The Moralists (alternate title, Kultur Bolshevismus), 1937, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, signed and dated lower right; Exhibited: 1) 10th Annual Exhibition of Southern California Art, at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, from June 10 – September 5, 1938 (partial label verso); 2) Exhibition of Work by California Artists – Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, California, from May 25 through September 29, 1940 (label verso and listed in catalog); 3) National Art Week Exhibition, in Escondido, California, November, 1941 (second place – oil section); and 4) Early Modern Paintings by California Artists, at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach California, October, 1964, Cat. No. 20 (label verso – with Title (Kulture Bolshevismus and The Moralists), Medium, Price/Insurance value ($1000), Artist and Lender (Sander Gallery, 7459 La Jolla Blvd., La Jolla, California), traveled to the Union Building, Salt Lake City, Utah; Literature: 1) Artists Awards Made at Art Week Opening, Daily Times-Advocate (Escondido, California), November 17, 1941, Vol XXX, Number 74, p. 1 and November 21, 1941, p. 4 (in each case, noting the awarding of the second place prize); and 2) Ewalt, Mary, Early Modern Paintings by California Artists, Art Forum, February, 1964, (“Fred Hocks ‘Kultur Bolshevisimus’ has the mechanized rhythm of Orozco but on a much smaller scale.”)
About the Painting
Fred Hocks’ The Moralists is a powerful and award-winning depiction of the Spanish Civil War. On July 19, 1936, a group of reactionary military leaders led by Francisco Franco launched an insurrection against the democratically elected government of Spain. The resulting conflict, which lasted until 1939, divided the world and served as a precursor to World War II. From the start of the conflict, Germany and Italy sided with the rebels while Russia supported the Spanish government. As arms and troops poured into Spain from these European rivals, the United States, following the lead of Britain and France, attempted to remain neutral. The Roosevelt administration announced a “moral embargo” which encouraged US companies and citizens to refrain from selling arms to the warring factions or engaging in the fighting. Hocks’ title, The Moralists, likely refers to the supporters of the US isolationist policy towards Spain. Hock’s composition is dominated by a central figure who stands between the warring armies with his arms outstretched. What exactly the central figure is doing is ambiguous. At first glance, he appears to be separating the combatants, but upon closer examination, it looks like the figure himself if throwing a grenade, perhaps suggesting that the policy of neutrality is anything but. Corpses lay at the feet of the protagonist while faceless soldiers grapple in the background and cannons bristle against a glowing and smokey sky. Despite the “moral embargo,” the violence and death continued unabated. From a formal point of view, Hocks adopts an expressionist vocabulary and palette, and draws heavily in the Mexican muralists for inspiration. Writing in the Art Forum, Mary Ewalt commented, the painting “has a mechanized rhythm of Orozco, but on a much smaller scale.” Hocks’ figures are simplified and universal. The central character is outlined heavily in dark pigments, while the background figures are scratched (almost sculpted) into the surface of the still wet blocks of paint, each separated from the next by thin lines where the canvas is exposed. Hocks portrays most of the soldiers as faceless automatons whose weapons are mere extensions of their bodies reflecting the highly mechanized nature of the killing and presaging the horror that would follow over most of the following decade as millions would lose their individual identities, their humanity and their lives.
About the Artist
Ferdinand (“Fred”) Hocks was one of San Diego’s premiere modernist painters and print makers. Born in Aachen, Germany, in 1886, Hocks was descended from Dutch nobility. He immigrated to San Francisco at the age of 16 and studied under Arthur Matthews at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute, and after the 1906 earthquake, at the Art Students League in New York. By 1919, Hocks had moved to Los Angeles before relocating to San Diego around 1924. He served as director of the Los Angeles Art Institute’s summer program and the San Diego School of Arts & Crafts, and he also taught at the Coronado School of Fine Arts. In the 1930s, he worked on WPA art projects, and in the 1940s, he was a driving force in the creation of the Allied Art Council of San Diego. Hocks was a tireless arts booster in San Diego. Orren R. Louden in his Pallette Chatter column for the November 21, 1947, edition of the National City Star-News noted, “Fred Hocks, well known and highly thought of in national art circles . . . . has done more for the development of art and culture in San Diego than any other artist or group of artists or art lovers in San Diego.” Hocks exhibited at the Berkley League of Fine Art, the San Diego Fine Art Gallery, the Golden Gate International Exhibition, the California State Fair, the Laguna Beach Art Gallery, the Art Center of La Jolla, the Long Beach Museum of Art, Pasadena Art Museum, and the San Diego Art Museum. He won several prizes, including at the Laguna Beach Art Association (1938 - 2nd honorable mention for Whatever Gods There Be), National Arts Week Exhibition of Escondido, California (1941 – 2nd prize – oil section), San Diego Fine Arts Gallery (1946 - 1st prize for F-H-8), and the California State Fair (1947 – 2nd prize). His early works are rare because many of them were destroyed in a fire in the 1940s at his Sweetwater Valley studio. He is listed in Who was Who in American Art and other standard references.