Widely regarded for his influence in bringing modernism to Los Angeles and the West Coast, Emerson Woelffer is best known for his boldly colored abstract paintings and collages. Born in Chicago, Woelffer studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where László Moholy-Nagy was among his instructors. After a stint in the US Air Force, Woelffer returned to his alma mater as a teacher in 1942. In 1949, he accepted Buckminster Fuller’s invitation to teach at the legendary Black Mountain College.
Prior to moving to Los Angeles with Dina Anderson, whom Woelffer married in 1945, the artist would take a momentous trip to the Yucatan that influenced the course of his work and career. For six months, the pair lived in a small fishing village in Campeche, and Woelffer adopted a more vivid palette, absorbed the influence of pre-Columbian cultures, and moved away from subject-driven works, instead devoting himself to exploratory processes. The overall effect, wrote Mara Kelly, was that Woelffer’s paintings were able “to take on a feeling of liberation.”
The Woelffers moved to Los Angeles in 1959, where Woelffer began his teaching position at the Chouinard Art Institute. He would remain there until 1973, counting Larry Bell, Joe Goode, and Ed Ruscha among his admiring students. He would then teach at Otis College of Art and Design until 1989, where the sale of his works through LA Modern Auctions continues to benefit students through a scholarship in the artist’s name. Woelffer’s works are held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Norton Simon Museum of Art, the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
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