Epilogue: Michael West’s Monochrome Climax

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Poetry Michael West’s The Action Paintings Monochrome Climax of Michael West



Michael West’s Monochrome Climax April 29–May 31, 2021

Essay by Ellen G. Landau


Michael West in her summer rental, Stonington, Connecticut, 1955. Photograph by Francis Lee. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives


Epilogue: Michael West’s Monochrome Climax brings together Michael (Corinne) West’s iconic black-and-white paintings, a series which spans the late 1940s through the early 1980s. A student of Hans Hofmann and a colleague and friend of Arshile Gorky and Richard Pousette-Dart, West forged her career as a first-generation Abstract Expressionist and an independent force in a male-dominated art world. Like her contemporaries Lee Krasner and Grace Hartigan, West changed her name to circumvent prejudice, personally and professionally using Michael rather than her given name Corinne. While West created many colorful compositions, her devotion to exploring the potency of a reductive palette as a means for investigating the expressive dynamics of space and the explosive energy of the brush mark is a hallmark of her artistic practice. In her thoughtful essay for this catalogue, Dr. Ellen G. Landau illuminates the sources of West’s interest in monochrome. These include the appeal of the black-and-white palette among the famous male artists of the period including Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline. The mode was rich in both Eastern and Western references, from Chinese calligraphy and Zen Buddhism to Picasso’s 1937 masterpiece Guernica. West’s fascination with black and white reveals her ambition to engage with modernism’s foremost trends and to stake her own footing alongside the masters. For their contributions to organizing this exhibition, we are grateful to Michael Borghi for his collaboration and to Dr. Landau for her scholarship on Michael West. We would also like to thank Kara Spellman for her hard work on the production of the catalogue and exhibition. Finally, we acknowledge the generosity of the lenders who made available works from their personal collections. We are thrilled to present a comprehensive overview of West’s littleknown but historically important investigations into the power of black and white. Hollis C. Taggart Jillian Russo 5

Fig. 1 Michael West in her studio with Black and White (1947), 1947. Photograph by Francis Lee. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives

Fig. 2 Juan Gris, Still Life with Guitar, 1912–13

Ellen G. Landau


Michael West’s Monochrome Climax To this day, I would rather look at Black & White—than anything else. —Michael West, “Notes on Painting,” December 1981

Amongst the multitude of “Notes on Art” painter Michael West recorded throughout her still relatively unknown, but nevertheless astonishingly productive half-century artistic career, the above statement provides an essential clue to interpretation of her life-long urge toward visual creativity (fig. 1). Recently uncovered amongst thousands of extant pages of archival material, this notation indicates that, ten years before her death at age 83, West obviously felt compelled to reiterate a continuing aesthetic preference. Her predilection features amid myriad other ruminations West set down concerning the influences and experiences of her artistic journey. This had initiated in 1936 with a private tutorial on modernism (while not excluding the generative impact of the Old Masters) achieved through haunting New York’s museums and galleries almost daily. These jaunts were accompanied by endless conversations on art West enjoyed during a two-year period of intense friendship with the charismatic pioneer Abstract Expressionist, Arshile Gorky. Gorky, whose highly valued works of that time period West would always describe as “the real influence of my life,” has been widely recognized as a key link between European advances and burgeoning American avant-garde development. In her 1981 “Note,” when West declared an ongoing preference for monochrome—used as a synonym in this essay for black and white—it was actually in the context of recalling her own passion of the early 1940s for Cubism, inculcated by their association.1 For her, the Analytic works by Spaniard Juan Gris were preferred over Gorky’s obsession with Pablo Picasso (fig. 2).2 In one of two known dramatic 1947 portraits, her then-husband, photographer and war cinematographer Francis Lee, captured West with cigarette and brushes, standing alongside an unmistakably Gris-influenced painting. Elsewhere, however, West admits her continuing preference for achromatic opposition had actually originated through


8 Fig. 3 Arshile Gorky in his studio at 36 Union Square East, New York, 1933. Photograph by Alexander Sandow

infatuation with Gorky’s 1930s series, Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia, along with black-andwhite drawings from which he poses in a famous visual document (fig. 3). The “jump” these particular works caused away from her conservative Ohio artistic training, West would explain, “was not too much for me—but I have spent the rest of my life proving it.” 3 According to another recollection, inscribed behind the photo of a similar canvas to the one seen in Lee’s 1947 image (fig. 4), the influential art critic Clement Greenberg, visiting West’s studio around that period, had commented approvingly about her first series in black and white. These two photographs and an extant (also 1947) drawing provide some evidence as to what their components looked like, observable in the more finished works as a decorative mixture of geometric, sometimes arrow-like shapes, accented by scrolls, curlicues, or small bubbles. All are overlaid onto a grid or grill-like underlying structure. When another painter Richard Pousette-Dart, also destined to play a role in West’s artistic education, came to see these matching works as well, he had observed to her, “You’re not interested in color,” further advising West she should “get rid of Gris.”4 Her immediate response, “I can’t—they inspire me,” would soon be discounted, although not forgotten as we shall see. In the short term, Pousette-Dart’s recommended shift led to West’s return to a more varied palette like she had been taught at the Art Students League during the earlier 1930s. Raphael Soyer, one of her instructors during a brief stint there, had deemed West’s use of color “brilliant” and “strategic” at that nascent point. A greater emphasis on black and white would not resurface again in West’s output until around the middle of the 1950s.5 While many of her works from roughly 1946 to 1950 (incorporating an admittedly direct reaction to Jackson Pollock’s pre-drip style) also are known only through archival photos, an existing oil of 1947 gives some idea of the type of color scheme she chose. Untitled, a stylistic mixture of her Gris infatuation with Pollock’s allover early forties biomorphic mode, is chiefly limited to black markings on a pale blue tinted, barely visible whitened ground. A more binary emphasis is modulated by West’s addition of brighter accents in shades of cobalt blue (pl. 1).6 Perhaps more to the point of prefiguring the 1960s through early eighties works now being featured together at Hollis Taggart for the first time in a long while or perhaps ever, in another small, also Untitled painting done in 1948, West introduced a vertically centralized black mass superimposed over a multi-colored under-layer of both biomorphic and more

Fig. 4 Michael West, Black and White, 1947. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives Fig. 5 Michael West, Nihilism, 1949. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 53 1/8 × 40 1/4 inches. Collection of Christian Levett, Florence, Italy

skein-like Pollock-inspired shapes (pl. 2). That same year, in Blinding Light, and later in Dagger of Light (1951), West would overlay blood red, off-white and/or aluminum paint to create “atomic” bursts destructive of her own semi-buried repetition of Pollock’s well-known manner. In Untitled (1948) West superimposed instead a centralized black area, enlivened by patches of maroon plus off-white accents around its perimeter, blotting out more variegated colors on a sunny yellow field. Such a combination brings this painting closer to—but renders it more opaque in form and meaning—than a fourth related work, Nihilism, completed the following year (fig. 5). The upright mass of black in Untitled (1948) alters the dynamic from those three other pictures and, though quite possibly done first, seems in retrospect to nuance their context, one West ascribed to her “cosmic” reaction toward the hydrogen blasts in Japan that ended World War II. If not in its dimensions, Untitled (1948) more specifically relates in mood— she had written in a poem the year before about “the black space of possibilities”—as well as prefiguring palette, and other compositional choices to come.7 West would observe in a “Note” of March 1951, “The future of art lies in color—but am personally interested in an affect [sic] of dark and light—the color explains the space—the more complicated the space the simpler the color.” While she probably meant “effect” but spelled it incorrectly, “affect” expresses the more active definition of change; “effect” would denote more passively its consequence. Elsewhere, she invoked what, to her, always seemed the “hypnotic” quality of light and shade.8 One of the most important (after) effects of West’s initial training with Gorky became her enduring adherence to his vision of the work of art, in the estimation of critic Harold Rosenberg, as a “reanimation” affecting existing examples, a concept applying both to constantly rethinking one’s own oeuvre and the paradigms of others.9 In his openness to the latter, Rosenberg states,


Gorky passed well beyond a stage of early mimicry to construct a “poetry of allusion,” entering so deeply into the ideas of his models they eventually “became part of himself.”10 When really looking closely at his and others’ art, that what she understood in it could be re-purposed like “letters of an alphabet” to compose her own visual “words, sentences and poems,” was a lesson for West from Gorky remaining critical throughout her career.11 This literary metaphor, expressed so well by Gorky’s first biographer, appears especially relevant in now studying West. Her rediscovered papers disclose an extensive body of poetry composed during a ten-year period beginning in 1942, an alternate but, in her case, very much related form of expressivity. Indeed, in at least one later instance, Generations of 1974 discussed below, she would describe as her artistic goal crafting a “poem” in paint.12 By the 1950s, an exciting time for New York School artistic progression, such educated receptivity would help enable West to recharge and re-set the linkage of her own creative impulse from tentative simulation of admired mentors and peers on a relatively modest scale, to a deeper, more established relationship with current philosophical ideas, specifically existentialism, and new, both American and European stylistic trends favoring greater physical dimension. Her concentration on monochrome effects, especially on the role of black set against an ivory or white background and often incorporating brilliant white accents, when taken in concert with her endorsement of gestural Abstract Expressionism’s key innovation— the conversion of drawing’s directness into a primary painting tenet—was to play a significant role. Comparison of Untitled (1948), with the larger, more vigorously painted 1959 canvas she unpretentiously called a Still Life (fig. 6), encapsulates in every dynamic—material as well as aesthetic—just how far West had come. It proves, moreover, how closely her interests now allied with the notable trend Rosenberg identified as “Action Painting.”13 As West’s works of that era, characterized by her in 1977 as “Action Constructions,” increased in their proportions, she began more often to veer away from the lingering “Lyrical


Fig. 6 Michael West, Still Life, 1957. Oil on canvas, 35 × 49 inches. Collection of Rick Friedman and Cindy Lou Wakefield, Southampton, N.Y. Fig. 7 Michael West, La Voir—After Juan Gris, 1956. Oil on canvas, 65 7/8 × 38 1/2 inches. Collection of Keith Jantzen and Scott Beth

Cubist” inspiration occasionally still referenced, as seen in La Voir—After Juan Gris painted in 1956 (fig. 7). Despite the acknowledged influence of its title and its signature-designated verticality, the forms of La Voir appear an outgrowth of abstracted still life or landscape studies expressed through linear elements in black interspersed with brushed and scribbled color. During 1955 and 1956, working at her and her husband’s Connecticut retreat where La Voir may have been painted, West was apparently at least still partially following a method described in her “Notes,” one she would soon more firmly discard. “A matter of reason,” she wrote circa 1951–52, “My pictures are painted step by step—Black—White then Color. First drawing . . . I think about it for several days—before beginning to execute.”14 Pre-figurations of the ideographic language obvious in certain later works of the current exhibition, as well as echoes of her initial Gris-inspired black and whites, are evident in sketches documented in West’s mid-1950s Stonington, Connecticut studio (fig. 8). A similar, but doubled drawing (fig. 9), was previously on the verso of Dynamic Forces of the Universe, an enamel on Oak Tag composition of 1970 (pl. 16).15 This drawing’s repeated configuration of


12 Fig. 8 Michael West in her summer rental, Stonington, Connecticut, 1955. Photograph by Francis Lee. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives

verticals, flanking a cross placed inside a circle, reappears throughout West’s work. While less prominent in the overall composition, that same precise alignment whose meaning to her remains unknown, also made an appearance in Invisible Numbers of 1969, an important work to be analyzed later. Even before La Voir, anecdotal evidence confirms West had begun moving toward the more instinctively engendered and vigorous type composition Dynamic Forces of the Universe represents, both in title and in style. This shift was attested first-hand by her close friend, actress and activist Judith Malina. Before West and Francis Lee divorced in 1960, Malina (who with her partner, Julian Beck, founded Manhattan’s Living Theater) often attended gatherings at the couple’s New York apartment—decorated, she said, in the “European-style.” In that same diary entry of 1954, Malina noted how the walls of their flat were presently “covered with Michael’s big, splashy, nervous canvases, all like shouts of anguish.”16 A photo of West used in

Fig. 9 Michael West, Untitled drawing formerly on the verso of Dynamic Forces of the Universe, 1970. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate

1978 for an exhibition invitation features the now much older artist seated on her living room sofa (fig. 10). Looming behind her we see Generations, that 1974 work, definitely befitting the appearance and impression Malina described. Albeit captured somewhat later, this compelling juxtaposition presents a pretty good idea of how startling, already by the 1950s, her environment must have seemed. The warm mid-ground color scheme accented by an overlaid scaffolding of massive black strokes conspicuous in Generations closely connects its composition (signed horizontally, a habit of hers) with West’s continuing interest in the work of Hans Hofmann, the eminent German-born Abstract Expressionist painter and pedagogue, with whom she had also studied at the League.17 The imprint on her own output of Hofmann’s ideas on the formal and spiritual aspects of creativity undergirding “pictorial life,” and his recommended goal of “plasticity”— the “active transference of three-dimensional experience to a two-dimensional surface”— also appears evident. As well, West often leaned on Hofmann’s “push-pull” technique to achieve this, a maneuver persisting in her work beyond the less directly noticeable stylistic impact of Gorky. In particular, a selection of the current exhibition, although expressed with less color, suggests West’s enthusiasm for Hofmann’s devotion to “the edge” as a defining pictorial element,18 and her endorsement of his “definition of Expressionism” as “bringing the picture plane to its highest level.” He himself achieved this in a late spate of major works painted in the early 1960s, just as she was getting started on the type of monochrome canvases currently on view (fig. 11). In his examples, Hofmann sometimes combined deep black with pulsating, saturated hues, and animated their surfaces with diverse pigment textures and densities, another ploy West would borrow.19



Fig. 10 Michael West in her living room with Generations (1974), November 1978. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives Fig. 11 Hans Hofmann, Nocturnal Splendor, 1963. Oil on canvas, 72 1/4 × 60 1/8 inches. University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Gift of Hans Hofmann, 1964.2 Fig. 12 Michael West, Generations, 1974 Oil on canvas, 77 5/8 × 50 inches. Collection of Jacquelin and William Atkinson

Generations (fig. 12) features boldly drawn but empty squared-off forms, positioned by West up and down or at a slight tilt, arranged somewhat like the individual components of a Northwest Indian totem pole.20 She stacked these over widely brushed gold and orange-toned pigments reminiscent of Hofmann, applied in broad horizontal sweeps centered on a whitened field. West’s variable approach to this cubic format (used eleven times, she said) is seen in Snow Storm (Totem) also painted in 1974 (pl. 19), and another Totem canvas completed the following year (pl. 22). In addition to dominating black linearity, the latter incorporates touches of gold and rose placed into a slightly creamier, more ivory milieu, and the former includes small pastel touches, even a tiny hint of red, brushed onto a lighter shadowed ground. As well—therefore its title—in Snow Storm (Totem) West superimposed white Pollocklike calligraphic spatters, pours and drips, enhanced through age by craquelure. These especially evoke Pollock’s facture in The Deep, a late painting (1953) also restricted to monochrome (fig. 13). As early as 1957, West would designate “changing objects into symbolic free composition” as a fundamental goal of her art. Thinking directly about her Totem series two full decades later, she described choosing to pile squares vertically at that time as having mainly answered to a structural need, her ongoing desire to simplify. Not surprisingly, West also associated this objective toward greater “clarity” with a concomitant decision to revisit limiting her palette. Despite this declared formal emphasis, in considering the output of West’s post-1950s career, it becomes apparent that, not unlike Pollock, she was never able completely to bypass with simpler form and little-to-no color, an evidently therapeutic urge to create; at one particular moment of inner torment, West admitted to considering life “a traumatic drama.”21 Identifying her friend’s obviously edgy disposition at a New Year’s Eve gathering in 1957 by likening it to “a brightly enameled steel spring: sharp, coiled, painted,” Malina recognized this sense of (dis)ease infecting West’s behavior and, increasingly, reflected in her art.22 As far back as 1951–52, West had herself complained, “Am at odds with the universe—Everything gets in



Fig. 13 Jackson Pollock, The Deep, 1953. Oil and enamel on canvas, 86 3/4 × 59 1/8 inches. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, AM1976-1230

the way—of painting—.” “Have always had a ‘rushing sensation’ inside me—like a fast moving train—in my chest,” she confessed, and West’s notable inclusion of “sensitive mood, drama, and violence” on a 1965 inventory of primary painting ingredients, underscores how deeply fluctuating emotional directions continued to shape her artistry. “Because the creative moment is instantaneous, if we change inside, we want the painting to change likewise,” West avowed, and “Subjective Light and Dark,” a notation added to the back of a photograph depicting The Eclipse (Eclipse in Reverse) of 1964–67 (pl. 5) helps to confirm this crucial insight.23 While potentially interpretable along strictly religious lines, West’s declaration in the latter forties that, not only did she associate black and white with existential thought but also with “transfiguration,” might instead be construed more metaphorically, signifying her growing awareness of that internally felt and externally expressed alteration process.24 Another image of West, this time shot by her son probably around 1969–70, additionally presents the artist seated, ubiquitous cigarette in hand, now situated in front of Invisible Numbers, a monochrome canvas previously cited (fig. 14). Only the lower right quadrant of this oversized, and more spontaneously-engendered composition compared to her Totems, is glimpsed in a partial view (pl. 12).25 Invisible Numbers could have at least partially been painted on the floor in the manner of Pollock; West did sometimes adopt this practice beginning in the early sixties, walking around a painting and viewing it from all sides while working.26 In this case, however, a more interesting comparison might be made with roughly contemporaneous works by Pollock’s widow, and a photograph of Lee Krasner by Paul de Vries taken not long after her husband’s mid-1956 auto fatality points up some immediate parallels (fig. 15). Correspondingly represented, Krasner is also positioned in a chair, smoking, and proffered in close proximity to a recently completed achromatic improvisation.27 The 1960 canvas notable in de Vries’s photo, Fecundity, represents a smaller example from the roughly five-year radically oversized series of fifteen Krasner worked on at night in Pollock’s studio starting about a year after his demise. These compositions were additionally restricted in palette—but, rather than black, Krasner chose to manipulate umber pigments in contrast with differing shades of white. Markings both dark and light were applied with a convulsive thrusting touch she had never used before nor would ever take up again. Despite their brushstrokes’ evident directional opposition to his, many observers (to Krasner’s detriment) insisted on claiming these as an obvious attempt on her part at “channeling” Pollock. In conjunction with their full debut in 1979 at Manhattan’s Pace Gallery, Krasner gave an interview to poet Richard Howard where she admitted combining a somber palette with such vociferous treatment had enabled her to enact pictorially her turbulent emotions, especially feelings of anger, a notorious stage of grief. West’s Invisible Numbers, while less explosive in comparison to the whirling vortex Krasner created in works like Fecundity, can nevertheless be read in like manner, as an exposé of the “primacy of feeling.” Krasner’s search at that time for

Fig. 14 Michael West with Invisible Numbers (1969), c. 1969. Photograph by Michael Lee. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives Fig. 15 Lee Krasner seated in front of Fecundity (1960), c. 1960–61. Photograph by Paul de Vries. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner Papers, ca. 1914–1984, bulk 1942–1984, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

“the right accommodation of the analytic process,” accounted for her urge in the umber paintings to favor enlarged dimensions, chromatic uniformity and energetic technique.28 Not necessarily familiar with this series—Invisible Numbers predates Krasner’s solo at Pace—but likely for not dissimilar intentions, West chose a comparably dynamic and emotive path, one that would, in her case, continue for much longer. As pointed out by curator David Anfam regarding Krasner’s evidently cathartic umber pictures, the deliberate choice to pursue a “calculated anachronism” answers as to why she adopted such a seemingly retardataire direction in the early 1960s.29 Krasner admitted being well aware that producing such intense, impassioned, and basically colorless gestural canvases at this particular point went “against the stream” of the by-then more popular, objectively cooled-down “Post-Painterly” color field direction. This antithetical form of modernism was being championed by a number of younger women artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, considered the break-out stars of Abstract Expressionism’s so-called “second generation.” Both stylistically and chronologically, Krasner and West (each born in 1908) could not be included in that category. West’s corresponding choice to Krasner’s and, in her case, its correlated restriction to black and white (although some background areas have yellowed over time as her inexpensive pigments oxidized with age) should also be evaluated in connection to the wider prevalence of that same narrowing tactic amongst many better-known male Action painters coming to distinction in the 1950s, not solely Pollock. The parameters of this tendency, which certain historians consider implicitly masculinist, first surfaced around 1948, and would become codified some fifteen years later through a major New York exhibition featuring a wider



Fig. 16 Willem de Kooning, Black Friday, 1948. Oil and enamel on pressed wood panel, 49 3/16 × 39 inches. Princeton University Museum of Art, N.J., Gift of H. Gates Lloyd, Class of 1923, and Mrs. Lloyd in honor of the Class of 1923, 1976-44 Fig. 17 Robert Motherwell, Granada, 1949. Oil and casein on paper glued to board, 55 × 64 1/2 inches. Kykuit, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Nelson A. Rockefeller bequest

selection of monochrome adapters. Most conspicuously (in addition to Pollock) these were Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline. It was right around the time this show was being mounted that West began more seriously to refocus significant portions of her own practice through readopting similar boundaries. Although she does not specifically make mention, it seems likely West knew about the Jewish Museum’s Black & White, opening in late December 1963. She comments recurrently on a number of the artists involved, a few of whom also participated in Black or White: Paintings by European and American Artists, presented in 1950 at the Kootz Gallery, a venue West frequented. Whereas, in her Umber Series, Krasner participated in a very special “dialogue” with Pollock rather than copying him, in formulating her own variation, West (not surprisingly) engaged the more “allusive” strategy her experience with Gorky had taught. This, necessarily, would involve interaction with a larger and more varied set of prototypes.30 It should be noted Gorky himself had begun to limit some oils to black and white by 1945, works Greenberg considered “more than a tour de force.”31 For Motherwell, an occasional guest at Francis Lee’s evening salons and one of the artists (along with Hofmann and de Kooning) involved in both Manhattan shows, black would come to play, as he put it, the role of “protagonist” enduring in his life-long output. His brilliant commentary on the meaning of black’s dichotomy with white written for Kootz was reprinted by the Jewish Museum. In 1966—foreshadowing West’s epigraph to this essay—Motherwell answered an interviewer’s query as to what interests advanced New York painters would have shared by the late 1940s, responding immediately, “I don’t remember color as a subject.” “Black and White,” he went on to explain, much more “excited most of us then.”32 De Kooning’s 1948 first solo show introduced his own recent works in this duotone palette. In some examples, for instance Black Friday (fig. 16), de Kooning did strategically employ small tinted areas, a tactic Motherwell would exploit with greater vigor (fig. 17). Reviewing de Kooning’s initial exhibition, Greenberg observed that for the “most ambitious painters of this generation”—implying he was one—black “becomes a color . . . a hue with all the resonance, ambiguity, and variability of the prismatic scale.” Indeed, the critic deemed absolutely necessary at least a brief concentration on monochrome for those determined to solve, or at least “clarify” how to expand the “momentary character” of a sketch to the scale and

Fig. 18 Franz Kline, Mahoning. 1956. Oil and paper on canvas, 80 3/8 × 100 1/2 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 57.10

significance of abstract painting.33 West, we know, applied a similar aim in her choice to abdicate color. British curator Lawrence Alloway’s feature article appearing in 1960 and Ben Heller’s text for the Jewish Museum provide the most insightful analysis of this shared critical stage. Both placed emphasis on signature paintings by Kline, “now America’s most famous black and white artist” according to Heller, and widely considered “the Action Painter par excellence.”34 Based on the number and tenor of her mentions, as well as visual evidence in extant works, of all the artists in that cohort, in addition to Pollock West most admired Kline (fig. 18). An untitled composition supposedly done in 1955 already indicates an attempt on her part to try out a parallel—possibly also involving reference to Motherwell, one of Kline’s own admitted models. This took the form of linking together stark black, thrusting abstract shapes set within a slightly mottled background of white (fig. 19). A nervous quality evident in the positioning of West’s more awkwardly angular final configuration presages her later Totem practice. The way white areas in this type of composition can be made to function as positive shapes equally to black—again, a ploy common to both Motherwell and Kline—does not particularly apply to West, nor did Kline’s practice of first figuring out his designs by making smaller sketches. “To plan beforehand,” West now considered, “no fun at all.”35 While the particular synthesis of Kline and Motherwell ostensibly represented in Untitled (1955), and also featured in the 1970 Study (pl. 14),36 may have been limited try-outs for the fuller implementation of a referential strategy she would designate as “reintegration,” we know from her “Notes” and pictorial evidence that West seriously considered and subsequently played out a different Kline composite. In this case, she reached for a second partner beyond the usual suspects, expressing a keen interest in working on something that might “appear



Fig. 19 Michael West, Painting, 1955. Oil on canvas, 40 × 29 3/4 inches. Private collection

between Kline and Soulage [sic].” Pierre Soulages, to whom she refers here (and whose name she always misspelled) was one of the best-known French practitioners of Tachisme, Abstract Expressionism’s European counterpart.37 West worries in regard to pondering this amalgamation—one certainly not considered by Krasner or likely any other New York School artists—she could not yet picture exactly how this might look. “Time will tell,” West also observed, “whether the European artist or the American artist thinks better,” questioning if “we in America have a different culture.”38 At least to a certain degree, as Malina clearly realized, West lived a facsimile European lifestyle during her twelve years married to Francis Lee. Lee, born in Italy Francesco Sardofontana, counted among his friends in Paris, during the war and after as well as later in the United States, many European artists, writers, and intellectuals. His interview with Picasso filmed after D-Day and another with Catalan surrealist Joan Miró, published in 1947 in a magazine co-edited by Rosenberg and Motherwell, remain important source documents pertaining to that era.39 Most of the attendees at Lee’s soirées whom he knew from abroad were deemed “too sophisticated” by West; French poets Yvan Goll and his wife Claire, a strong supporter of West’s artistic ambition, were Europeans to whom she did become close. Claire’s successful attempt at securing West an exhibition at the Galerie Mouffe in Paris unfortunately never transpired due to her inability to finance shipping. West’s introversion and stand-offish social attitude notwithstanding, this was the uptown milieu in which she at least moderately moved from 1948 to 1960—quite different and definitely more open to foreign inspiration than the rest of her downtown counterparts. Some of the Abstract Expressionists were born in, had visited, or briefly lived in Europe but (perhaps except for Motherwell) did not much continue that way of life here. Given the internationalist ambience attendant to her relationship with Lee, it is predictable that West would have been more disposed than her colleagues to incorporating contemporary French developments. By the mid-1950s, she must have realized direct responsiveness to Paris was contra-indicated in achieving full acceptance by the New York avant-garde, but was attracted anyway, to the Tachistes especially.40 Tachisme, the common appellation for a style derived from the French word for touch, became the best-known manifestation of a broader continental postwar tendency more generally termed Art Informel. While sharing a number of characteristics, especially with Kline, Motherwell, de Kooning, and Pollock, its practitioners were equally varied to the Americans in their assorted use of blots, staining, color patches, and linear calligraphy, the latter a main feature in the work of Georges Mathieu, another Tachiste whose works attracted West.41 When the Sidney Janis Gallery organized Young Painters in the United States and France in 1950, Soulages was matched with Kline stylistically; by 1953, his work was acquired by the Museum of Modern

Fig. 20 Pierre Soulages, Painting, 130.2 x 162.5 cm, July 27, 1956, 1956. Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 × 64 inches. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Purchase, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest, 1960.1233

Art (MoMA) and the Guggenheim.42 MoMA’s Peinture (1948–49), with its thick black vertical and crisscrossing forms silhouetted against a plain white background, is probably closer to Kline, but Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (pl. 9) and Dynamic Forces of the Universe bear greater visual comparison with another composition, Painting, 130.2 x 162.5 cm, July 27, 1956 (fig. 20). Exhibiting multiple times at Kootz, as did Mathieu, Soulages had first been a participant along with de Kooning in Blanc et Noir, held in 1948 at the Parisian Galerie des Deux Iles, two years before Black or White and the show at Janis in New York. Alloway directly associates Soulages to Kline on the basis of their common use of black and “linked, rather than scattered sequences of form,” a tactic we’ve seen West also use, perhaps inspired by both.43 Demonstrating on a much smaller surface the power its name implies, Dynamic Forces of the Universe integrates a condensed Soulages-like central formation with smeared Kline-like diagonals set against a neutral ground. Variously mixing white into her blacks, a process not common in her oils, but seen in another enamel on Oak Tag composition (pl. 17), West created a subtler display of grays. Over top of these, she selectively distributed pours, drips, and spatters. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors includes abnormally abraded-looking palette knife marks and horizontal brushwork plus many small color touches in blue, red and gold, possibly applied with her fingers. Often when painting in monochrome, West confined such obvious hues primarily to her signature. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors perhaps coincidentally exhibits a “primitive vitality” akin to examples where Soulages also used a palette knife to scrape his pigment. In his case, this tactic suggests the texture of caves in Dordogne decorated with prehistoric drawings he admired.44 Writing in 1970, West enthused, “The beauty of painting is one thing, but the thrill of looking at a Soulage [sic]—is an experience far beyond beauty.” In subsequent works, dating from the late seventies through the early 1980s, West continued to introduce boldly centralized configurations relatable to Soulages, now mostly employed as dark backboards for an overlay of scrawled calligraphy, directly contrasting in tone. Harking to the works of Mark Tobey perhaps, another American artist sometimes associated


22 Fig. 21 Mark Tobey, Threading Light, 1942. Tempera on board, 29 1/4 × 19 3/4 inches. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase, 86.1944

with the Abstract Expressionists, she characterized her usage of this script-like technique by calling it “White Writing” (pls. 24 and 25). West’s strategy and process differs, however, from the more thinly painted, densely woven, homogeneous and meditative appearance of Tobey’s compositions in that style (fig. 21). As might be expected, hers instead correspond more closely to the bravado “tubist” version, speedily traced out in a single gesture without any intermediary instrument, a more active form of facture favored by Mathieu (fig. 22).45 In a “Note” of 1978, West described the trajectory of her own effort visible in this context: “black and white . . . black ground . . . white lines/ the imaginative concept brings it into focus . . . like a motif or fugue.” As noted by Greenberg, first to apply the designation “White Writing” to Tobey, the flickering of his tightly meshed interlace reaching almost to the framing edge, often caused his painting surfaces to vibrate, either into depth or outward toward the viewer.46 West rejected any such evenness or hints of shimmering movement, choosing instead a brasher, more schematic and hierarchical relationship between dark and light. Adopting for her new series the vertical layout of a writing surface, over which she either applied marks that simulate scratches (pl. 6) or, more often, introduced a contrastingly toned dazzling white script, in at least three instances West proposed Quick Poem as a title possibility. While some correspondences are present with de Kooning’s subtle white on black linearity, as well as the poured white tracery Pollock debuted in 1948 and reprised more expressively in The Deep, West’s non-referential cursive, applied like Mathieu directly from a tube of paint without stick or brush, coordinates more graphically either with its Soulages-based undergirding structure, or a thickly constructed lattice-like framework conformable to her Totems. West seemed to appreciate Mathieu’s more decorative, School of Paris-derived focus as compared to Pollock, resulting in compositions “fixed entirely in a highly centralized and yet centrifugal figure on a dramatic, eerily empty, contrasting [horizontal] ground.”47 “Found a new subjectivity,” she wrote in a biographical “Note,” adding, “runs parallel to my interest in Mathieu’s painting—formulated as diff[erent] from Pollock’s allover.” Whereas Mathieu himself emphasized his intention to paint “explicitly nationalistic” (i.e., very proudly French) pictures, his forms are often portrayed as a hybrid of “Oriental calligraphic ideograms” and more generalized heraldic symbols in the European mode. While his disposition of these definitely reads left to right in the Western manner—not vertically as in Asian writing—Mathieu’s paintings do often exhibit a comparable “controlled elegance” to a Far Eastern sensibility. Corresponding to West previously, Mathieu preferred the term “abstraction lyrique” to Tachisme or Art Informel, and he described his overarching goal (singularly evident in notorious public performances of his process) as a “direct expression of the emotion of the painter.”48 Numerous art historians have discerned additional affinities between the interests of a cadre of mid-twentieth century Western artists, both European and American, with Asian

Fig. 22 Georges Mathieu, Untitled, 1959. Oil on canvas, 38 × 63 1/2 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel A. Seaver, 1979.2628

painting and writing traditions, and recognized their importance in helping to instigate a new form of modernist abstraction.49 Whereas Mathieu and Tobey (a follower of Bahá’í) actually traveled east to study the work of calligraphers in China and/or Japan, Kline—despite obvious stylistic comparability—loudly claimed no spiritual affinity beyond an appreciation of the latter’s pictorial values. Any superficial resemblance to Japanese art, Kline considered as “irrelevant to what he set out to accomplish.”50 West took a more positive position on this, directed to Asian exemplars early on by the enthusiasm of Pousette-Dart, and relating to her resultant attraction to esotericism and mystical forms of thought worldwide.51 That West was familiar with Zen Buddhist practice is demonstrated by the Asian compositional affinities (in addition to suggestions of Motherwell and Kline) evident in such monochrome works as Open Space (1975, pl. 21), and signaled directly in the naming of another, more complicated totem, Nyo Ze Tai of 1975 (pl. 20). Its title refers to one of the “Ten Attributes of Life and its Function,” set forth in the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra, part of every Buddhist’s daily recitation. This attribute signifies relation, or an external cause helping to produce an “effect”, the reason for something happening. West gave Asian names to at least two additional paintings, not included here: Brahman, after the Vedanta Hindu model of a “nonpersonal, non-corporeal concept of Divinity—intensely spiritual and metaphysical,” and K an, referring to the notable Zen practice of paradoxical questioning.52 Whether she was aware of this or not, favoring black and white was a perfect fit for the way two key modes of thought, Confucianism and Taoism, unite in Chinese painting to produce a single manifestation: both “sought ‘inner reality’ in a fusion of opposites.”53 Writing for an international audience in 1960, Alloway argued the centrality of black and white in recent Western painting as converging to address, on both sides of the Atlantic, “the widespread postwar desire to invest abstract art with a momentous subject or, to put it the other way round, to have an expressive art not slowed down by the need to represent objects.” As part of this telling, a version of which already appeared in 1954, some of the most advanced painters in Paris began to turn their backs on “overall brilliant tonality, shunning the example of great colorists like Matisse and Bonnard.” Black, as a result, became elevated



Fig. 23 Michael West in her living room with an earlier version of Homage to the Square (1973–74) and Gento Niese (1978), October 1978. Collection of the Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives

to a comparably privileged avant-garde status to that which gray-brown had attained for the pioneering cubists.54 Independently, it seems, and displaying even greater New World energy and freedom, an also all-male cohort of New York painters were arriving simultaneously at a similar conclusion. How exactly can we fit into this heroic narrative the discovery, after so many decades, of such an additionally impressive body of monochrome works by a so little-known American woman artist? Clearly, West knew a great deal about the binary ideation, as well as shared pictorial formulas of facture and scale fundamental to this phenomenon, probably what Alloway meant when he called attention to the “sign and surface” of contemporaneous monochrome painting. Equally uninvolved in traditional symbolism, such as representing the battle between good and evil (although West once did characterize her “explosion of Black and White” as “suggesting the isolation of death”) her version of the “new subjectivity” it allowed, expands the standard tale. Even the dimensions of her variation became genuinely personal in what, for her career, would constitute a both climactic and epigraphic mode. West’s mature paintings, one critic perceptively explained, appear “sized to fit her body, the size of the brush her hand could hold, the distance her arm could travel from end to end, as she swept over the surface.”55 Their resulting vitality makes concrete the Abstract Expressionist goal of painting an “autographic document.” Disposing black and white on canvas in as improvisatory a way as if she were making a drawing definitely helped Michael West, exactly as it did those others, to facilitate this mutually desired outcome (fig. 23). The unexpected opportunity we have today to enjoy her— almost lost—efforts in this regard more than redeems the devotion West so single-mindedly applied to uncovering the truth, for herself, of artistic imagination.

Dr. Ellen G. Landau Dr. Landau, Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emerita in the Humanities, Case Western Reserve University, is currently an independent art historian and curator based in Pasadena, California. Important publications by Dr. Landau are Jackson Pollock (1989); Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné (1995); Reading Abstract Expressionism (2005), a study of Abstract Expressionist historiography and criticism; Mexico and American Modernism (2013), a new interpretation of the impact of Mexico on Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Isamu Noguchi; and Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West (2019). Major curatorial projects include Artists for Victory (Library of Congress); a joint Pollock/ Krasner retrospective in Switzerland; exploration of the artistic relationship between Pollock and photographer-designer Herbert Matter in Boston, and a traveling retrospective of painter and noted arts educator, Mercedes Matter. Recent essays include two texts in conjunction with the Getty’s 2013 showing of Pollock’s Mural for Peggy Guggenheim; Elaine and Willem de Kooning’s self-portraits and portraits of each other for Women of Abstract Expressionism (Denver Art Museum); Motherwell’s relationship with the Surrealists (Archives of American Art Journal); Hans Hofmann in the 1940s (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive); and Krasner’s Hofmann School drawings (Kasmin Gallery, New York).

Dr. Landau wishes to thank Michael Borghi, Kara Spellman, Jillian Russo, and Stan Charnin at Hollis Taggart; the Interlibrary Loan staff, across the country from the author in California, at Kelvin Smith Library, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; and Anne Helmreich at the Getty, for helping facilitate research in the highly challenging circumstances of the pandemic.



16. The Diaries of Judith Malina (New York: Grove Press, 1984), 322.

1. “Monochrome” as synonym for black and white: see David Anfam’s similar usage in “Kline’s Colliding Syntax: ‘Black, White, and Things,’” Franz Kline: Black & White 1950–1961 (Houston, TX: The Menil Collection, 1994), 15. Anfam’s essay contributed to my discussion of Kline below.

17. If turned horizontally and hung that way, Generations, similar to some other abstractions in the current show, indicate their origins in still life. West learned this strategy from Hofmann, using it throughout her life. See also n. 43.

2. “Of the French crowd Juan Gris was always my favorite painter . . . To me he produced the greatest pictures of all—.” Michael West, “Notes on Painting,” December 1981,” Michael West Papers, Hollis Taggart, New York. West’s “Notes on Art” and “Notes on Painting” hereafter abbreviated as “Notes.” Dates absent from citations were not specified. 3. “Notes,” August 1978. 4. “Notes,” 1951: “I wish the painting to remind me of space, not color. Pousette-Dart sensed this in my work . . .” 5. On West’s training, interests, and influences, see Ellen G. Landau, Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West (New York: Hollis Taggart, 2019): 10–31. 6. Regarding Pollock, West wrote, “He came on the scene like a meteor: Here everything was solved for me—once and for all. He was the most immediate, violent, heroic, painterly, and non-painterly—that anyone could be.” 7. “Black space of Possibilities . . .” c. 1947: “Black space of Possibilities/Moving strongly and sure/Where crevices of time/Remind me of My Feelings/Here I come to this space/ to be Real again &/High above the props/Of my way of Existence—/or Anyones [sic]— /And all of us to this Black space of/Concentration—.” 8. “Notes,” February 26, 1967. 9. “I look and look for things to inspire me—it always ends up the same way—one of my previous works—that’s it.” “Notes,” August 20, 1974. 10. Harold Rosenberg, Arshile Gorky: The Man, the Time, the Idea (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 62; and Matthew Spender, From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky (New York: Knopf, 1999), 100. 11. I borrow from Ethel Schwabacher’s analysis in Arshile Gorky (New York: MacMillan, 1957), 56. 12. West produced fifty poems, including one dedicated to Gorky and another to the “mystic” approach she associated with Pousette-Dart. See Chris McNamara, “By Any Other Name,” Michael West Painter-Poet (East Hampton, New York: Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, 1996), 7–11; Space Poetry, 17–18. 13. Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” Artnews 51 (December 1952): 22–23, 3–13.


14. “Notes,” 1982. West, describing six portfolios of “constructions in charcoal”: “I could not draw these if I were not thinking of paintings. Some drawings are just drawings. These differ from studies for paintings. The cubist totems [discussed below]—never unless I was going to paint them.” 15. “Notes,” 1978: “The doubled image attracts me as everybody has two sides plus many others.”

18. In March 1948, West wrote an essay on how texture and “edge” make art “vital and alive.” Space Poetry, 85–87. 19. See essays in Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction, edited by Lucinda Barnes (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019); Space Poetry, 14–16. West wrote of Hofmann c. 1951–52, “His new feeling for color is an important contribution to painting. You sense it immediately in the presence of his pictures. Few people really see them— I do. He is one of the best—.” The day after Hofmann died on February 17, 1966, West painted a work in homage to him. 20. An undated “Note” helps illuminate the title for Generations. “Still working on cubist totems, thinking of Matta’s remark—‘it’s a totem world’= the family.” West refers to Roberto Matta Echaurren, the Chilean Surrealist important for Gorky’s final breakthrough. Mention of Matta’s totemic sources indicates her familiarity with his “inscape” paintings and ethnographically influenced “morphologies.” 21. In the 1968–69 “Note” denoting life as “trauma,” West defined “Modern Painting” as “Existential painting if you will.” Her deep interest in existentialism grew from a foundational fascination with Henri Bergson’s process philosophy, Space Poetry, 19–20. 22. Malina, Diary, 424. 23. Space Poetry, 24. “Subjective Light and Dark” was possibly an alternative painting title. Elsewhere, she admitted, “Subjective emotions occurring so rapidly within the artist causes [sic] an explosive creation on the canvas.” 24. “Notes,” 1946: “Black and White is (identical) in/My mind—with transfiguration—/Color surrounding it— (Dreams). My theory of color up until 1940 has been Color is an Emotion of matter in space and time and is Subjective—just as drawing is a Subjective Experience of life within me. Within the artist” (her emphasis retained). 25. “Notes,” September 1974: “In order to control feeling a structural cubist base—was set up.” 26. Works painted on the floor were exhibited in 1963 at Granite Galleries, Inc., New York. 27. Comparison of another Krasner photo with Francis Lee’s alternate 1947 West portrait, see Space Poetry, 10–11. 28. Richard Howard’s “A Conversation with Lee Krasner,” Lee Krasner Paintings, 1959–1962 (New York: Pace Gallery, 1979), n.p., informed my comparative analysis with West, as did David Anfam’s “Mood Umber,” Lee Krasner: The Umber Paintings 1959–1962 (New York: Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2018), 9–15. 29. Anfam, “Mood Umber,” 11.

30. In only one example in the current show, West copied elements directly from another painter, The Scream by Edvard Munch (pl. 18), whose anxiety would have resonated. 31. Clement Greenberg, “’American-Type’ Painting,” Partisan Review (Spring 1955): 179–96. 32. Max Kozloff, “An Interview with Robert Motherwell,” Artforum 4 (September 1965): 37. “Protagonist,” by Stephanie Terenzio in Robert Motherwell and Black (Storrs, CT: William Benton Museum of Art, 1979), 128. 33. Clement Greenberg, “Review of an Exhibition of Willem de Kooning,” Nation (April 24, 1948): 448. “Momentary” in Alloway, n. 34 below, 53. 34. Lawrence Alloway, “Sign and Surface: Notes on Black and White Painting in New York,” Quadrum 9 (1960): 49–62, and Ben Heller, “Introduction,” in Black & White (New York: Jewish Museum, 1963), n.p. 35. “No fun: “Note,” 1970. In October of a year unidentified, West devised “Notes on Backgrounds,” making four main points: “Raw Backgrounds—good anything possible/ White tint ok but it looks weak for negative space/Heavy painted white—dull—sometimes exotic but rarely—/ Painting in patches best bet—gives airy freedom—also holds together.” 36. Thinly painted, Study features a cropped black cross placed to the left side in a field of partially translucent white. Its heaviness is counterbalanced by delicate paint splashes probably made with a wrist flick. These shoot off the horizontal arm, a possible nod to high tide sprays in Motherwell’s 1960s series, Beside the Sea. 37. Space Poetry, 26. 38. “Time will tell”: “Notes,” October 1984. 39. “Joan Miró, Interview [by Francis Lee],” Possibilities 1 (Winter 1947/48): 67 (with photograph). 40. West once inaccurately described Soulages and Mathieu as “followers” of the Abstract Expressionists “who became terrific painters.” According to Walter Maibaum, “Some critics of the period considered the work of Michael West to be European in nature rather than American.” Michael West Automatic Paintings: The Abstract Expressionist Works (New York: 123 Watts Gallery, 1999), n.p. 41. An echo of Mathieu’s “bravado” was detected in West’s work as early as 1958 by Suzanne Burrey, reviewing West’s first New York solo at the Uptown Galleries in Arts Digest 32 (January 1958): 57. 42. Soulages: “My work belongs to a moment that has something in common with both Paris and New York” in Philippe Ungar, Soulages in America (New York: Dominique Lévy, 2014), 40. Ungar details Soulage’s connections with American artists, curators, museums and galleries. 43. Alloway, 50, 56, 58. Differing from West, who continued to use still life especially as a starting point for abstractions (for example, Epilogue, 1967, pl. 8), Soulages explained, “For me, the origin of my work isn’t to be found in an object or landscape, like for nonfigurative painters. The origin lies in my interest in the physiognomic properties of the patterns produced by the brush when I paint.” Ungar, 81.

44. Soulages discusses with Ungar his interest in prehistoric cave art. Listing artists whose work best demonstrates the “nature of plastic creation,” West included Kline, Soulages, Hofmann, and Gris. 45. Tobey described Threading Light in a Zen-like manner: “White lines in movement symbolize light as a unifying idea which flows through the compartmental units of life, bringing a dynamic to men’s minds ever expanding their energies toward a larger relativity.” Sidney Janis, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944), 98. He wrote an introduction to Mathieu’s 1954 exhibition at the Gallerie Rive Droite, Paris. 46. Clement Greenberg, “Review of Exhibitions of Mark Tobey and Juan Gris,” Nation 158 (April 22, 1944): 494. 47. James Thrall Soby, “Is Jackson Pollock as talented as Georges Mathieu?” Saturday Review of Literature 37 (January 2, 1954). Greenberg considered Mathieu “the strongest of all new European painters.” 48. Sources for discussion: Michel Tapié, “Mathieu paints a picture,” Artnews 53 (February 1955): 50–53, 74–75; Ágnes Berecz, “Grandslam: Histories of and by Georges Mathieu,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2008): 64–74; AnnMarie Perl, “Mathieu as Seen from the United States, from the 1950s to Today” Georges Mathieu: Les années 1960–1970 (Paris: Galerie Templon, 2018), 24–35; Édouard Lombard, georges-mathieu.fr/en/publications/what-weowe-georges-mathieu/ and georges-mathieu.fr/en/ artworks/theoreme-dalexandroff-1955/. 49. Sources for discussion: Édouard Lombard, georges-mathieu.fr/en/publications/the-calligraphic-nature-ofthe-work-of-georges-mathieu/; Bert Winther-Tamaki, “Mark Tobey, White Writing for a Janus-faced America,” Word & Image 13 (January–March 1997): 77–91; Jules Langsner “Franz Kline, Calligraphy and Information Theory,” Art International 7 (March 25, 1963): 26. 50. Upon first showing his black and white works in 1950, Kline was accused of magnifying signs and symbols from Chinese and Japanese writing and painting. “Irrelevant”: Langsner, 25. 51. Space Poetry, 19–20. 52. See medium.com/@PriyankaaRaghav/ten-factors-defining-reality-of-life-62a745a95ada. Brahman and KōAn: Patricia Richmond, “Michael West’s Paintings from the 1940s and 1950s,” Master’s Thesis, George Washington University, 1995, 40. 53. George Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting (Princeton University Press, 1947), 4; cited in William C. Seitz, Mark Tobey (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1962), 53. 54. Alloway, 50. James Thrall Soby, “Younger European Painters,” Saturday Review of Literature 37 (January 2, 1954): 61–62. 55. See Jeanne Willette, arthistoryunstuffed.com/ michael-west-the-artist-was-a-woman/. 27




1 Untitled, 1947 Oil on canvas, 36 × 30 inches (91.4 × 76.2 cm) Initialed and dated lower left: “M. W. 1947” Private collection



2 Untitled, 1948 Oil and sand on canvas, 31 × 21 inches (78.7 × 53.3 cm) Signed verso: “Mich West” Collection of the Wen Long Cultural Foundation, Taiwan


3 Near the Fourth, 1958 Oil on canvas, 55 3/4 × 35 inches (141.6 × 88.9 cm) Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Mich West / ‘Near the Fourth’ / June 30 1958”


4 Objects (Existential), 1964–65 Oil on canvas, 48 × 40 inches (121.9 × 101.6 cm) Signed lower right: “Mich West” Inscribed, signed, titled, and dated verso: “Top / Top / Michael West / Objects / Existential / 1964-5”



5 The Eclipse (Eclipse in Reverse), 1964–67 Oil on canvas, 69 3/4 × 49 1/2 inches (177.2 × 125.7 cm) Signed and dated upper left: “Michael West 1967” Titled (twice), dated (thrice), signed, and inscribed verso: “Eclipse in Reverse / 1967 / Michael West / 1964 Sept. / Top / The Eclipse / Sept 1964”



6 White Writing, 1966 Oil on canvas, 59 5/8 × 47 1/2 inches (151.4 × 120.7 cm) Signed lower left: “Michael West” Inscribed, signed, dated, and titled verso: “48-60 / Michael West / June 1966 / White Writing”


7 Epigraph, 1966 Oil on canvas, 74 5/8 × 49 1/2 inches (189.5 × 125.7 cm) Titled, signed, and dated verso: “Epigraph / Mich West / 1966” Collection of the Wen Long Cultural Foundation, Taiwan


8 Epilogue, 1967 Oil on canvas, 74 1/2 × 48 1/2 inches (189.2 × 123.2 cm) Inscribed, signed (twice), titled (twice), and dated (twice) verso: “or top / Michael West / ‘Epilogue’ / 1967 / Michael West / Epilogue - 1967”



9 Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1967 Oil on canvas, 59 3/4 × 48 1/8 inches (151.8 × 122.2 cm) Signed lower left: “Mich West” Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Michael West / Shadows of ‘Forgotten Ancestors’ / 1967”



10 Siege of Prague, 1968 Oil on canvasboard, 16 × 20 inches (40.6 × 50.8 cm) Signed and dated lower right: “Michael West / 1968” Signed, dated, titled (twice), and inscribed verso: “Michael West / 1968 / ‘Siege of Prague’ / Top - Michael West / 16” by 20” / top”


11 Beginnings, 1968 Oil and charcoal on canvas, 51 1/8 × 46 inches (129.9 × 116.8 cm) Signed lower left: “Michael West” Signed, titled, dated, and inscribed verso: “Mich West / (Beginnings) / 1968 / or top” Collection of the Wen Long Cultural Foundation, Taiwan


12 Invisible Numbers, 1969 Oil and nails on canvas, 66 1/2 × 44 inches (168.9 × 111.8 cm) Initialed upper left: “MW” Signed and dated verso: “Michael West / 1969”



13 Speed, 1970 Enamel on Oak Tag mounted on canvas, 22 × 28 inches (55.9 × 71.1 cm) Signed lower right: “Michael West”


14 Study, 1970 Oil on canvas, 50 × 30 inches (127 × 76.2 cm) Signed and titled verso: “Mich West / Study”


15 Untitled, circa 1970 Enamel on Oak Tag, 27 7/8 × 22 inches (70.8 × 55.9 cm)



16 Dynamic Forces of the Universe, 1970 Enamel on Oak Tag mounted on canvas, 28 × 22 inches (71.1 × 55.9 cm) Signed and titled lower right: “Michael West / ‘Dynamic Forces / of the Universe’”


17 Untitled, 1970 Enamel on Oak Tag mounted on canvas, 281/8 × 22 inches (71.1 × 55.9 cm)


18 The Scream, 1972 Oil, aluminium paint, and charcoal on canvas, 49 1/4 × 29 1/2 inches (125.1 × 74.9 cm) Inscribed upper left: “ARIBA”; initialed lower right: “MW” Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Michael West / ‘The Scream’ / 1972” Collection of the Wen Long Cultural Foundation, Taiwan



19 Snow Storm (Totem), 1974 Oil on canvas, 74 1/4 × 50 inches (188.6 × 127 cm) Inscribed, signed, titled, and dated verso: “Top / Mich West / (Totem) / May 1974”; inscribed and titled verso: “Top / Snow Storm / Repaint”



20 Nyo Ze Tai, 1975 Oil on canvas, 52 × 18 inches (132.1 × 45.7 cm) Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Michael West / ‘NYO ZE TAI’ / April 1975”


21 Open Space, 1975 Oil on canvas, 50 × 18 inches (127 × 45.7 cm) Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Mich West / Open Space / 1975”


22 Totem, 1973–75 Oil on canvas, 72 1/2 × 48 inches (184.2 × 121.9 cm) Signed lower left: “Mich West” Signed, titled, dated, and inscribed verso: “Mich West / Totem / 1975 / 50-75” / R. Procures After seeing the film - Romantic Procures / Oct 1973”



23 Untitled, circa 1970s Oil on canvas, 18 1/2 × 46 3/8 inches (47 × 117.8 cm) Inscribed verso: “48”; inscribed on canvas overlap verso: “20 - 46”



24 Untitled, 1976 Oil on canvas, 47 1/4 × 30 inches (120 × 76.2 cm) Signed and dated verso: “Mich West / February / 1976”


25 Black and White, 1981 Oil on canvas, 49 5/8 × 28 inches (126 × 71.1 cm) Signed, dated, and titled verso: “Mich West / 1981 / Black & White”



This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition “Epilogue: Michael West’s Monochrome Climax” organized by Hollis Taggart, New York, and presented from April 29 to May 31, 2021. Publication Copyright © 2021 Hollis Taggart All artwork by Michael (Corinne) West © 2021 The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Essay © Ellen G. Landau All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited. ISBN: 978-1-7333303-5-0 Front cover: Invisible Numbers, 1969, detail (pl. 12) Frontispiece: Snow Storm (Totem), 1974, detail (pl. 19) Pages 28–29: Invisible Numbers, 1969, detail (pl. 12) Pages 66–67: The Eclipse (Eclipse in Reverse), 1964–67, detail (pl. 5) Back cover: Michael West in her summer rental, Stonington, Connecticut, detail (see page 4) Hollis Taggart 521 West 26th Street 1st Floor New York, NY 10001 Tel 212 628 4000 Fax 212 570 5786 www.hollistaggart.com

Catalogue production: Kara Spellman Copyediting: Jessie Sentivan Design: McCall Associates, New York Printing: Point B Solutions, Minneapolis Photography Credits: Color plates: Joshua Nefsky, New York Figures: Courtesy Estate of Alexander Sandow; Lisa Sandow Lyons and Greg Sandow, executors; © 2021 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (fig. 3); Photographed for the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive by Benjamin Blackwell; © 2021 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (fig. 11); Photo by Georges Meguerditchian. Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France © CNAC/ MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; © 2021 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (fig. 13); Photo by Bruce M. White, Princeton University Art Museum / Art Resource, NY; © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (fig. 16); © 2021 Dedalus Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY (fig. 17); Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY. © 2021 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (fig. 18); Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, Inc. © 2021 (fig. 19); Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Christine Guest. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris (fig. 20); Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY. © 2021 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (fig. 21); Photo Credit: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris (fig. 22)