When Dan Lutz arrived in Los Angeles in 1932 to study and teach at the University of Southern California, a regional brand of American Scene painting dominated the art scene. Lutz’s work of the 1930s reflected the themes of the American Scene in that he made urban and rural landscapes, but they were poetic and experimental rather than descriptive, filled with emotional intensity and pathos. Lutz frequented Fletcher Martin’s studio to draw, discuss art theory and politics. Other close friends were Phil Dike, Merrill Gage, and Barse Miller.
Born in Decatur, Illinois, Lutz had studied from 1928 to 1931 under Boris Anisfeld and John Norton at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1931, he won the James Nelson Raymond Traveling Fellowship enabling him to study and travel in Europe. Lutz also attended the American Conservatory of Music. Partially deaf, he was unable to pursue a professional musical career as a bassoonist but maintained an interest in music, especially jazz and American devotional music.
Beginning in the late 1930s, Lutz became nationally known for his Spiritual series–potent, gestural works based on gospel music. Using a palette knife and color straight from the tube, he established a combination of colors (sometimes neon) that abstractly conveyed the emotional tempo of the musical pieces to create imaginative, highly charged scenes. In the mid-1940s, Lutz, a sensitive introvert subject to emotional breakdowns, lost his impetus for continuing the series and concentrated on studies of figurative groups with classical references.