Brush With Life: The Art of Being Edward
Biberman brings alive a remarkable artist’s passionate journey through a turbulent century. Both epic and surprisingly intimate, the film presents a classic American immigrant saga, an inspiring search for artistic independence, and a great romance.
Along the way, Biberman's growing commitment to social justice and struggle against McCarthy-era repression (his brother, director Herbert Biberman, went to prison as one of The Hollywood Ten and directed the Organa title Salt of the Earth) combine with his efforts to create both a loving family life and a groundbreaking body of work. With its grand scope, rich personalities, and vast array of breathtaking artwork, Brush With Life connects us in a deeply personal way to a brilliant artist who lived by the same high standards he set for his paintings.
- Paul Robeson
- Lena Horne
- Frida Kahlo
- Joan Crawford
- Alexander Calder
- Martha Graham
- Dashiell Hammett
- Diego Rivera
- Isamu Noguchi
- Georgia O’Keeffe
- Gale Sondergaard
- Herbert Biberman
- Edward Weston
“More than the story of a man, it is the story of pivotal time. I really enjoyed this film.”
— Doug Liman, director of Swingers and The Bourne Identity
“A fascinating film about a visionary artist whose L.A. paintings were decades ahead of Ed Ruscha and David Hockney, and continue to grow in stature.”
— Ron Shelton, writer and director of Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump
“Edward Biberman was an extraordinary artist, and also much more than that. I was totally captivated by this film.”
— Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History Of The United States
“Both a grand romance and a portrait of a great artist, Brush With Life is a smart, entertaining movie, and a must-see for art lovers.”
— Anne Thompson, Variety
The Life & Career of Edward Biberman
Biberman was born into a prosperous Philadelphia family of Russian Jewish immigrants, and studied economics at the Wharton School. His later studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, followed by three years in Paris, led to his decision to become a full time artist. He lived in New York City from 1929 to 1936, where he came into contact with the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco; thanks to their influence, Biberman became a champion of public murals. In 1930, he was named one of the “46 Under 35” younger artists featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition.
In 1931, he lived for the summer in a Navajo settlement at Monument Valley, where his work focused on both the Navajo people and on their desert surroundings. His experiences there inspired in him a love of the southwestern United States, and he was soon to move there permanently. Following his arrival in Los Angeles in 1936, the city which would inspire some of his best-known work, he won two commissions for murals to decorate the Los Angeles Federal Building. When the building was remodelled in 1965, the murals were removed and placed in storage. Though initially popular for the clean lines and crisp colours of his work, his career never recovered from the blow it received when he, his wife, and other members of his circle were accused of being Communists. Despite these accusations, he lived in Los Angeles for the rest of his life.
Preceding Biberman's move to California, the artist became intrigued by the allure of the Southwest desert. In the early 1930s he acquainted himself with Georgia O’Keeffe and John Marin. Like O’Keeffe, Biberman painters modified realist painting by applying a modernist aesthetic. After moving to Los Angeles, Biberman became an essential part of the mid-century Los Angeles art scene. He often painted the figure as a way of addressing issues of race, immigration, labor, and ensuing social inequality in Los Angeles.
Biberman wrote two books about his paintings, The Best Untold and Time and Circumstance. From 1938 to 1950, he taught at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and lectured widely on art subjects for the University Extension of UCLA. In the 1960s, Biberman hosted television programs on art, including Dialogues in Art from 1967-1968.
Biberman was married for 51 years to Sonja Dahl Biberman (1910–2007), an artist in her own right. His brother, Herbert Biberman, was the screenwriter and director known for having been one of the Hollywood Ten. His great-nephew is Jeremy Strick, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Edward Biberman died of cancer in 1986.
His paintings are now to be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. His life-size portraits of singer Lena Horne and author Dashiell Hammett form part of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. Among his awards are the Lambert Fund Purchase Prize.