Jan 082015
 

Alexander Nicolas (“Nick”) Muzenic was born 25 September 1919 in Kansas, and died in Los Angeles 12 March 1976. His first names are variously listed as Nicolas, Nikolas, A. Nicolas or simply Nick.

He lived and worked in Ajijic for about three years, from 1948 to 1951.

Apparently of Croatian background, his early education is unclear, though his death notice in the Kansas City Times suggests that he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s. He served in the US Navy from a year, from 22 June 1944 to 23 May 1945, and afterwards studied at Black Mountain College.

Black Mountain College was a liberal arts college in North Carolina, where faculty members at one time or another included such luminaries as Josef Albers and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller and Aaron Siskind.

Portrait of Nick Muzenik by Hazel Larsen Archer, fellow student at Black Mountain College

Portrait of Nick Muzenik by Hazel Larsen Archer, fellow student at Black Mountain College

This portrait of him, in his time at Black Mountain College, was taken by Hazel Larsen Archer, a fellow student.

In 1946, one of Muzenic’s paintings, “Introspection”, was included in an exhibit for a Children’s Fair at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

After college, Muzenic’s first solo exhibition was at the American British Art Center in New York. This show, which opened on 6 January 1948, featured at least 24 works; the introduction to the catalog was written by Anni Albers. Later that year, the same collection was hung in Chicago. According to The New Yorker, this was “A first one-man show of abstractions that indicate a perceptive sense of color and pattern.”

We known more about Muzenic’s next few years, when he moved to Mexico and lived in Ajijic for at least two years, from about 1948 to 1950. During that time, he was employed, along with Tobias Schneebaum and Ernesto Butterlin, by Irma Jonas to teach students attending her summer painting schools in Ajijic.

According to Schneebaum, an ill-fated love triangle developed between the three artists at this time, complicated by the arrival of “haughty and radiantly beautiful” Zoe, the “fourth member of our group”, who had previously been living with Henry Miller in Big Sur.

Schneebaum, who shared a house with Muzenic for part of his time in Ajijic, described Muzenic as tall, “cold, haughty and grand.” As for his paintings, “Nicolas’s paintings were as tight, involuted and hard-edged as his body, and were somber with browns and dirtied yellows, unlike the clarity, brilliance and simplicity of his teacher.” (Schneebaum, Wild Man 13). The teacher Schneebaum is referring to is Josef Albers. In his Secret Places, Schneebaum recalls that Muzenic “had been a student of Josef Albers at Black Mountain College. Albers himself arrived one afternoon, accompanied by his wife, Anni. They spent a couple of nights in Ajijic.” (Secret Places, 7)

According to Schneebaum, Ernesto Butterlin (aka Lin) and Muzenic had “a frenzied, volcanic affair that lasted two years.” “Lynn’s casual ways bewitched and irritated Nicolas, just as Nicolas’s arrogant, snobbish manner attracted and mortified Lynn. Nicolas moved into Lynn’s house.” Muzenic eventually bought the property and forced Lynn to move out. (Wild Man 13)

The fact that Muzenic held another solo exhibition in Mexico City in September 1953, suggests that he may have remained a resident of Ajijic into the early 1950s. The 1953 show was at the Galería de San Ángel, in the southern part of the city.

After Muzenic left Ajijic, he became an interior designer and worked for many years with the Welton-Beckett architectural firm in Los Angeles. Schneebaum says that Muzenic “lived alone in Los Angeles, rich, isolated, and introspective.” (Wild Man, 18). A few days after losing his job, he was found dead in his own home.

Sources:

  • Tobias Schneebaum. Wild Man (1979)
  • Tobias Schneebaum. Secret places: my life in New York and New Guinea (2000)

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