Harry Paul Burlin (1886 - 1969)
Deux Ex Machina, 1949
Oil on canvas
32 x 25 inches
Signed at lower right: Paul Burlin
Private collection, Woodstock, New York
Harry Paul Burlin grasped the possibilities of modernism early in his career, and continued to follow an experimental path throughout his professional life. As a young man in New York City, Burlin was drawn towards leftist politics, and towards the progressive arts. He was influenced by the Ashcan School, and by William Glackens (1870–1938) and Robert Henri (1865–1929) in particular. Frequent visits to Alfred Stieglitz’s legendary Gallery 291 put Burlin on a thoroughly modernist track.
Burlin was one of the youngest artists to have his work included in the seminal 1913 Armory Show in New York City, where he was invited to exhibit by Glackens. That same year, Burlin went on a trip to Santa Fe, and was so absorbed by the otherworldly landscape that he moved there, though he continued to exhibit in New York through the Daniel Gallery. While in the Southwest, Burlin became fascinated with the dramatic palette and imagery of the American Indians, elements that strongly informed his own painting.
After an extended period living in the artistic hothouse that was Paris in the 1920s, Burlin returned to the United States in 1932. During this period, he worked in styles as varied as Cubism and Social Realism, but began to forge a distinct artistic identity based on broad forms, gesture, and color.
By the mid-1940s, Burlin was painting in an Expressionist mode, his mature style. He became increasingly interested in myths, a concept he expressed as abstracted signs and symbols. Burlin was also a colorist in his paintings, and bold blocks of pigment play defining roles in his compositions. As Burlin wrote in the brochure for his 1946 show at the Downtown Gallery, “primitive colors shape themselves into a reality of their own.” (Quoted in Irving Sandler, Paul Burlin , 8.)
Painted in 1949, Deux Ex Machina is a cacophony of line and color. Abstracted African masks and symbols hover over large shapes of color connected by a network of black lines. A cross in an oval centers the composition. This is abstraction with representation, all with strong, symbolic overtones.