Monday, July 28, 1997
Horror and humor meld, bringing nightmares to canvas
Painter’s monstrous creatures provide outlet
to subconscious mindBy Kristin Fiore
Daily Bruin Staff
Everyone has their own demons, but not everyone hangs them out
to dry at the office. However, this technique seems to work for
artist Harry Blitzstein, whose gallery walls are crammed with
creatures you might encounter in dreams or nightmares.
This connection between the subconscious and art lures in many
meandering young night owls to the Harry Blitzstein Museum of Art.
Opening only at twilight, it is a prime hang-out for
Students from UCLA and USC, club-goers and late-night snackers
often stop in from nearby coffeehouses or Canters Delicatessen
across the street.
Though Blitzstein’s painted figures are hard to identify (are
they gnomes, witches, wolves, monsters or all of the above?), they
resemble the critters that populate our subconscious. The eerie
combination of horror and humor contrasts the style of many
"tortured artists" in L.A. whose paintings are limited to sterile
"I sleep very well, because I paint that all out of me. Other
people have come in and said, ‘Oh, I’ve seen these pictures in my
dreams or nightmares. I know these,’" Blitzstein says.
Young gallery patrons become excited when they see some of their
hazy memories on display in vibrant colors or in dour earth tones.
And unlike most galleries, the artist is always on hand to discuss
his visitors’ interpretations and insights.
"Since I’ve had this show, people who are curious will come in,
look at my paintings and get the biggest charge out of them,"
Blitzstein says. "Then I can re-see them. I see the inside emotions
of people and not the outside portraits. I see a lot of humor, but
also the seven deadly sins Â avarice, lust, all those
But many of Blitzstein’s patrons see entirely different things
and end up teaching him as much as they learn. This turns a
potentially intimidating art lesson into an informal evening
"With some of them, I know what they mean, but with others, I
look at them and just scratch my head," Blitzstein says. "That’s
what I love about art shows. You see people looking at things and
reacting to them, and you see the painting almost for the first
Many of Blitzstein’s visitors were in diapers when he began
painting his demons. And though the monsters certainly have a
universal quality, they were also a response to the chaotic and
disillusioning world of the 1960s and 1970s.
Blitzstein, like many artists, began his career within the
confines of academic art classes, but soon broke out into his own
style that better expressed his emotions.
"I was painting, learning as a student, getting my degree and
searching for beauty and mysticism as a young man," Blitzstein
says. "But around 1967, the Vietnam period, these demons started to
pop out, and it was like opening a flood gate. They were pretty
horrifying and at the same time hilarious. I was just trying to be
as crazy as possible. After that I tried to lighten up."
The current range of Blitzstein’ s work Â from the
whimsical and affable to the downright forbidding Â reflects
the decision to incorporate more light-hearted elements and
"One of my big inspirations is ‘Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs.’ I never got over it. I wear hooded sweatshirts to this
day," Blitzstein laughs. "I painted the queen and the wicked witch
His commitment to the less serious can also be seen in a
painting of Dopey entitled "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Paint I
"I try to get to a very innocent part of you," Blitzstein says
of his fairy-tale creations." You see, in L.A., you’re supposed to
be the cool artist man. You’re doing art, and you’re not supposed
to show anything vulnerable. To me that’s the highest form of
strength. To get past all the darkness and actually get some happy,
poetic being out of you Â that pink, little, trembling naked
creature looking at you with one eye."
Blitzstein’s more childlike moments stem from Disney-type
stories, but he has also picked up some of his style and substance
from other artists. Van Gogh’s intense, swirling brush strokes,
vivid colors and tinges of madness seep into his work. Later,
Blitzstein also discovered Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, Oceanic
masks and the gothic genius of Francis Bacon. But many of his
inspirations are from the other arts, especially music.
"Reading is as inspiring as other art work, as is music, poetry
and great movies," Blitzstein says. "I listen to classical music
when I paint, and that seems to be the most moving way to really
get to your depths."
Blitzstein also paints while listening to Leonard Cohen, who
Blitzstein calls "humorous, serious, religious, sexual and
The methods and messages of artists like Van Gogh and Cohen may
vary widely, but they do share one all-important quality, according
"Life can be lost in the smog out there. And if it has any
meaning at all, then the musicians, actors and artists are saying
it; the poets and philosophers are saying it."
ART: The Harry Blitzstein Museum of Art is open nightly from
twilight to midnight, or by appointment. For more information call
Artist Harry Blitzstein melds humor and horror in his painting