Norman Bluhm painted Bear Trail at a seminal moment in his long and distinguished career. In 1956 the artist moved from Paris to New York where he began to develop what would become his distinctive style. He moved away from the Cézanne-like landscape painting that he explored at the beginning of his career, to allover abstraction, and in so doing cemented his status as a classic American Abstract Expressionist painter.
Bear Trail typifies Bluhm's style in the late 1950s. The painting is a beautiful balance of warm and cool, light and dark, a dynamic composition that pulses with energy and light. It was executed with Bluhm's method of painting "light to dark," in that the first colors put on the canvas are the brightest, followed by darker tones. The result is a canvas that appears to be lit from behind, with its vibrant oranges, yellows and greens shining through the the darker passages, like dappled light shining through a canopy of leaves. The color effects of the painting give it a serene, prismatic quality that is belied by the energy which emanates from the powerful brushstrokes that traverse the canvas. While Bluhm was a brilliant colorist, he was also a masterful action painter, as evidenced by the manner in which the color is flung and splattered on to the canvas with a controlled velocity that is both immediate and deliberate. Bear Trail is a masterwork created at a key moment in Bluhm's career that demonstrates his sublime ability to create abstract compositions that are subtle and delicate, explosive and bold.