter at times is disturbing and gruesome, and absolutely imaginative. Recently the family uncovered a fascinating series of photos depicting the process of painting the monumental pictures, and this revealed a great deal about the artist’s way of working, the planning, the sketches, the technique of applying paint. It is as if you can see his ideas germinating and evolving as he works. I particularly find the 1979 wedding series fascinating. These paintings and studies were made the same year as the marriage of his daughter Alice. Like many of Boccia’s works, the series works within a rather enigmatic allegorical structure. There is an unsettling quality, and a density in terms of palette and detailing. Like Beckmann’s most well known works, you find yourself lost in the images, drawn to the spectacle, the color, the mysterious motifs, as well as a surreal form of brutality. Similarly Boccia’s iconography remains elusive, yet a rich source for analysis.

What distinguishes Boccia’s work from fellow neo-expressionists? Which of his contemporaries do you feel were also underrepresented?

Well, Expressionism changed the landscape of fine art, theater, and poetry in the beginning of the 20th century, and it transformed into many offshoots or neo-Expressionist forms allover the world. Most of the work is distinguished by disjuncture and fragmented forms often intended to create a certain dissonance, a rebellion of sort, and namely an emotional reaction.

As I mentioned Max Beckmann had briefly served as a teacher at Washington University, and the collector Morton May acquired the finest collection of Beckmann works as well as other important Expressionist pieces. This is important because May was also a great collector of Boccia’s work, and served as the artist’s most significant patron. As well, his family shared with me that he often visited May at his home, and was astonished at a carriage house full to the brim with Expressionists masterworks.

Therefore, we keenly see the influence of Beckmann and some other early 20th century Expressionists, particularly in Boccia’s works like Last Supper for Wayne, 1968. Nonetheless, I would add that later post war work like Boccia’s is inflected with a number of threads and styles including Magical Realism, historic painting, and post war politics. While I accept the label of neo-expressionist for the sake of situating his work, I actually think he has his own pictorial language that defies categorization entirely.

In addition, in response to your questions about underrepresentation, I imagine that there are, in fact, many artists in the world who may be underrepresented because they do not fit into a style that is deemed popular or avant-garde.

Boccia achieved some fame, but you believe he flew under the radar. How did that happen?

He did achieve fame, exhibiting widely, his work is in over 600 private collections, as well as major museums in the United States and Europe, and as I pointed out, important collectors sought his work. In many ways he was fated to fly under the radar as you put it, he made work that was very expressive and engaged in the idea of the sublime and with a complex iconography. However, his work simply did not fit into contemporary ideas of what constitutes the avant-garde e.g. American abstract painting.

In addition to this hierarchy of style, I wanted to know more about the artist’s way of working and why he seemed to be so close to obscurity. The artist trust generously granted me access to the archives and studio work and I have read many of the artist’s journal entries and letters, as well as his written plans for artwork, and lesson outlines for his students. The first thing I would point to is the fact that the sheer toil of making classically rendered pictures is immensely time consuming. It is my belief that rather than spending time promoting himself or trying to make his work commercially viable, he simply worked. The rest of the time was spent teaching. Boccia was a very well read and thoughtful figure, and prodigiously intelligent. He was purposefully disengaged from the world of commercialism and much of art criticism. Moreover, Boccia was acutely aware that his work which after the war was primarily figural, was not “in style” as there was what we might call a hegemony of style in the art world, e.g. the preference of abstraction, and the invested idea that abstraction was the deeper form of art.

As time goes by, do you feel as though abstraction is taking over more of the canon retrospectively than what was true at the time?

It may not even be abstract painting taking over. I wish to say that I love abstract painting, and in fact, my first memory of painting was a blue Helen Frankenthaler picture. I remember being lost in the color and a sense of beautiful nothingness. Boccia’s work demands something different of you, it is far more confrontational, there is no getting lost in the ether, it requires engagement, questioning, a sense of repulsion, and wonder. I would say just because it is stylized, it would be entirely unfair if not foolish to argue it is not a new way of painting. It is immensely complex and engrossing.

Nonetheless, on the matter of complexity, there is also the matter of abstract thinking; by this, I mean the intellectual gymnastics of art critics, the key figures of course are Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, and their many disciples, who in turn of formed the way we see modernism and the avant-garde.

Truthfully, I find such writing valuable, challenging, and even colorful, however, I think canons are often dictated by critics, who come to dominate the entire dialogue, art scene, institutional collecting practices, etc. I find too often artists are made to take a second seat to critical views. Nonetheless, the arguments of philosophers, literary critics, curators and etc. is in fact an expression of creativity in itself, and interesting because of that aspect. As an art historian, I try my best to engage in this dialogue, to enjoy the ideas etc., but also not to lose sight of understanding the artist’s way of working, and his or her motivation. My experience of using primary sources, interviewing the family, looking through racks and racks of artwork brought me to a place of meaningful investigation and well, ekphrasis.

Thank you for the interview, it is so very wonderful to talk about this artist and the book, which shall be the first of its kind. I am immensely grateful to everyone who has supported the project or contributed to the research including the artist’s widow Madeleine Boccia, his daughter Dr. Alice Boccia, Hilary Kaplan, CalTech, and CC Marsh, Lead Project Research Assistant, Emily May McEwan-Upright, American Painting Research Intern, and Wendy Timmons, German Expressionism Research Intern.

 


All Rights Reserved, Rosa JH Berland and The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Art Trust.