Happy Birthday to Emerson Woelffer!

July 27, 2017

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is thrilled to announce our participation in “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.” As part of the Getty led initiative, LAMA will present a selection of works by Emerson Woelffer from his time living and working in the Yucatán.

Woelffer was born on this day in 1914 and in honor of his birthday, and to celebrate the forthcoming exhibition, LAMA invites you to read further on one of Southern California’s most influential artists and educators.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions

Portrait of Emerson Woelffer by Dina Woelffer

One of California’s most prominent abstract expressionist painters, Emerson Woelffer (1914–2003) was an influential teacher whose work impacted several generations of contemporary artists. Woelffer taught at some of the most renowned art institutions in the country including Black Mountain College in 1949 (at the invitation of Buckminster Fuller), California Institute of the Arts in Valencia from 1969–1973, where he mentored Joe Goode, Llyn Foulkes and Ed Ruscha, and at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where he spent the majority of his career, from 1974–1989. Woelffer’s teaching proved formative for the young artists and Ruscha went on to curate an exhibition in honor of his teacher: Emerson Woelffer: A Solo Flight at the Roy and Edna Disney / CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in 2003.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled, Emerson Woelffer, c. 1949-1950
Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Woelffer is known for his distinctive aesthetic, combining vivid color and boldly-delineated abstract forms against flat, solid backgrounds, which he honed during the post-war era, after his studies in Education at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1935–1937 and his time at the WPA Arts Program in 1938. Woelffer was associated with some of the leading artists of his time befriending Robert Motherwell during a residency at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 1954, where they bonded over a shared interest in jazz, avant-garde literature and African art. His unique style, which was equal parts expressive and analytical, was always closely connected to his immediate surroundings; his paintings began employing a brighter palette on his move to California and were also informed by his travels in Mexico and Italy, where he developed his use of single, vigorous brushstrokes. He experimented with form throughout his career, incorporating everyday materials like paper and glue into a series of abstract collages in the 1970s and 1980s.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled, Emerson Woelffer, 1950
Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

The works are being sold to benefit the Scholarship Fund of Otis College of Art and Design as part of LAMA and the Otis College of Art and Design’s continuing partnership. The sale of works by the artist will directly benefit the cause Woelffer dedicated his life to: arts education.

The Scholarship Fund of Otis College of Art and Design provides vital scholarship funding to many Otis College students who are promising young artists and designers who would be unable to complete their education without this support. Established in 1918, Otis College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide variety of visual and applied arts, media, and design. Core programs in liberal arts, business practices, and community-driven projects support the College’s mission to prepare diverse students to enrich our world through their creativity, skill, and vision. As Los Angeles’ first professional art school, visionary alumni and faculty include MacArthur and Guggenheim grant recipients, Oscar awardees, and design stars at Apple, Anthropologie, Pixar, Mattel, and more. The renowned Creative Action program has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for Community Engagement, and the Otis Report on the Creative Economy is a powerful advocacy tool for creative industries. The College serves the Greater Los Angeles Area through compelling public programming, as well as year-round Continuing Education courses for all ages. More information is available at

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Woelffer’s work can be found in several prominent collections including Los Angeles County Museum of Art; MOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles; Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena; Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.

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