Emerson Woelffer, ‘Born to the Day’, 1950, Vallarino Fine Art

About Emerson Woelffer

Self-styled “Abstract Surrealist” Emerson Woelffer was an influential teacher and practitioner of a distinct strand of Abstract Expressionism. Drawing influence from László Moholy-Nagy (for whom he worked for seven years), Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Roberto Matta (who encouraged his use of free association), Woelffer developed an abstract style characterized by saturated colors and bold, jagged forms that hinted at symbolism and figuration. “I always work first and think later,” he said. “There is no idea to begin with. I just start and it works or it doesn’t. It’s not about anything like a tree or an apple.” Woelffer taught at several major American art schools, including a stint at Black Mountain College at the invitation of architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller. “He was an American original, a tender tough guy who turned a lot of people on to the beauty of abstract painting,” said Ed Ruscha, a one-time student of Woelffer who also curated a posthumous retrospective for him in 2003.

American, 1914-2003, Chicago, Illinois