(1914 – 2003)
Emerson Woelffer was born in Chicago in 1914 and trained in academic realism as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1935–37. There, Woelffer was exposed to the work of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Wassily Kandinsky and Roberto Matta. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1959, Woelffer brought the ideas and influences of European modernism to an art scene that was disconnected from avant-garde movements in New York and San Francisco. Like many modernists, his aesthetic vocabulary was inspired by surrealist automatism and primitivism which he encountered in the early part of his career. Woelffer said, "the part that I took from surrealism is not the look of the painting but the approach to it—which is entirely automatic. I paint first and think afterwards." He articulated these influences in his work through a recognized vocabulary of forms and symbols that continued to inform his mature paintings.
Woelffer's career was the subject of the 2003 inaugural exhibition at CalArt's Disney Hall gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Titled Emerson Woelffer: A Solo Flight,the exhibition was curated by noted artist and former Woelffer student Ed Ruscha. It includes over fifty works in various media spanning the artist's career and is accompanied by a 64-page catalogue with essay by noted art historian Gerald Nordland.