Paul Durand-Ruel, Joseph Duveen, Peggy Guggenheim, Edith Halpert, Julien Levy, Pierre Matisse, Paul Rosenberg and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler have the place of honor of the top art dealers who shaped the way we show and represent art and artists.
And so did a little guy in Amarillo, Texas, in the 1950-1970 with the unlikely name of Dord Fitz.
He thought, heck, Amarillo can be as important as New York City in the midst of abstract expressionism, and he achieved his goal up to a point, asking the greats of the art world at the time to come to teach and show — in Amarillo. There was Louise Nevelson at his Amarillo Gallery, in person, with James Brooks, who, with Jackson Pollock, was one of the founders of Abstractions in New York City; Leon Polk Smith, a follower of Mondrian, and Elaine de Koenig.
But Dord the dealer had an artist whom he liked to show and sell, and that was Charles Ragland Bunnell (1897-1968). And L.S. has a painting by this artist that he found in a Santa Barbara thrift store.
What we know at the onset is that Bunnell hung out with the best, but he didn’t really like to go too far away from the West, and maybe he liked the Midwest, but he certainly didn’t get to New York City much.
When you have an artist who in the 1920s and 1930s begins to paint, and is in a region, he needed to paint (so to sell) paintings (so to sell), in a regionalist style, or he needed to move to New York. Bunnell did not move. His strategy was to adopt a facility in a number of styles, from landscape, to portraiture, to anything, to mural work in the style of American Scene painting. Then, in later life, he painted abstractions.
And that was what L.S. found, an abstract painting in various rectangles in red, in a Santa Barbara thrift store.
From being wounded in World War I, Bunnell returned with a new idea: to paint. And he studied at Broadmoor with Birger Sandzen and later with Ernest Lawson, who was one of the New York Eight (Robert Henri, John Sloan, et al.) Because his teachers admired him, they recommended him to be on the panel to help with the New York Armory Show in 1913 when the greats of Russian abstraction as well as French abstract artists enlightened the American audience to the new in art.
Imagine that from a boy from the 19 Teens in Colorado. He must have been so pleased. And the paintings he saw made a mark.
As I mentioned, to make a living in Colorado, Bunnell painted in the realist style. Then he partook in the Works Progress Administration mural projects for which he did a Colorado mural.
Then, boom, he turned away from that style and landed upon complete abstraction, focusing on 83 paintings, lithographs and studies in the Black and Blue series he did 1936-1940s.
Savvy, the Colorado Springs Art Center in 1956 held a show of his works and Bunnell wrote for the catalog that “Each viewer can see what he feels in my work.” I love that.
His trusty dealer in Amarillo who believed in him and published a monograph on the work of Bunnell’s lifetime called “Bunnell,” 1970, dedicated to Bunnell’s daughters. I find it interesting that a local, small-time dealer can make such an impact. Remember this was before social media.
And Amarillo was not a place that was known for abstract art. So I suppose we should put Dord as one of the great shapers of abstract art as a dealer, but of course, he was in a way, but not in a major market. He created a market, however, in Amarillo.
Since the last show of his work, after Bunnell died, Amarillo Art Center did a show in 1987, and quite recently another show was mounted in Colorado Springs. So, you never know: a career artist who has his own path might be important one day.
So, L.S., the Bunnell abstract you found is wonderful, and he has today a dealer, David Cook Galleries, which has a good number of Bunnell’s works for sale. And yours fits into, as I said, abstraction, a later part of his oeuvre. Similar pieces are offered for sale at the size of yours (16- by 20-inch oil on board) for $4,800.00 and $5,500.00.
Good for you, L.S.!
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.