VIEW DILLER ARTWORK
Diller was recognized as the first American
painter to embrace the tenets of Neo-Plasticism, making an important contribution to the development of
non-objective art in the United States. Working in a hard-edged
geometric style, he produced paintings, drawings, and collages
that paved the way for the development of American Minimalism
during the 1960s and 70s.
Born in New York City in 1906, Burgoyne Diller began painting and
drawing as a teenager growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Later, while attending Michigan State University in East Lansing
on an athletic scholarship, he made weekend visits to the
Art Institute of Chicago, where he familiarized himself with
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting. He was especially
drawn to the landscapes and still lifes of Paul Cézanne,
who modelled color to create structure and volume.
Burgoyne Diller, Early Geometric, ca. 1934
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches
Signed on stretcher: Diller
In 1929, Burgoyne Diller moved to Manhattan and enrolled at the Art
Students League, where his teachers included such progressive-minded
painters as Jan Matulka, Hans Hofmann, and George Grosz. Hofmann’s
concept of the “push-pull” effect of form and
color exerted a strong influence on his early work, as did
his growing familiarity with Analytical and Synthetic Cubism,
German Expressionism, and other vanguard European styles.
Diller had the opportunity to see some of this work firsthand,
but he also kept abreast of developments abroad by reading
journals such as Cahiers d’Art.
Diller completed his studies at the League in 1933, the year
he had his first solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts
Gallery in New York. It was around this time that his paintings
began to show the influence of the reductive, pared-down geometric
compositions of the Dutch Constructivist Piet Mondrian and
the equally restrained compositions of Kasimir Malevich and
El Lissitsky, exponents of Russian Suprematism. In the ensuing
years, Diller synthesized the crisp geometric forms and primary
colors and blacks and whites of Constructivism with his own
personal approach to line, space, and form, and in so doing
arrived at a very personal style.
Burgoyne Diller, First Theme, 1962
Oil on canvas, 32 x 32 inches
In addition to championing the cause of abstraction through
his own work, Diller promoted non-objective painting through
his role as an arts administrator. Indeed, despite his reputation
as an innovator, he failed to sell any of his paintings during
the 1930s, a time of hardship for many artists. In 1935 he
was hired as Director of the Mural Division of the WPA Federal
Arts Project and in that capacity he provided commissions
to fellow abstractionists such as Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis,
Willem de Kooning, Ilya Bolotowsky, and others. Diller also
promoted non-traditional art throughout his membership with
American Abstract Artists (established 1936), exhibiting with
that group from 1937 to 1939.
Burgoyne Diller was employed by the Federal Arts Project until 1940.
He continued to paint throughout the 1940s and 50s, although
his output decreased considerably. In his later work, he turned
to increasingly simplified compositions and the movements
and rhythms of his forms took on a quieter tone.
During the second world war, Diller was director of the War
Service Art Section in New York. He was also connected to
the navy’s visual aid division, where he designed a
black-and-white signal system for ship-to-ship communication.
In 1945, he joined the design department at Brooklyn College,
remaining there until 1964. Since his death in New York in
1965, Burgoyne Diller’s work has been included in many exhibitions
devoted to modern art in the United States, including Abstract
Paintings and Sculpture in America: 1927-1944, organized by
the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (1983). There have
also been several posthumous exhibitions, most recently Burgoyne
Diller, held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New
Examples of Diller’s work can be found in major public
collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art,
New York; the New York University Art Collection; the National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Walker Art Center,
Minneapolis; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut;
the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh;
the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, New York; and the Sheldon
Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska, among others.
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Also view the past exhibition Burgoyne Diller and Hard-Edge Abstraction: Underpinnings and Continuity