Bernece Berkman-Hunter was a pioneer painter, graphic artist, designer, and teacher born in 1911 in Chicago, Illinois.
She studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago and privately with two of Chicago’s important early modernists, Todros Geller and Rudolph Weisenborn. Geller viewed art as a tool for social reform. Weisenborn was an avant-garde painter. Aligned against the academic establishment, both of these artists introduced Hunter to Cubism, Expressionism and the power of art as a visual “tool for social reform.”
She was a member of the radical American Artists Conference and joined a printmaking group that circulated left-wing pamphlets advocating that artists and writers crusade for social reform. One of her themes was the 1937 steel strike in South Chicago where police and workers clashed and many people were injured and several killed. Berkman-Hunter also painted earlier work that belied “a true Regionalist” style which garnered her the distinction of being “a master at capturing the urban milieu around her” she eventually abandoned this more traditional form of painting. The primary focus of her artistic career became an increased commitment to political activism.
Eventually, an even greater artistic influence on her work would come from under the direction of one of “America's leading abstractionists”, Stuart Davis. During the late 40s Hunter studied with Davis at The New School for Social Research in New York City, an emerging arts center that became renowned as a “home to the "modernist" impulse in painting, dance, politics, social policy and the “arts in general.” It was here that she further developed what would ultimately become her signature style, geometric colorist abstraction, a highly personalized synthesis of cubism, fauvism, and expressionism. This style was comprised of “angular shapes, compressed space, vibrant color and distorted forms” all of which culminate in a highly individualistic modernist style.
As an important first generation female abstractionist she never abandoned the strong commitment to “political activism” found in her early works. To the contrary, much like Davis’, who continually “strived to portray the tempo of American life” in his work, Hunter continued to infuse social commentary in her pieces as well. Her early participation in modernism puts her in the very rare position (along with other first generation luminaries such as Lee Krasner and Hedda Sterne) of being among a handful of female forerunner’s to the mid-century Abstract Expressionist American art movement.
Hunter’s paintings are included in important public and private collections throughout the country and she was a member of many prominent art associations. She also had the distinction of her art be included in the American art exhibition at the 1939 New York World's Fair, an honor bestowed on a select group of artists.
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