Elmer Bischoff; Abandoned Abstract Expressionism for Figurative Art

Elmer Bischoff, a major Northern California figurative artist whose traveling retrospective was widely praised at a major 1986 showing celebrating the reopening of the Laguna Art Museum, has died in Berkeley after a yearlong struggle with cancer.

He was 74 when he died Saturday in Berkeley.

Bischoff first came to public attention after World War II as one of several influential instructors at the California School of Fine Arts, now known as the San Francisco Art Institute. His colleagues included Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt and Hassel Smith.

Bischoff and his colleagues were instrumental in bringing Abstract Expressionism to the West Coast. His work is displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and other museums around the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.


Bischoff was born in Berkeley and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley. During World War II, he served as a major in the intelligence arm of the 8th Army Air Force.

Returning from war, he exchanged the fading allure of abstractionism for a figurative mode that further enhanced his reputation as both artist and educator. At his death he was professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.

Bischoff is survived by his wife, Adelie; five sons, a daughter, two brothers and four granddaughters.