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, Nicholas, Nikolas, A. Nicolas or simply Nick.
He lived and worked in Ajijic for about three years, from 1948 to 1951.
Muzenic, of Austro-Croatian background, graduated from the University of Kansas at the age of 19 before studying on a scholarship at the Art Center School of Los Angeles. After serving in the US Navy for a year, from 22 June 1944 to 23 May 1945, he continued his art education at Black Mountain College.
Black Mountain College was a liberal arts college in North Carolina; its 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.
This portrait of him, in his time at Black Mountain College, was taken by Hazel Larsen Archer, a fellow student.
In November 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 know 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)
Muzenic’s work was included in two group shows in 1949. The first, in March at the State Museum in Guadalajara featured works by the four artists of “the Ajijic group (Muzenic, Louise Gauthiers, Ernesto Linares and Tobias Schneebaum), along with works by Guadalajara-based abstract-surrealist artist, Alfredo Navarro España. The second exhibit – at the Villa Montecarlo in August 1949, and billed as the “4th Annual Painting Exhibition” – showcased works by Muzenic, Tobias Schneebaum, Alfredo Navarro España, Shirley Wurtzel, Ann Woolfolk and Mel Schuler.
Muzenic held a solo exhibition in Mexico City in September 1953, suggesting that he may well have remained a resident of Ajijic into the early 1950s. This show was at the Galería San Ángel (Dr. Galvez 23), in the southern part of the city. He was scheduled to have his fourth solo show at the Santa Barbara Museum in November 1953. By this time examples of his paintings were already in various prestigious private collections, including those of Fred Olsen, Henry P. McIlhenny, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., and Mrs Huttleston Rogers.
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.
- Tobias Schneebaum. Wild Man (1979)
- Galeria San Angel. Catalogue for Muzenic exhibit, 1953.
- Tobias Schneebaum. Secret places: my life in New York and New Guinea (2000)
Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.