An upcoming exhibition of abstract acrylics by Rye artist H. Joseph Blumstein has an irony to its overarching theme. “Exploring Our World: The Abstract Eye” could just as easily be spelled-out as “The Abstract ‘I’.”
Opening April 15th at Rye’s Wainwright House, it is, in many ways, a visual memoir of the artist. Virtually every piece was inspired by Blumstein’s life experience, from his memories of early childhood being raised in a Orthodox Jewish household on Long Island, to his professional career in corporate America, and from his worldwide traveling with his wife and children, to personality traits which he illuminates in different ways in specific paintings. All of his work is a testament that the artist is most comfortable with abstract ideas and concepts, even ones that he readily admits have challenged him his entire life.
For example, take his painting “Labyrinth.”
Blumstein began to seriously explore his passion for painting in his 20s, first studying at The Art Students League in New York and later with Albert Pels, a WPA artist especially known for his murals and whose work is owned by major museums around the country. One of Blumstein’s youthful abstracts, “Incense Burner,” serves as a constant source of inspiration for him to this day. “There are some emotional disconnects in that painting, typical of me at that age. It was a time that I was searching; searching for what I didn’t know. I was conflicted. Here I was with my artistic temperament working in a very structured environment. It was incongruous. “I was later able to resolve this dichotomy, eventually realizing that the business environment can be very creative once you know the language,” explains Blumstein. “In business, it’s important to keep the purpose and idea in mind and not allow yourself to be distracted by peripheral things. And that’s the way I have always approached my art: Hold onto the idea and don’t be distracted by other things.”
In the 1970s, a promising career with Westinghouse Electric sent Blumstein to Brazil where he traded in his paint brushes for a closely sharpened pencil of the finance profession. (This was, after-all, prior to the personal computer revolution!) His corporate career was exciting and fast-paced. He and his wife -- eventually with one child in tow -- became globetrotters with assignments in various South American and European posts. But the tug of home, the desire to expand their family, and the need to provide a more stable environment for their daughter brought the Blumsteins back to the States. For his next corporate assignment, he chose Pittsburgh over Jakarta, Indonesia. Eventually, he made his way back to his native New York where he took his first job in the fashion industry. At least two paintings in his new exhibition reflect this period in his life including one that he labels “Vanity.”
“It’s another piece with an emotional hinge to it. The colors and form bring out the feeling of showing oneself and showing off. It certainly reveals a side of my personality. It’s not necessarily something that I want to own up to but it just came out. A little showy and certainly, very colorful,” concedes the now full-time artist who has been painting on a much more consistent and regular basis since his retirement, one year ago.
Retirement has also given Blumstein the time to pursue other new activities. His painting “Sun Salutation” was inspired by his new-found passion for yoga which he studies twice weekly at Wainwright House. “I wanted to paint something that reflects the inner peace that I have found through my yoga practice. I find an enormous reservoir of physical and emotional strength in it. It’s very rewarding and life-giving.”
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(“Exploring Our World: The Abstract Eye, paintings by H. Joseph Blumstein. Opening Reception, Sunday, April 15, 2:00 - 5:00 pm. Exhibit runs through May 6.Wainwright House, 260 Stuyvesant Ave., Rye, NY, (914) 967-6080. )
Rob Seitz is a freelance writer whose career includes working in the very abstract world of real estate sales and leasing. He can be reached at email@example.com.