Walter Kuhlman

artist artwork
Walter Kuhlman established his reputation as a pioneer in the Abstract Expressionist school of painting. This movement, hailed by historians, critics and artists as "the triumph of American art", had its roots on the West Coast at the legendary California School of Fine Arts, now known as the San Francisco Art Institute. It was here, during its "golden years," that an experimental and highly dynamic program was initiated by a small group of teachers and students under the influential leadership of CFA's Director, Douglas MacAgy.

The faculty he recruited included luminaries such as Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Elmer Bischoff and David Park. They charted new territory and encouraged their students to do so as well. At the same time on the East Coast, artists such as Jackson Pollack, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, together with the New York media had begun to establish the United States as the leader of the international art world.

The flowering of the CSFA from 1945 to 1950 represented one of the most far reaching developments for both Bay Area art and American Art as a whole. Most of the students entering the school were, like Kuhlman, "men in their middle or late twenties," and they had a maturity, sometimes hardened by wartime experiences, seldom found in previous generations of art students.

Says Kuhlman, "Working at the CSFA turned our lives from unbearable tension and anxiety to an almost unbelievable enthusiasm. We worked hard. Played hard. Drank lots of wine. Listened to great jazz and poetry. My constant companions during these years were Frank Lobdell, Richard Diebenkorn, Budd Dixon, Jack Jefferson, John Hultberg and Peter Shoemaker." In 1950, Kuhlman and Lobdell finished the last year of their G.I. benefits in Paris where they shared a studio at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. In 1951, they exhibited their work in the celebrated "Salon de Mai" show at the Petit Palais - the first American Abstract Expressionist paintings shown.

Just when the pressures of work, family and economic survival became most difficult, Dr. Grace McCann Morley, founder and director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, submitted Kuhlman's name for the prestigious international Chicago Graham Fellowship for $10,000 which was to be used for residency. From then on "it was universities until tenured retirement from Sonoma University."