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Louis Bosa: A Keen Eye and a Kind Heart

November 19, 2005 - March 5, 2006


The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown announces Louis Bosa: A Keen Eye and a Kind Heart, an exhibition celebrating the work of this distinguished painter and acute observer of the human condition. Focusing primarily on paintings in the collections of the Michener and the artist's family, this exhibit is mounted in honor of the publication of an original essay on Bosa by Dr. Cher Krause Knight, the recipient of the Michener's Helen Hartman Gemmill Research Fellowship in 2002-2003. It is sponsored by Andrew and Mary Lou Abruzzese and the Pineville Tavern, and will be on view in the Pfundt Gallery from November 19, 2005 through March 5, 2006. (right: Louis Bosa, Procession, 1952, oil on canvas, H. 40 x W. 62 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum, Gift of Donald E. and Anna Bosa Mulligan)

Dr. Knight is an Assistant Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She is an art historian who focuses on modern and contemporary art and architecture, and is also a specialist in museum studies, with an emphasis on curatorial theory. Her book is being published by the Michener Art Museum. At 48 pages with more than 25 color illustrations including several from the Museum's collection and many from the artist's family, the book focuses to a large extent on the painting Procession, which Knight consider to be Bosa's masterwork, but also includes extensive biographical information about the artist. It is the most comprehensive and authoritative study of Louis Bosa to date.

Bosa (1905-1981) grew up in Codroipo, Italy, a small village only a few miles from Venice. After studies at the Accademia della Belle Arti in Venice, Bosa emigrated to the U.S. and studied under John Sloan, a member of the Ashcan School, at the Art Students League in New York. Sloan's poignant vignettes of everyday life in the city would have a lasting effect on Bosa's own style.

After graduating Bosa was invited to teach at the league, and spent summers teaching at the Cape Ann Art School in Rockport, Massachusetts. He was later invited to join the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), where he taught from 1949 until 1970. By all accounts, Bosa loved teaching and was loved by his students, whom he urged to "observe, observe, observe" rather than languish in the studio, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Bosa's early works from the 1930s and 40s frequently depict New York City, at turns bustling, charming, gritty, and harsh. "His figures represent a matrix of emotional drama, comic relief, psychological presence, and physical being," as Knight writes. While many of these New York street scenes reflect a somber palette, Bosa's artistic temperament was marked by a sincere affection for his subjects.

As Bosa once said of his own work: "I paint people as I see them -- sometimes gay, but often wistful and even pathetic. They are so funny sometimes, they are sad." While he became known for witty character studies, highly stylized and expressionistic figures, Bosa never confined himself to one type of subject matter. (right: Louis Bosa, Taking Down the El, oil on canvas, H. 34 x W. 36 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Louis Bosa)

During the 1930s Bosa and his wife Theresa purchased a cabin in Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County, which the artist himself would repair over the years-working as a carpenter, gardener, tile layer, stone mason, and architect to fashion a retreat for the couple and their daughter Anna. They spent their summers here at 'Casa Bosa' until it became a permanent residence upon Bosa's retirement.

His first major award that brought notoriety was the John Wanamaker Prize at the Washington Square outdoor exhibition, given to him in 1938. Subsequent honors included an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and gold medals from the National Academy of Design, Audubon Artists, and the Legionnaires of Pennsylvania. He was featured in the 1948 Whitney Museum Annual.

Knight describes Bosa's work as "genuinely quirky and honest, but neither deliberately self-conscious nor naïve in any way. He is both funny and serious, often at the same time."

While he achieved some fame, selling works and acquiring commercial representation, exhibiting at important museums and attracting the notice of some critics, the highest level of recognition (retrospective exhibitions, monographs on his oeuvre) ultimately eluded Bosa. The modernist agenda that dominated much of the post-war American art scene did not bode well for many seasoned, academically inclined artists such as Bosa.

While Bosa expressed admiration for the abstract mode of painting -- and indeed shared a close friendship with leading abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock -- Knight writes that "he knew himself well enough as an artist to honor his talent by tweaking, expanding, and further defining his representational mode, not abandoning it."

In 1951 Bosa was sent on assignment by Life magazine to visit his hometown in Italy. He had a chance to visit his ailing mother (whose death later that year would inspire the painting Procession) and revisit the home he had left decades earlier. The death of his mother shortly thereafter had a profound effect on Bosa, who responded to the loss with a variety of funeral-related subjects in his art.

In Procession the focus is on the mourners, rather than the deceased - which allows Bosa to both reference his mother and yet to avoid specificity. Knight describes this as further evidence of Bosa's mastery: "his ability to traffic simultaneously in the personal and the universal, the timely and the timeless. His people are both individuals and archetypes who participate here in a shared, profoundly human experience -- the ritual of grief."

As with Procession, Bosa's later works would be marked by vigorous displays of color and lively form. Despite his love for America, it was the scenery, people, light, color and architecture of Italy that would inspire him later in his career. Knight writes of Bosa's world as one in which humor and sadness are allowed to coexist, "further enhancing and even complicating one another."

Bosa fell ill with bladder cancer in 1975, and never fully recovered from the surgery. He died in 1981 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania at the age of seventy-six.

Bosa's work is in the collections of more than twenty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In connection with this exhibition, Dr. Knight will present a curator's talk, "On the Trail of Louis Bosa" on Sunday, December 4 from 3 to 4 pm at the Ann and Herman Silverman Pavilion in Doylestown. Fee. Advanced registration recommended.


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