Hans Gustav Burkhardt

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Hans Gustav Burkhardt (Swiss-American, 1904-1994) pushed the envelope with his surreal and expressionist anti-war paintings. He is known for his thick application of paint and expressive brushstrokes.

Burkhardt was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1904. The young artist immigrated to America when he was 20 to pursue a career in art. Burkhardt attended Cooper Union and the Grand Central Station of Art. He was mentored under the artist Arshille Gorsky who became a life-long friend. Gorsky and Burkhardt shared a a studio in New York Burkhardt had his first solo show in 1939 at the Stendhal Gallery in Los Angeles. He ended up in the West Coast and became isolated from the East Coast and European art scene. However, he kept close watch on the ensuing wars like the First World War and the Spanish Civil War and delved into subject matter and themes regarding war, death, and grief. In 1940, Burkhardt met and exhibited with a group of Surrealists in Los Angeles including Man Ray, Knud Merrild, and Eugene Berman.

In 1950, Burkhardt visited Mexico and spent almost a decade living in Guadalajara. In Mexico, the artist incorporated vibrant colors and Mexican themes of burial and death ceremonies into his work. Although he was not a Mexican by nationality, he was often compared to the great Mexican muralists like Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Tamayo. In 1958, Burkhardt moved back to California and began teaching at University of Southern California, Otis College of Art & Design, California State University at Northridge, and University of California in Los Angeles. All the while, Burkhardt was showing his work nationally and internationally. Around this time in his later career, he experimented with assemblages, incorporating 3-dimensional objects into the canvas on his large-scale painting. Burkhardt continued painting anti-war works, depicting scenes of human suffering, loss, death, and destruction, regardless of which war. His dedication to this theme was in part an effort to remind and caution viewers of the pain and atrocity wars inflict.

Hans Gustav Burkhardt died on April 22, 1994 in Los Angeles. The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, British Museum, Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., Guggenheim Museum in New York, Kunstmuseum in Basel, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) holds Burkhardt’s work as well as other collections worldwide.