The work of Bernard Childs spans almost four decades. It truly begins after Childs returned from World War II, having spent three years in the Navy aboard a destroyer escort in the South Pacific and having been in hospitals twice thereafter. Years later, he reflected: “I did not get back to the world until October 1948. But those five years were invaluable. They gave me back to myself.” Childs belonged to a generation whose contact with war forever meant a finite break with the world previously known, or the life that had come with it. By the 1950s, when Childs matured as an artist, he was eager to carve out his vision without time or patience left for compromises.

To view Childs’ works from the 1950s through the early 1980s means to move through chapters. In many ways he remained most comfortable out in the world, without permanent geographical ties. Much of his visual vocabulary, ranging from abstract and mythically veiled to figurative, is rooted in his travels. In 1951, he headed for Europe, first to Italy, then, settling in Paris. The paintings of the 1950s, such as Le Forêt {sic}, (1953) reveal his search for atmospheric light, perhaps a reflection of the distinct changes between the seasons. In part, they also speak of the more subtle transitions between natural and urban landscapes that he encountered in Europe versus the stark contrasts in New York. By the late 1950s, by then middle aged, Childs had reached critical acclaim. The decade culminated with a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1959). In the early 1960s, Childs was invited to exhibit in Japan. In the course of six months, he had two Tokyo gallery exhibitions. While there he began to experiment with a variety of unexpected materials. In the following years, he often employed sand, carborundum, and even brick dust to create texture. Structurally, works, such as Carmen (1962), evolve around geometric shapes that from a distance read as graphically flat, but upon close inspection feature heavy impasto. His unique sense of layering, compositionally but also intellectually, makes for faceted discoveries. His works are meant to be observed from afar, as well as up close; they can be taken in as a whole or studied section by section.

Bernard Childs (1910-1985),  Matrix of the Dragonfly , 1977, Oil, metal, and graphite on linen, 18 1/4 x 21 5/8 inches, 46.4 x 54.9 cm

Bernard Childs (1910-1985), Matrix of the Dragonfly, 1977, Oil, metal, and graphite on linen, 18 1/4 x 21 5/8 inches, 46.4 x 54.9 cm

Though commuting between studios in both Europe and the U.S. from 1966 - 1977, after a stroke in 1978 Childs settled in New York for good. His last paintings are characterized by simplified shapes, which tell of his lifelong exploration of unusual formal and color relationships. Only a few years before his death, Childs created his only self-portrait (1982). Instead of looking directly at the viewer, we find him gazing over his right shoulder. It instills the impression of a man who is confident in the journey he pursued. This image goes well with a reflection Childs offered towards the end of his life: “If I belong to any school, it is the one of the peripatetics, which I have come to call “the school of displacement.” It is not a way of looking for one’s self. It is the process of becoming oneself.”

Bernard Childs’ work is held in numerous public and private collections, including the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York; Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Portrait Gallery, Stockholm; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; Princeton University Museum of Art, Princeton; San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown; The Jane Voorhes Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, New Brunswick, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others.

Jason McCoy Gallery is pleased to represent the Estate of Bernard Childs.

Bernard Childs painting in his studio in the Chelsea Hotel, New York.