Published on May 28th, 2015 | by Rosalina0
An Undiscovered Great: Edward E. Boccia, American Expressionist Artist
This article is a preview of the greater body of discovery and research I am currently conducting for the monographic book in cooperation with the Edward E. Boccia & Madeleine P. Boccia Trust, St. Louis, Missouri.
We all dream of undiscovered treasures, particularly hidden gems in unknown or obscure places. When we think about what mid 20th century American art history, we often immediately think of abstract painters like Jackson Pollock. Yet, there were other forces of creativity at work, often in relatively remote places as far as the art world is concerned. One such artist was Edward E. Boccia, an American painter, born in 1921 in New Jersey (d. 2012, St. Louis, Missouri). Virtually unknown today, the immensely talented Boccia worked in St. Louis for over 50 years, 35 of which were spent serving as a fine art professor at Washington University, teaching countless students. Boccia was an astonishingly prolific artist; there are over 1,000 paintings in existence including over 50 monumental altarpieces featuring allegorical scenes in an Expressionist style.
Boccia drew all his life, and first studied at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League of New York. He served in WW II in the 103rd Engineer Combat Battalion made up of his artistic peers, their tasks including decoys including inflatable tanks and other artillery along the British coastline to deceive the Nazis. After the war, Boccia earned a BA and MA at Columbia University, concurrently teaching art at the Columbus Art School in Ohio where he served as the youngest dean in American history. In 1951, he was appointed the Assistant Dean of Fine Arts at the Washington University, St. Louis, following in the steps of other great painters and teachers including Philip Guston and Max Beckmann. In St. Louis, Boccia’s greatest patron was the art collector and owner of the May Department stores, Morton “Buster” May. Known for his extensive Expressionist art collection, May would visit Boccia’s studio every spring and purchase a number of pictures. However, a deeply committed painter, for the most part Boccia did not seek promotion of his work, rather he worked quiet and steadfastly on thousands of paintings. He created a number of paintings that dealt with a real event in his life, a series of elegiac pictures that take as their subject the death of his 35-year-old son David in 1984 such as The Dark Night of the Soul (1987). Boccia seems to have taken lessons from different modernist movements including Expressionism, Surrealism and even American Regionalist painting to develop his own highly original codex inspired as well my classic Renaissance and Baroque painters including Titian. The monumental power of Boccia’s work is unsurpassed, and as such deserves more study, recognition, and exposure.
Today, Boccia’s work can be found in various museums collections including the St. Louis Art Museum; St. Louis University; University of Missouri, St. Louis; Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum of Washington University, St. Louis; Denver Art Museum; Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City; Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale and the National Gallery in Athens, Greece. In St. Louis Boccia was commissioned by a number of secular and religious institutions including the First National Bank, St. Louis Old Cathedral, Catholic Student (Newman) Center, Washington University, and the Brith Shalom Kneseth Israel Synagogue.
RJH Berland, New York