Hans Burkhardt Biography

Hans Burkhardt




Hans Gustav Burkhard was born in Basel, Switzerland on December 20, 1904. A painter and printmaker, Burkhardt’s artistic pursuits began when he immigrated to America at the age of 20. While working at a furniture factory, he took night classes at Cooper Union, entering competitions for decoration and painting. In 1927 he enrolled full time at Grand Central Station School of Art, a pivotal move for the young artist as he began studying under Arshille Gorky. Gorky would become his long-time friend and mentor.

With the help of artist Lorser Feitelson, Burkhardt held his first solo show in 1939, at the Stendhal Gallery in Los Angeles. He would remain on the West Coast for the most part, and as a result would become isolated from the East Coast and European art worlds. The focus of much of his ensuing work was on political strife, in particular the Spanish Civil War, to some controversy. However, the themes of war, death, loss, and grief continued throughout his career.

Burkhart first visited Mexico in 1950, and spent the next decade living half of the year in and around Guadalajara. Strongly influenced by Mexican attitudes towards the dead, and by the country’s colors, sensuality, and spiritual qualities, Burkhardt “painted the soul of Mexico” with Mexican themes and colors—especially those of burials and ceremonies surrounding death—permeating his abstract work. Art critics of the time considered him a "great Mexican master” alongside Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Tamayo.

Burkhardt began teaching at California State University at Long Beach, in 1958. From there he held regular teaching positions at USC, UCLA, the Otis College of Art and Design, and California State University at Northridge. He also continued to develop and show his work, which now often involved assemblages, to much acclaim.

In the 1970s Burkhardt continued his anti-war paintings—incorporating protruding wooden spikes into the canvas—while simultaneously painting abstractions of merging lovers and cityscapes during his summer visits to Basel. His “Small Print” (protesting smoking), “Graffiti,” and “Northridge” series demonstrate the evolution of his symbolism, and his “Desert Storms” series, in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, was discussed by critic Peter Selz at a presentation at the International Congress of Art Critics Conference.

Hans Burkhardt died in Los Angeles on April 22, 1994.

His work appears in the collections of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; the British Museum, London; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Kunstmuseum, Basel; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; and the Portland Museum of Art, Oregon.