Late Lawrence artist Albert Bloch to be featured at film fest in documentary created by grandson

photo by: Contributed photo

This 1911 photo of Albert Bloch was taken in Munich, Germany, where he was part of "The Blue Rider," a pioneering art movement of the early 20th century.

Albert Bloch was an enigma to many people, including his grandson Scott, who has spent two decades unraveling the mystery of Bloch’s life.

Some answers are revealed in the documentary film “AB,” which are Albert Bloch’s initials. Scott Bloch wrote and produced the film, which will be screened during this weekend’s Kansas City FilmFest International in Kansas City, Mo.

An artist, poet and professor at the University of Kansas, Albert Bloch was the only American in a pioneering German Expressionist art movement known as Der Blaue Reiter, or The Blue Rider. The pre-World War I group helped pave the way for modern art and included Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Gabriele Münter, who rose to international acclaim.

Albert Bloch’s paintings were part of numerous exhibitions in Germany and around Europe in the 1910s. Originally from St. Louis, Mo., he returned to America after World War I and joined KU’s art faculty in Lawrence, where he lived a quiet life.

“All the other guys became rock stars,” said Scott, an attorney who lives in McLean, Va. “Why did he disappear from the art world into his attic to paint and teach at KU? What motivated him?”

The documentary looks at Albert Bloch’s life through his art, writing, photographs and home movies shot with Super 8 film.

photo by: Mike Yoder

“Spring Night,” 1934-37, by Albert Bloch

Through the research, Scott got to know his grandfather and his brush with fame. Now 60, Scott grew up on the East and West coasts and only met his grandfather, who died in 1961, once. Prior to the research, he knew only what he was told by his father, Walter Bloch.

The film also includes interviews with Albert Bloch’s widow, Anna, who was Scott’s stepgrandmother, with whom he established a relationship when he was a student at the University of Kansas in the mid-1970s.

“For me, she was the window into Albert Bloch,” Scott said. It took a lot of convincing to get Anna to agree to be interviewed in the film. She knew Albert, who did not seek attention, would not have approved of the film. But she knew his story needed to be told, and she told it before dying in 2014.

Artist and University of Kansas professor Albert Bloch is pictured in his Lawrence studio in 1958.

“I have a good film and powerful message, and it is artfully done,” Scott said. It includes interviews with art historian Rose-Carol Washton Long, a scholar of The Blue Rider movement; David Raskin, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago; and Randall Griffey, curator of modern art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

What Scott discovered through exploring his grandfather’s life was a profound lesson about staying true to one’s own vision and not getting distracted.

Life in Lawrence gave Albert Bloch “a perch from which he could paint, draw and write. He could do that without being disturbed,” Scott said.

photo by: Mike Yoder

“Arabesque: Masked Motley,” 1955, by Albert Bloch

Albert Bloch’s priority was the pure pursuit of his art, and for him that meant avoiding the time-consuming rat race of self-promotion and fame-seeking.

“He didn’t want it; he violently fled from it,” Scott said.

The film “AB” is directed by Tim De Paepe, a cinematographer and writer from Kansas City, Mo. It will be shown at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Cinemark Palace at the Plaza, 526 Nichols Road, in Kansas City, Mo. A panel discussion will follow the screening. To see the trailer and buy tickets, go to kcfilmfest.org/film-screening/ab/

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