Bloch on Bloch

Grandson making documentary about artist-grandfather

Sunday, April 7, 2002

When he was growing up in California, Scott Bloch didn't hear or know much about his grandfather. It wasn't until he moved to Lawrence in 1976 that he discovered the art and writings of Albert Bloch and their significance.

Now, a quarter century later, Bloch is making a documentary film about his grandfather, the only American who exhibited with the Blue Rider in the early 1910s in Germany. The Blue Rider was a pre-World War I expressionist group that paved the way for modern art.


Melissa Lacey/Journal-World Photo

Scott Bloch is shown with a painting by his grandfather, Albert Bloch, who was the only American to exhibit with the Blue Rider in Germany. The painting, titled "Winter Sundown," was created in 1954.

"Growing up, there was not a lot of talk of him or of Lawrence. I would hear the occasional anecdote," Scott Bloch said. "When I was 10 or 12, I was at his studio on Alabama Street and I asked him, 'Why do you paint?' My grandfather whipped his head around and said, 'Why do birds sing? I paint because I must.' He was a severe, distant figure when I was growing up."

But over time, Scott Bloch, an attorney, has discovered the artistic and literary genius of his grandfather, who died in 1961. And now he wants to share his story with the rest of the world.

The documentary, directed by Kansas University alumnus Tim DePaepe, will wrap up filming in May and post-production work is expected to be done by the end of June.

The film, which will cost about $100,000 to make, will be entered in film festivals next fall and most likely will have a Lawrence screening.

Discovering his roots

Scott Bloch, 43, was born in New York City, where his father, Walter, was a writer for Broadway and New York television. When he was 3, the family moved to Los Angeles, where his father was a contributing writer for such shows as "Gilligan's Island," "Hawaii Five-O," "Adam Twelve," "Bonanza," Johnny Quest," "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons."

His father changed his last name to Black for professional reasons, so Scott Bloch was known as Scott Black until he was 15.

Scott Bloch surprised his father in 1976 when he announced he was moving to Lawrence to attend KU. His friends were going off to Ivy League schools.

"At the time, I was gong to discover my roots. It made linear sense at the time. Now it makes great poetic sense, but not linear sense," he said, with a smile. "My father had given me a letter of introduction to Anna (his grandfather's second wife). � I showed up at her door one day. She was 65 but she looked 45. I was expecting to see (someone who looked like) a grandmother."

Anna Bloch invited him in, and their relationship grew during the time he was an undergraduate studying English at KU and later when he was a law student there.

"I was afraid of her. She scared me, but she doesn't scare me anymore � I am in awe of her," he said of Anna, who still lives in Lawrence. "I call her the 'Oracle of Alabama Street.' She has wisdom and clarity, and there's a beauty to her. She was a real support to Albert Bloch, and some of his wisdom and perception flows through her.

"She introduced me to him � to the man, the artist, the poet, to my grandfather Albert Bloch. He was a compassionate man, but he didn't try to hide his crusty side either."

One day, Anna showed up at Scott's home with one of his grandfather's oil paintings and presented it to him. The painting, "Winter Sundown 1954," has a spiritual sense and shows a man, woman and baby in a scene that resembles Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus' flight from Egypt. When Anna dies, he will take ownership of his favorite painting, "Summer Night 2," which was painted in 1935.

His grandfather's artistic style has grown on him as he's matured.

"I'm drawn to his sense of the unseen world," Scott Bloch said. "He depicts things in his paintings that we all know exist � the joys and the sorrows, the great movements of history, war and famine, humor, mystery, suffering, injustices � and makes them visible. These are invisible things that seem to be hidden from us until we see them through art, poetry, spiritual media or prayer.

"There's an other-worldliness and a deep mystery (to his paintings) that I can't get to the bottom of. With Albert Bloch you keep wanting to come back and that's come out in the interviews done for the documentary."

A 'challenging' story

Scott Bloch, his wife and six children moved last weekend to Washington, D.C., where he works with the Bush administration's Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He is also a founder of the Albert Bloch Foundation, which works to perpetuate the artistic and literary works of his grandfather, and Templeton Productions, the fund-raising arm for the documentary.

Because of the move, he has taken on the role of executive producer of the documentary while DePaepe is finishing the filming and post-production work.

DePaepe said he didn't know anything about Albert Bloch before his involvement in the film, although he minored in art history at KU. Scott Bloch approached him about making the film, and he became even more intrigued after meeting Anna.

"It's a very challenging story," said DePaepe, who is best known for his award-winning documentary "Shades of Gray" and will be moving in July to Los Angeles. "It's not going to be a pedantic Ken Burns-ish film � no offense to people who like Ken Burns. � It's about the process of looking at painting and the process of painting.

"In many ways, it's a mystery story. It unravels the mysteries of Albert Bloch. Why did he live in Lawrence and paint? � If you read Bloch's writing, he had no patience for art historians or academicians. He liked painting and ideas. Painting was the way he expressed his ideas. He had no time or patience with other painters (of his day), like Thomas Hart Benton or John Steuart Curry."

He also would not have much patience with filmmakers focusing on his life and work.

"If I were to see my grandfather today, I would ask him to forgive me for making the film because � he was not about promoting himself," Scott Bloch said. "He would say that I was trying to undo everything (he had done).

"(If I were to meet him), I would ask him did he ever feel that he fulfilled his purpose as an artist. He didn't talk about that a lot. He left that open for others to determine. Ultimately, art is not about whether people recognize you or not. He successfully achieved a vision for himself."

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