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Space Poetry The Action Paintings of Michael West


Space Poetry The Action Paintings of Michael West


Michael West, Space Poetry, 1956. Oil on canvas, 38 Ă— 28 inches. Collection of Diane Procter. Photo credit: Gerard Vuilleumier.


Space Poetry The Action Paintings of Michael West

November 7 – December 21, 2019

Essay by Ellen G. Landau

521 WEST 26TH STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10001


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CONTENTS

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FOREWORD

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S PACE POETRY: THE ACTION PAINTINGS OF MICHAEL WEST ELLEN G. LANDAU

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PLATES

80  E SSAYS AND POEMS BY THE ARTIST

92

CHRONOLOGY

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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

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EXHIBITION HISTORY


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“To a Great Mystic,” circa 1945. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.


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Foreword

In 1939, at the age of thirty-one, the formidable Corinne West began calling herself Mikael which three years later was anglicized to Michael. A female painter in a male-dominated artworld, this irrepressible painter and poet has left her indelible mark on the story of American postwar art history, regardless of gender. With the timely reassessment of women artists of this era, West stands out as a paradigm of the determination, originality, and talent required to garner respect and longevity. Though never hampered by the past, West’s work was informed by her teacher, Hans Hofmann, whose emphasis on the “inner eye” was a lesson that never left her. Similarly, the guidance of her close partner, Arshile Gorky, and his focus on the importance of drawing, underpins the structure of her abstractions. She also found a kindred spirit in the French philosopher Henri Bergson who believed that one’s instincts combined with instantaneous experience were far more important than rationalism. Propelled by this same inner passion of being in the moment and relying on her strength of conviction, West created gestural, robust paintings that definitely attract attention. One need only to stand in front of one of her action paintings to feel the power and certitude she possessed. Yet these complex and spirited compositions she created always retain a balance of form, palette, and intention. Our sincere acknowledgement is given firstly to Stuart Friedman who had the foresight decades ago to gauge the importance of this artist. He was the dutiful custodian of her work and her most valuable archives, and because of his good efforts, he was able to pass the baton to us as we now represent the Michael (Corinne) West Estate. Thanks go to Ellen G. Landau whose research and illuminating essay has given us a significant appraisal of the artist’s life and work within the historic context in which it was created. Dr. Landau has contributed greatly to West’s scholarship. Also to Michael Borghi whose shared enthusiasm has helped bring this exhibition and catalogue to their fruition, we extend our heartfelt appreciation. For her diligence and her investigative and organizational abilities we express our gratitude to Kara Spellman; she was instrumental in many facets of the project. We also thank the Art Resource Group, in particular, Nora Desruisseaux for their assistance in obtaining images to reproduce in this catalogue. There is a palpable energy that exudes from West’s canvases, yet there is also an underlying thought process that emerges as well. Controlled vitality and complexity are hallmarks of her oeuvre.

Hollis C. Taggart Debra Pesci


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ELLEN G. LANDAU

Space Poetry:

The Action Paintings of Michael West

Who inspires us if we understand

A Work of Art To See—What is it?—To know—to Love

To Create Michael West, circa 1945 Two vintage portraits clearly shot during the 1940s; in each, a woman artist, arms folded or cigarette in hand, poses for an unseen photographer in juxtaposition with examples for that era of rather radically abstract painting (figs. 1 and 2). These similar scenes—one shot in New York City, the other on Long Island nearby—were not captured by the same camera, but they happened more or less around the same time, not long after the end of World War II. Although clothing and hairstyles might prompt us to imagine an earlier date, the works whose space these women share render that conclusion unlikely.

Interestingly, both women shown were born in 1908 and each had by the time

of their depiction altered her name, a decision made to obfuscate gender, thereby countermanding the lack of critical attention female painters were then being paid. Lee Krasner, wearing comfortable country clothes, was born Lena Krassner to Russian Jewish immigrant parents living in Brooklyn. She later became Lenore and would finally choose the less decipherable Lee, omitting as well the second more ethnic-sounding “s” her family kept. Krasner’s official name was already, of course, Mrs. Jackson Pollock, and it is Pollock’s work that surrounds her here, inside their East Hampton barn. Dressed very differently, in a chic city outfit, the former Corinne Michelle West (born in Chicago and raised in Ohio with stints in Upstate New York) had by now gone through Mikael to Michael, obviating her undeniable femininity at the prompting of her artistic mentor and romantic interest during the previous decade. This was charismatic Armenian-born painter Arshile Gorky who convinced West that her given name Corinne sounded more like “a debutante’s daughter” than that of the serious artist she intended to be. Sadly, around the time of her photograph, when they no longer were in regular contact, Gorky made the terrible choice to end his own life.1

In point of fact, the two male artists mentioned as partners of these similarly

ambitious women had likewise elected to remake themselves, also signaled by a change in what they were to be called. Upon moving to New York from California in 1930, Pollock dropped Paul in favor of his more interesting middle name, and ten years earlier, after escaping the Armenian genocide and immigrating to America, Vosdanig Adoian retitled himself after famous Russian and Soviet writer, Maxim Gorky (of whom, among other invented tales, he claimed to be a cousin). In 1945, the feisty and pugnacious Krasner, already a promising modern artist with impressive credentials of her own,


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Fig. 1 Harry Bowden, Lee Krasner in Jackson Pollock’s studio, circa 1949. Harry Bowden Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Artwork Š The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Fig. 2 Michael West in her studio with Mystic Energy (1946), 1947. Photo credit: Francis Lee. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.


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married the painter she then most admired; atypically, she began immediately to play down her own work in favor of supporting and promoting Pollock.2 West, on the other hand, refused Gorky’s multiple proposals (six times apparently), fearing a union with him would hinder her independence.

By 1948, however, West was married, for the

second time actually—her first husband before she knew Gorky was a fellow actor in Cincinnati to whom she was wed for under a year.3 For around twelve years (also about the length of Krasner and Pollock’s marriage before his fatal 1956 car accident) West would be the wife of pioneering avant-garde filmmaker and combat cameraman Francis Lee, famed for his moving depiction of D-Day as well as spectacular footage of the liberation of Paris, including an interview with Pablo Picasso.4 Not surprisingly, it was Lee, born in Italy as Francesco Sardo Fontana and a friend to European Surrealists, who took the series of film-noirstyle photographs of West in her own studio, of which the image here is one. She too dangles a cigarette, clutching her brushes in the other hand, in a different variant of Lee’s decidedly theatrical portrayals.

Presenting West with her own canvases, high-

lighting their and her deeply redolent shadows, Lee’s moody, sophisticated imagery projects a noticeably separate message from Harry Bowden’s capture of Krasner casually hanging out amidst Pollock’s latest achievements. Reading such points of convergence and divergence present in this comparison—what’s there or not in one or the other has quite a lot to say—can be a useful way to initiate fresh analysis of West’s more overlooked career. While Krasner was not to be included with Pollock and his all-male pioneering cohort until a Whitney Museum of American Art Abstract Expressionist exhibition in 1978, she had (albeit far more limited than his) a measure of subsequent success. Recently, Krasner’s critical attention and fame have accelerated for reasons combining twenty-first-century art-political, curatorial, and financial motivations.

On the other hand—with the exception of a few solos spanning the 1950s to 1990s

not in major galleries, and several more recent minor focused exhibitions with accompanying discussion by mostly feminist art historians and critics5—West remains as yet a virtual unknown. She is recognized in the Abstract Expressionist literature (if at all) as that gorgeous young flapper with whom Gorky was briefly in love and to whom he Fig. 3 Jackson Pollock, Birth, circa 1941. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 × 21 1/2 inches. Tate, London. Purchased 1985 (T03979). Photo credit: © Tate London / Art Resource, NY. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

wrote a series of fervent letters borrowing liberally from acclaimed Surrealist poets.6 Indeed, in her copious “Notes on Art,” West once observed with dismay the discrepancy of her own trajectory with Krasner’s, not even tackling its incongruity with the men of her generation whose talent and interests she too so obviously shared. This retrospective, re-introducing her at Hollis Taggart, aims above all to correct that mistake.


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Foreshadowing Krasner’s expressed incredulity when she first encountered

Pollock’s newly completed, disquietingly metamorphic and aggressively sexual canvases in late 1941 (fig. 3) West would remember with amazement her initial contact with the rhythmically drawn biomorphic forms layered with psychological intensity embedded by Gorky into Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia, his masterful ink on paper series. Here, he brilliantly combined Cubism with Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical style and other more advanced Surrealist elements (fig. 4). Four decades later, West was still describing her admittedly reluctant 1935 visit to Gorky’s Union Square studio in words that conjure a transcendent experience. That evening she examined a sampling of this series, hung in the corridor for aesthetic contemplation. “As we walked down the long wall of pen and ink, I felt that I knew him,” West wrote of Gorky, “The best of him—was overjoyed with the style and character of these drawings . . . It was in Gorky that I found the Great American Painter.” By analogy with the eternal quality of fifteenthcentury Netherlandish masters, she also concluded, “Here was Memling done abstract.”7

Crediting Gorky’s genius with opening the field of art for her and his early

paintings and drawings as “the real influence in my life”—a long way from Frank Duveneck and the Cincinnati Art Academy, West explained—Gorky’s presence in it and what he relayed to her when they obsessively haunted museums and galleries, would challenge her more conventional prior experience.8 West’s parents did however encourage her creative leanings (and her uncle was a famous cartoonist) as opposed to Krasner’s family, with no time for or interest in culture. But unlike the abrupt overthrow Pollock’s paradigm ignited in Krasner’s artistic life, Gorky’s visual example was neither instantly, nor even gradually an obvious element in West’s path to her Fig. 4 Arshile Gorky, Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia, 1931. Ink on paper, 21 1/2 × 29 5/8 inches. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Bequest of Caroline Wiess Law (2004.17). © The Arshile Gorky Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

own originality.

In fact, as clearly evident in the work on her easel in Lee’s photograph, by 1948,

it was Pollock’s early 1940s breakthrough (adding the inflection of shared affinities with Richard Pousette-Dart, another younger abstractionist) that prodded the progression of West’s newly-found postwar virtuosity. Going beyond Gorky, Pollock, she


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once admitted, “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.” By 1946, around the time she had finished Mystic Energy (seen here with her in this photo), West had begun evolving to what she now called “a lyrical Cubist style—which Pollock had already introduced—it seemed natural to me.” As a result, she also wrote in her “Notes,” she had “understood his paintings at once.”

Indeed, her good friend Pousette-Dart

apparently teased West, complaining, “I really think you like Pollock better,” also suggesting that Peggy Guggenheim, owner of Art of This Century where he and Pollock were both being shown, should come to see her work. Guggenheim did, bringing Pollock along, and both, West remembered, were particularly impressed with another 1946 composition of hers, entitled Man with Cello (fig. 5). Their joint approval was likely due to its marked stylistic resemblance to Pollock’s own Night Dancer, painted in 1944 and on view the following year. Guggenheim, according to West, said she thought “I was painting Life,” but typical of her somewhat passiveaggressive reaction to women artists in general, including Krasner, neither was granted a show.9

How did West reach the point where we’ve entered her life and career with the

aid of her husband’s dramatically appealing photograph? With the minor exception of a group of sketches after Picasso, drawn in pencil in a 1934 Wadsworth Athenaeum catalogue (fig. 6) none of West’s earliest oeuvre is extant, particularly nothing provably done during night classes taken at New York’s Art Students League that year and the year before.10 There, her teachers were American Social Realists Raphael Soyer and Kenneth Hayes Miller, as well as European modernist Hans Hofmann, soon to be lionized as the “pedagogical master” of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Once again, not much is reflected in her subsequent work of what West might have learned from Soyer or Miller, but Hofmann, whose class she left after only six months when it began seeming to her too much like a “cult,” was to have a significant life-long impact, equally if not more important than Gorky, Pousette-Dart, or Pollock.

Regarding Soyer, to whose studio West transferred from Hofmann’s, she mostly

cherished his intellect, his “electrifying” classroom critiques, and his encouragement to experiment. Soyer, who kept in touch with West through at least the late 1970s, once recalled admonishing her in class, “You’re too brilliant. You use color too strateFig. 5 Michael West, Man with Cello, 1946. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.

gically.” He admitted to having no theories as to how to teach at that time and that he did not pass on to students any formulae for making pictures.11 This could not have differed further from Hofmann’s approach. Part of West’s initial demurral toward


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meeting Gorky had been a desire for “no more geniuses” in her life; Hofmann’s, she had said, was all she could take. His atelier method of teaching, which centered on providing students a grammar of vision as well as the metaphysical underpinnings for its use, has been exhaustively described. West’s recollections echo those of many former pupils, including Krasner who studied with Hofmann just a bit later, and for whom the decision to do also proved transformative.12

As West later recounted, while at the League (before opening his own school

downtown) Hofmann (fig. 7) was “there every night—in an orange smock—smoking, gesticulating, with silver grey hair—still thin—and very good looking—speaking entirely in German—with Lorenzo [Lorenzo Santillo, the class monitor, who encouraged West to meet Gorky] and other students translating.” Every charcoal drawing in the room, she said, was “totally abstract—yet there stood the usual art student nude on the model stand.” As demonstrated by Krasner, Hofmann meant this model as a point of departure only (fig. 8). He talked brilliantly, West said, about “shadows— empathy—push and pull—negative and positive space—imbuing space with concrete form . . .”13

Hofmann, born in Bavaria, had studied in Paris from 1904 to 1914 where he

had been able to encounter modernism’s initial conceptualization. Escaping Nazi artistic suppression in 1932 and eagerly remaking himself as an American, the core principles Hofmann provided his students nonetheless remained Old World, a synthesis of French ideas on form and color borrowed from Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Robert Delaunay, and Picasso with more mystically-inclined Germanic notions of empathy and spirituality, many based on the writings of Wassily Kandinsky.14 Hofmann’s primary precepts included the pursuit of “plasticity” through a technique Fig. 6 Michael West, Blue / Black / Brown Background (after Picasso), 1934. Graphite on paper (Wadsworth Atheneum Pablo Picasso exhibition catalogue), 7 3/4 × 10 1/4 inches. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate.

he termed “push-pull” and designated a key factor in attaining the ultimate goal of creating “pictorial life.”15 In his famous 1948 statement, “Search for the Real,” Hofmann fully clarified his belief that reality and verisimilitude are not synonymous. His notion of artistic imagination as involving a “metamorphosis of the external physical aspects of a thing into a self-sustaining spiritual reality” remained crucial in


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West’s later thinking. “Such is the magic act,” Hofmann had confirmed for her, “which takes place continuously in the development of a work of art. On this and only this is creation based.”16

That plasticity involves the active transference of three-dimensional experience

to a flat picture plane was a highly important concept for Hofmann’s students to grasp, and one that would have particularly central long-term repercussions (although in unlike ways) for both Krasner and West. Unmistakably, West never forgot his instruction that every pictorial exercise, no matter its eventual final state, should be grounded initially in what was in front of you—a “rigidity” Krasner would dismiss. Proof of Hofmann’s enduring impact for West along these lines exists in various notations she attached to photographs ostensibly representing non-objective, spontaneously achieved compositions painted from the 1950s until her death. These jottings confirm West’s continued first-stage dependence on still lifes, interiors, landscapes, and portraits, exactly as Hofmann preached. “What do I work from,” she wrote in 1977, “anything around, shadows—objects on table—still life—heads—ideas constantly— music of most abstract quality . . .” Although her attendance with him was brief, West’s Fig. 7 Peter A. Juley & Son, Hans Hofmann. Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. © Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Fig. 8 Lee Krasner, Untitled, 1940. Charcoal on paper, 24 3/4 × 18 7/8 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jason McCoy, 1978 (1978.446). Photo credit: Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

experience under Hofmann’s tutelage, learning to create the “most beautiful charcoal drawings” where objects can be changed into “symbolic free composition,” for example making “something dramatic from nothing,” would continue as a principal incentive.

Nevertheless, examining the progression of West’s work during the decade or

so following her Art Students League stint indicates she did not get there immediately. Not unlike Gorky, and what critic Harold Rosenberg famously termed his “psychic partnerships” with Cézanne and Picasso that involved directly painting in their style,17 West first needed to work her own way through Cubism’s powerful attraction. While certainly fascinated with Picasso, she was enamored as well of the more decorative style of his Spanish colleague, Juan Gris. In more than several known instances, West closely imitated both (fig. 9 and pl. 1) and she claimed, in addition, to have spent an entire summer “redrawing” Matisse (a portfolio eventually lost) before finally being


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able to amalgamate the newer strands of innovation now entering her orbit. Here is where we catch up again with West in the mid-to-late 1940s, choosing to try her hand at such avant-garde trends, similar to Krasner and Pollock, as all-over composition with no specific center, and biomorphic form, forms that suggest, but do not exactly imitate any living thing (pl. 2). As evident in Mystic Energy, some of West’s paintings at this time, very much like theirs, also feature eye-like orbs peering out from between, at times dripping applications of paint.

Throughout her life, in context with a single-minded focus on art, West remained

an avid reader. She considered reading constantly a pursuit “imperative to the creative mind.” In August 1946, around the time she began such Pollock-inspired compositions as Mystic Energy and Man with Cello, West picked up Art and Poetry, a book by French philosopher Jacques Maritain. This volume, originally published in 1935 as Frontières de la poésie, featured Maritain’s contemplations on the nature and subjectivity of the Fig. 9 Michael West, Girl with Guitar (after Juan Gris, Woman with Mandolin after Corot), 1944. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

visual and poetic, as well as the pertinence to each of the concept of beauty. West was moved to craft a written response to the noted philosopher’s ideas and what she constructed is helpful in terms of judging the growth of her current aesthetic.


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Shadowing her own secondary turn to poetic articulation lasting from 1942 to 1952

and producing some fifty poems of which a number help explicate her feelings on art,18 West staged her thoughts “After reading Maritain” in an expressive literary format. Here they are, exactly as written, incorporating at the finale a somewhat unexpected turn:

Cubism was never more alive than it is today—(1946) Picasso said the only thing that could come out of cubism was a new form of cubism—that is happening today and is called—the new mysticism in painting—existentialism. The price of victory is Insecurity. Fear is lack of perspective.19

Nuancing her so far Hofmann-based approach to painting the “real” with a personal Fig. 10 Michael West, Harlequin, 1947. Oil on canvas, 55 × 36 inches. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.

brand of mysticism—in which, like he and Kandinsky, she stipulated the basis of painting

Fig. 11 Jackson Pollock, Troubled Queen, 1945. Oil and alkyd (synthetic paint) on canvas, 74 1/8 × 43 1/2 inches. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund and Gift of Mrs. Albert J. Beveridge and Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection, by exchange (1984.749). © The PollockKrasner Foundation /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

gresses even further in Mystic Energy. Hofmann, it should be mentioned, had been a

as “spirit”—coincided for West with evolving from an over-reliance on Cubist structure and methodology toward a more vitalistic mode of abstraction. This begins by 1946, although in still somewhat rudimentary form, in works like Harlequin (fig. 10) and prodevotee in Paris of Henri Bergson’s theory of élan vital (vital impulse), “a concept born from a reflection based upon science and fused with a philosophical intuition which blends philosophy and science and thus matter and spirit.”20 Incorporating intuition, Bergson’s concept of durée allowed Hofmann to reimagine painting as a more vigorous medium where sensations of space and time could condense and conflict. This perception was to have a strong and long-lasting impact on West.


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Her own notations, in fact, frequently mention Bergson (who lived 1859–1941)

and in her more developed writings—that during the 1940s West composed several essays on art appears unusual for a woman painter in the annals of Abstract Expressionism—she also incorporated ideas linked to Bergsonian concepts.21 This is particularly evident in her circa 1946 essay, additionally focused on “The New Mysticism in Painting,” which includes a statement as follows: “The true mystic will not even admit the word change—since all is really constantly changing—vibrating—so much so that things appear still and constant—yet once the sensitivity is evoked things are felt as they are—in movement in space—atomically alive.”22 Hofmann had been invested in similar ideas, as was Pollock more informally through his close friend, Swiss photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter, husband of the painter Mercedes Matter, who began her Hofmann studies in the same League session as West.23

While West was unlikely to have understood how perhaps Pollock’s explicit

interest in “energy and motion made visible” (see the works on the wall in fig. 1) had Bergsonian origins (and maybe neither was he), she was likely aware of Hofmann’s parallel endorsement of Bergson’s process philosophy, where static values are rejected in favor of evolution, change, and movement. West definitely knew of the interest in Bergson shared by Pousette-Dart, as well as his attraction to equivalents in Eastern mystical thought, following a popular postwar trend toward considering the cosmos a network of energies. In 1957, she would title two paintings Brahman and Fig. 12 Richard Pousette-Dart, Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental, 1941–42. Oil on canvas. 86 × 104 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.367). Photo credit: Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY. © Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Ko-an signaling her own continued attention to alternative traditions including Vedanta Hinduism, as well as Zen Buddhist practice.24

West met Pousette-Dart in 1945, the year she first exhibited in New York, in a

group show at Pinacotheca Gallery.25 Pousette-Dart, who used her as a model for one of his “mesmeric” multiple-image composite photo portraits had immediately encouraged West to let go of the “Juan Gris influence.”26 By 1948, the year Hofmann published “Search for the Real,” she would express her own revised conviction, “Painting can be great only when it is totally abstract.” Only then, she now agreed, is it


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“like nature,” expressive of nature’s “phenomenology” versus simply its appearance.27 Interestingly, West associated abstraction not only with mysticism, an age-old system of beliefs, but also (as already seen) with a contemporary interest shared by many American artists and intellectuals in the anxiously individualistic postwar philosophy, existentialism, recently imported from Europe. She enthusiastically read Jean-Paul Sartre, its most representative and influential French practitioner, whose ideas incorporated many Bergsonian equivalents.

Commenting, in what is probably a late 1940s “Note” that mimics an imaginary

conversation, West clarifies that, for her, the term “spiritual” is now “no longer a word bandied about by cliché—but has become an existentialist reality.” “Well—says the reader,” she goes on to state, “—it always has been—how stupid to mention such a thing—the war simply brought about a stronger impact of belief—a greater necessity for action.” Echoing Pollock, in tandem with her own scrawled notation, “Life is a traumatic drama,” West would observe that structure in modern painting—“existential painting if you will”—must be arrived at in its process of making.28

A significant quantity of photographs located in West’s collected papers image

additional unlocated 1940s works by her, many correspondingly dense and otherwise close in Neo-Cubist style to such pre-drip canvases by Pollock as Troubled Queen, shown in 1946 at Art of This Century (fig. 11). While sharing, a few years after him, a number of the intermediary qualities evident just before he made the switch to directly pouring paint, the bulk of West’s compositions between 1946 and 1950 offer a somewhat less visceral and enervating version of Pollock’s still heavily impastoed, but already energetic mid-1940s brushwork. In 1948, West contributed Mystic Energy to another Manhattan group show, along with a similarly styled canvas, Transfiguration, its title referencing a religious concept she now associated with existentialist thought. Around this same time, West also began conceiving an unanticipated, more politically aware and uniquely affective correction to what her archive indicates that for some years she had merely been repeating. In hypothesizing this, her friendship with Pousette-Dart turned out essential.

Pousette-Dart, about whom West wrote a laudatory 1946 poem “To a Great

Mystic,” provided in his own Art of This Century exhibition statement produced that year, a succinct summarization of convictions the two of them shared: “I strive to express the spiritual nature of the universe. Painting is for me a dynamic balance and wholeness of life; it is mysterious and transcending, yet solid and real.”29 Among the works featured in his solo show, Pousette-Dart’s circa 1941–42 mural-sized, Symphony No. 1: The Transcendental (fig. 12) underscored his supra-natural abstract vision, more grid-like and regularized than Pollock’s, to embody a collective experience. Since art is always mystical in its final meaning Pousette-Dart explained, the symbols he employed in works such as this “are but signs, reminders of essence, signals of cosmic awareness.”30 In 1944, at the height of the war and around the time of this last statement, he would title a smaller picture, Crucifixion, Comprehension of the Atom, prefiguring his own conversion of “cosmic awareness” after Hiroshima and Nagasaki into a reverberation of the after-effects of atomic annihilation.

West, whose canvas Mystic Energy somewhat reiterates Comprehension of the

Atom’s verticality and looping forms, would eventually follow suit, but now in her own


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unique way. At some point in 1948, she quite purposely chose to blow up her earlier style, creating the aptly titled new composition Blinding Light (fig. 13). This astonishing picture was achieved through decisive destruction of Harlequin with a bursting layer of blood red and bomb-colored paint. During 1949, in Nihilism and, a few years after in Dagger of Light, spontaneous combustion would mutate into a more intrinsic component of the work’s kinetic facture (pl. 4 and fig. 14). In writing “The New Mysticism,” West had already equated subjective emotion with speed, and creation with explosion. “Speed in this sense,” she said, “is inventive—intuitive and brings about disintegration in a new form.” She tagged this phenomenon “atomic penetration,” but clearly with a purpose of fusion rather than fission, “to gain a greater synthesis—a greater vibration of elements in space.” Whereas Dagger of Light almost certainly also has a mid-1940s picture beneath its silvery burst, what shows in the under layer of Nihilism more closely approximates a version of Pollock’s newly spontaneous, skein-like spatters and drips.31 Details of works including Troubled Queen already demonstrated his use of such gestural techFig. 13 Michael West, Blinding Light, circa 1948. Oil and aluminum paint on canvas, 55 × 36 inches. Collection of Diane Procter. Photo credit: Gerard Vuilleumier.

niques; these tactics would appear full-scale in pictures like Galaxy by 1947 (fig. 15). The latter represents Pollock’s own revision of an earlier canvas—a tactic Krasner used as well—its more benign cosmic effects compared to Nihilism similarly enhanced with pulsating aluminum paint.

Fig. 14 Michael West, Dagger of Light, 1951. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 55 × 35 inches. Collection of Craig Ponzio, Evergreen, Colorado.

Conjured with such up-to-the-moment strategies, the horrors of atomic war-

fare take on a different, searing and even phantasmagoric appearance in West’s literally “brilliant” allegories. As one observer of that era wrote perceptively, they represent “an image of the world of our time with its bewildering new technologies and


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its sudden awareness of sub-atomic physics and astronomy.”32 This direction clearly resonates with a well-known example from Pollock’s few existing statements of intent, a circa 1950 “Note” that reads, “Experience of our age in terms of painting—not an illustration of—(but the equivalent).”33 Though exceptionally arresting, West’s blast compositions do provide a kind of obverse to the optimism she experienced upon conclusion of the global war. Joyously observing the raucous celebrations of Allied victory on Armistice Day, West imagined “the triumph of active mysticism realized,” for her, perhaps, an even greater achievement.34

Careful examination of her “Notes on Art”

written over the amazing span of fifty years, and considering them in context with the products of her later career, indicates without question that West never ceased to ruminate over and act upon the influences and experiences of her foundational period—chiefly the 1940s decade. We began by (re)placing West, during that era, into the company of a presently far better-known group of individuals, each of whose own chosen self-transformation likewise prefigured extraordinary creativity. When West was given her first solo exhibition in New York in 1957 at the Uptown Galleries, her connections to Gris, Zen, Hofmann, and Pollock were easily recognized by reviewer Irving Sandler. With one major caveat, Sandler was mostly positive about the “uninhibited Action-Paintings” offered at her show. Critic Suzanne Burrey went even further, stating that West’s “many-faceted ‘action’ paintings” reveal “a genuine expressionist gift: they bring to mind the energy of Pollack [sic], the sudden frenzy of a Hofmann squeeze of paint—and [adding a new name] even the bravado of Mathieu.” The fact that West had been “a close participant Fig. 15 Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947. Oil, aluminum paint, and gravel on canvas, 43 1/2 × 34 inches. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska. Gift of Miss Peggy Guggenheim (1949.164). Photo credit: © Bruce M. White, 2019. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Fig. 16 Stable Gallery Second Annual Poster, 1953. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.

in the genesis of Abstract Expressionism” is obvious to Burrey in “the emotional force” and “quality of immediacy and presence” achieved in her oils. That she was able to generate both energy and a coherent framework is described as “no mean feat.”35

Despite occasioning such relatively good press toward its end, and her inclusion

in 1953 with notably bigger names in an important group show at the Stable Gallery (fig. 16), West’s reputation did not advance as rapidly during that decade as did many of her peers. Moreover, as well as the burning spatial effects achieved in 1951 in Dagger of Light, West had begun to create around that same time additional works that elsewise reference the mythologizing and primitivizing of nature common to paintings and statements by the seemingly all-male canonical Abstract Expressionists.


23

These include, among others, her oddly-titled Cubist Still Life with its cave-like texture and suggestions of primeval writing finished in 1950 (fig. 17) as well as West’s more dynamic, actively centrifugal and again aptly named Space Poetry, a canvas completed six years later. Historian Clark Mills, writing for the Uptown Galleries, was the only critic to recognize any such connection.36

Further significant, and in a related although perhaps not as obvious vein,

during the mid-1950s West would launch a quieter, more loosely impressionistic series of semi-abstract landscapes painted at her and Francis Lee’s country house. She gave these works, in what might appear an added thematic and formalistic about-face, such plainly descriptive titles as Stonington Conn. (Rainy Afternoon) (pl. 8) and Road to the Sea (fig. 18). A close examination of their “airy freedom” and lively, often slashing structure—Still Life (City Art) exhibits similarities in a more urban palette (pl. 7)—identifies these as yet another extension of West’s preoccupation with representing vitalism, and they most certainly appear to stem from her continuing passion for Cézanne. In initiating such exercises, West revises with a more personal flair her appreciation for how Cézanne “breaks down a space or breaks up a space” rather than “merely showing its beauty.”37 Strategies she tried out here will grow increasingly Fig. 17 Michael West, Cubist Still Life, 1948. Oil on board, 23 × 17 inches. Private collection. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.

relevant (pl. 9).

Repeating the somewhat diffident feelings West expressed about Gorky’s

studio soirées, she also never hid a lack of enthusiasm about her husband’s “too


24

sophisticated” friends, mainly the crowd Lee knew from Paris and liked to entertain in New York. Two couples who came regularly were a major exception to her aversion. They were the French poet Ivan Goll with his wife Claire (a strong supporter of West’s talent) and American actor-director and painter-poet Julien Beck with his wife, actress and activist Judith Malina. In 1947, Beck and Malina had co-founded Manhattan’s Living Theater, the first experimental drama group formed in the United States. Malina, as it turns out, can provide us with significant first-person insight into West’s state of mind during the period when those landscape-based pictures from Stonington began converting, to a larger (mostly 4 × 5 feet), more direct but less perceptual format.38

Referring to West and Lee, in a diary entry

written in 1954, Malina describes their “Europeanstyle” New York apartment as “covered with Michael’s big, splashy, nervous canvases, all like shouts of anguish.” On New Year’s Eve 1957 (a few years before West and Lee divorced), Malina likened her friend’s mood that night to “a brightly enameled steel spring— sharp, coiled, painted,” identifying in West an existential sense of (dis)ease noticeably also infecting her work.39 West herself listed certain of its primary ingredients in a “Note” of 1965: “objects, line, space—autonomy—sensitive mood—drama—violence.” These were attributes, she believed, “nearer to the heart of painting—& to people—to their character & the character structure of painting.”

By the early 1960s, as Pollock had earlier done, West was sometimes choosing

to paint on the floor, viewing her compositions from all sides while working, and occasionally signing them in multiple directions (pl. 11). Unlike Pollock, she never strove to lose herself to the painting process, preferring always to remain in “an intense state of consciousness.”40 As early as the previous decade, West had also begun trying, off and on, to restrict her palette to black and white in order to gain greater clarity. She learned this gambit in Hofmann’s class and around 1947 produced a series of Juan Gris-based curlicue versions, one of which is seen in the portrait Lee made the following year of his wife with a cigarette. Influential critic Clement Greenberg came to West’s studio to view these pictures, but his approval unfortunately led nowhere, an outcome identical to Guggenheim and Pollock’s earlier visit.41

In any case, by 1955, those of West’s canvases limited to black and white fit

right in with such artistic colleagues as Robert Motherwell, often, as in Music (The Drummer) of 1973, even including similar small fluid splashes (pl. 25). As well, in some Fig. 18 Michael West, Road to the Sea, 1955. Oil on canvas, 39 × 30 inches. Private collection, Long Island, N.Y. Photo credit: Gerard Vuilleumier.

other alike works, she restated for herself the signature gestures of Franz Kline whose boldly calligraphic compositions she greatly admired (fig. 19).42 Configurations of this type, including West’s Red August, inscribed to poet Frank O’Hara, as well as


25

Homage to Hofmann—each painted in 1966 the year both men died—would remain a future staple (pls. 18 and 19). Some of her works of the late 1960s and early 1970s, not unlike those previous atomic blasts but much less blatant, were painted in reaction to the war in Vietnam and other political catastrophes, yet around 1977, devising a series of “quick poems based on the square loosely and freely attacked,” eleven neutrally-hued Cubist totems made a disruptive appearance (pls. 16 and 26).

Throughout her most productive years, West never forgot that “Hofmann’s

definition of expressionism was to bring the picture plane to its highest level,” and the sheer physicality of his massive paint strokes and heavy impasto remained an important guidepost toward achieving this goal (fig. 20). Of necessity, as Hofmann had himself so masterfully done, this journey would involve for her the development of a “new feeling for color.”43 While in the past West had often considered color more as “light and dark in different proportion”—and Soyer said she used it too strategically, we recall—she would come to consider hue in a much more subjective way, re-defining it as “an emotion of matter in time and space.” By 1951, West would Fig. 19 Michael West, Painting, 1955. Oil on canvas, 40 × 29 3/4 inches. Private collection. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, Inc. © 2019.

confidently assert, “My color is psychological just as Hofmann’s is.” With regard to its actual use, however: “the more complicated the space the simpler the color (this sounds wrong—but it is right—for me).”44


26

As hinted by Burrey six years earlier, some-

what atypical of her colleagues at home, West’s curiosity about trying out newer trends led to her recognition and incorporation of parallel directions initiated by contemporaries in Europe. Although firm in her belief that what was happening right around her had been producing some of the “greatest paintings in the history of art,” West acknowledged that “from Paris, France we had some followers who became terrific painters,” citing in particular the two bestknown Tachistes, Pierre Soulages and Georges Mathieu. A clipping she kept indicates that works by Soulages were on view at Kootz Gallery simultaneously with West’s own Uptown solo show; this was one of six exhibitions he had there between 1954 and 1960. Mathieu had nine solos in New York between 1952 and 1959, six also at Kootz, a venue West mentions visiting frequently.45

Tachisme, derived from the French word

denoting touch, appeared by the late 1940s and early 1950s as a kind of European equivalent to works by the American Abstract Expressionists. Interestingly, its intuitive stylistic approach led some in France also to label it abstraction lyrique, applying that term in much the same adjectival sense as West had done. Tachisme is probably the best-known manifestation of a larger continental postwar movement dubbed l’Art Informel by French critic Michel Tapié, a strong enthusiast of Pollock. Like Motherwell, Kline, Pollock, and many others in New York, so-called Tachistes similarly rejected the control and discipline of Cubist structure and geometry-based abstraction in favor of automatic practices and gestural spontaneity. But, Parisian works were, for the most part, less “aggressively raw,” since Mathieu, Soulages, and their associates tended to prioritize blots, staining, patches of color, and linear calligraphy (fig. 21).

As West describes in regard to solving her constant problem of finding “a new

subjectivity,” Tachiste compositions—here she cites Mathieu—also mostly feature more isolated forms, differentiating them from Pollock’s all-overness so previously admired. At one point, West expresses her interest in working on something (perhaps along the lines of Homage to Hofmann featuring thick black strokes on a neutral field) that might appear “between Kline and Soulages” (fig. 22), fretting however, “I don’t know how it will look.” “Time will tell,” she observes, “whether the European artist or the American artist thinks better,” questioning if “we in America have a different culture.”46 Fig. 20 Hans Hofmann, The Lark, 1960. Oil on canvas, 60 1/8 × 52 5/16 inches. University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of the artist (1965.10). Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom. © Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

West’s special interest in Mathieu, already evident by the early 1950s, can

perhaps best be understood through studying the comparable way she pondered connections between expressionism and script-like writing. In certain works made toward the end of that decade, including Green (Shadow) and Green Apple, like Mathieu, West now added a quickly applied calligraphic scribble (pls. 10 and 12). His seems always to be squeezed onto canvas directly from a tube of paint, hers either follows suit (sometimes streaked afterward with a palette knife) or can be dripped


27

from a brush more similar to Pollock. Bypassing intermediary control, both she and Mathieu suggest a slashing impulsivity, speedier, more effusive and “vertiginous” than Soulages’s bent toward monumentality.47 Her sporadic addition of collage items such as a watch, magazine illustrations, household nails, and crumpled papers with lines of her own poetry adds further commotion to this latest genre of works (pls. 14 and 15). While definitely enlarging the parameters of her final decades of artistry, West’s Tachiste affinities likely contributed to downgrading her standing as an Abstract Expressionist (and the advent of Pop and Minimal art didn’t help her later status either). In all likelihood, West’s career-long openness to influence, a concept she would never renounce, had a generally diminishing effect on her reputation as a painter. Writing in 1971, she proposed a distinctive point of view that included endorsement of an appropriative element to individual creativity. “It takes three minds at a time,” West claimed, “Nature—you—and another artist.” Not only reflecting Gorky’s long ago example, this opinion underscored as well Francis Lee’s stated belief, “It’s ridiculous for each painter to create a New Art.” In one of her “Notes,” West proposed instead a strategy she called “re-integration,” a concept at that time not widely accepted.

Once more, in this situation, revealing comparisons might be drawn with reac-

tions to the art of Lee Krasner. Reviewing her first U.S. retrospective in 1984, the year she died, well-respected cultural philosopher Arthur Danto chose to outright disparage Krasner and to not-so-subtly demean her entire life’s work. Declaring her “more interesting as a case than as a painter,” Danto went on to complain, “There is no recurrent touch, or whatever may be the pictorial equivalent of voice in Krasner’s canvases. There are only the shadows of other selves, the echo of other voices.”48 Fig. 21 Georges Mathieu, Painting, 1952. Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 × 118 inches. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (53.1373). Photo credit: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

For too long, the persistence of similar opinions contributed to situating Krasner as a minor talent at best, known mostly through her connection to Pollock; it has taken a quarter century since the end of her career for this wrong-headed notion to dissipate. As previously established, West never achieved anything even close to Krasner’s level of recognition despite—as we’ve now examined in greater detail—the distinct parity of ideas she shared with major American players and the commensurate seriousness


28

of her commitment to “subjective automatism,” a concept that, in one way or another, the Abstract Expressionists mostly shared. Indeed, it was through prioritizing this very approach that West would eventually figure out the best way (as critic Dore Ashton so colorfully put it) to “exteriorize her wildly fluctuating inner life.”49 Like identity recreation, projecting interiority became an important identifying feature of the so-called New York School.

In one of her own “Notes on Art,” West

attempted to explain all of this much more simply. “Because the creative moment is instantaneous,” she wrote, “if we change inside, we want the painting to change likewise.” While admitting that sustained achievement of such interconnected alteration could never be “easy,” West nonetheless did not cease trying, continuing virtually up to the very end of her life (and despite a 1978 stroke) her endeavor to realize a personally revelatory brand of creativity. As this current exhibition so decisively demonstrates, a casual reviewer impressed by her work way back in the late 1990s already identified what matters most: “Michael West, whose life spans American abstract art like that of a heroine in a historical novel, has left behind some truly thrilling paintings.”50

ELLEN G. LANDAU BIOGRAPHY Ellen G. 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; and Mexico and American Modernism (2013), a new interpretation of the impact of Mexico on Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Isamu Noguchi.

Fig. 22 Pierre Soulages, Painting, 195 × 130 cm, May 1953. Oil on canvas. 77 3/8 × 51 1/4 inches. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (53. 1381). Photo credit: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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 photographerdesigner 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).


29

Notes All undated or otherwise unidentified statements made by West and “Notes on Art” quoted in text or endnotes are from Michael West’s papers, Hollis Taggart, New York; hereafter designated MWP. Her own emphasis (underlining and dashes) has been retained throughout. 1. “Debutante’s daughter”: Gorky Notebook, August 1978, MWP. Her own emphasis (underlining and dashes) has been retained throughout. Following Ethel Schwabacher’s Arshile Gorky (New York: MacMillan, 1957) his biographers have all included Gorky’s relationship with West. 2. See Ellen G. Landau, “Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner: ‘The Erotics of Influence,’” in Jackson Pollock: The Irascibles and the New York School (Milan: Skira, 2002), 173–88. 3. Randolph Nelson, West’s husband in 1931, was a matinee-idol type with whom she performed at the Cincinnati Actor’s Theater. In a 1934 letter, he recalled their relationship: “My current emotional interest is not current any longer, for I met her four years ago in a Midwestern town of no mean proportion, some time in the spring of 1930 I believe . . . She is, as you know, the most beautiful girl I have ever known, and my interest has never flagged . . . I’ve seen her since several times, in fact I think I married her once, but that was long ago, and in my recollection she is the star dust of my song . . .” 4. Linda Gross, Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1978, part IV, 10, styled Francis Lee a “contemporary humanist” and a “mystic abstractionist,” likely explaining his and West’s mutual attraction. 5. Brief but significant mention in addition to bibliography: Ann Eden Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997); and Joan Marter, “Missing in Action: Abstract Expressionist Women” in Women of Abstract Expressionism (Denver Art Museum and Yale University Press, 2016). 6. West shared Gorky’s letters with Schwabacher, her life-long friend, never dreaming she would publish them. In August 1978, West opined, “I don’t think the artist’s personal life should interfere with evaluation of his painting—the two are separate—when he enters his ‘studio of the mind’ he goes farther faster—this contribution to the history of art should not contain gossip . . .” 7. Gorky Notebook, 26, MWP. West described herself and Gorky as “humble poets seeking a sensible way to direct our energies.” Despite his fervent love letters and a nude drawing of her (see Chronology), she considered their relationship platonic, implying attempts at more were unsuccessful. What they shared was “hysterical holiness,” an ecstatic passion for life and art. 8. “Notes,” August 1978. Frank Duveneck (1848–1919) was a celebrated Munich-trained Cincinnati realist famous for such Franz Halsinspired portraits as Whistling Boy (1872). His approach was still being taught at the Cincinnati Art Academy when West attended. A portrait of her done at this time by Myer Abel (see Chronology) reflects the typical dark palette identified with Duveneck. 9. Ibid. 10. Patricia Richmond, in “Michael West’s Paintings from the 1940s and 1950s,” Master’s Thesis, George Washington University, 1995, 29, cites a then-extant pastel of 1940, Woman with Note, somewhat resembling fifteenth-century Flemish portraits. Its current whereabouts is unknown. 11. Raphael Soyer, “The Lesson: The Academy, the League, and the Classroom,” Arts Magazine 42 (September–October 1967): 36. 12. See Ellen G. Landau, “’What a Picture Should Mean’: Lee Krasner, Hans Hofmann and the Role of Drawing in Modernism,” Lee Krasner Charcoals (New York: Kasmin Gallery, 2019), 4–21, 80.

13. “Notes,” August 1978. Elsewhere she deems Hofmann “the greatest teacher of all time,” recalling he and Gorky “bowed to each other” whenever they met. 14. See Ellen G. Landau, “When Vision Became Gesture: Hans Hofmann in the 1940s” in Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019), 64–85. 15. Hofmann’s “Plastic Creation,” The League 22 (winter 1950) likely reflects his classroom lectures. In January 1971, West was still meditating on the nature of plastic creation, writing, “We like the works where this is most observable,” naming Gris, Hofmann, Kline, and Soulages. 16. Hans Hofmann, Search for the Real and Other Essays, edited by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1948), 40. 17. See Harold Rosenberg, Arshile Gorky: The Man, The Time, The Idea (New York: Grove Press, 1962). 18. West’s poetry: Chris McNamara, “By Any Other Name” in Michael West Painter-Poet (East Hampton, NY: Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, 1996), 7–11. 19. “Notes,” August 1946. 20. Joseph Chiari, “Vitalism and Contemporary Thought” in The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy, edited by Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 253. 21. West’s three essays, published here for the first time: “Cézanne” (January 1946), “The New Mysticism in Painting,” circa 1946, “Edge— Texture” (March 1948). 22. West’s interest in Bergsonian concepts continued, as seen in “Notes,” 1967: “I paint the inner world—the vibrations that I feel—since man is electric the emotions inside do not necessarily correspond to the objective world,” equating the spiritual with “cosmic laws.” She admired Cézanne’s Bergsonian ability to show “things conceived in movement rather than still.” 23. See Jonathan D. Katz, “Jackson Pollock’s Vitalism: Herbert Matter and the Vitalist Tradition” in Pollock Matters, edited by Ellen G. Landau and Claude Cernuschi (Chestnut Hill, MA: McMullen Museum of Art, 2007), 59–72. 24. Richmond, 40–41. 25. Others in the Pinacotheca show included Milton Avery, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb, a promising peer group. 26. See Charles H. Duncan, Absence/ Presence: Richard Pousette-Dart as Photographer (Utica, NY: Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, 2014), 18. 27. “Totally abstract”: “Notes,” 1947. Although, like Hofmann, West seems never to have truly embraced surrealism, elsewhere in “Notes” she writes, “All Realism is abstract and strange— that which is not strange or abstract is not Real—or Realistic—Nature is just off of what we would expect—or conceive it to be like—the surprise Element—is always there—the strange, the wonderful, the terrible.” 28. “Notes,” 1968–69. 29. Jasper Sharp, “Serving the Future: The Exhibitions at Art of This Century 1942–1947” in Peggy Guggenheim and Frederick Kiesler: The Story of Art of This Century, edited by Susan Davidson and Philip Rylands (New York: Guggenheim Publications, 2003), 345. 30. Robert Hobbs and Joanne Kuebler, Richard Pousette-Dart (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), 15–16, 24. “Cosmic awareness”: Pousette-Dart’s notebook, circa 1944.

31. As Pollock did in some 1940s compositions, West mixed oil, sand, and debris into the heavy impasto of Nihilism, employing a palette knife and poured paint application, as well as standard brushwork. 32. Clark Mills, untitled essay accompanying West’s Uptown Galleries exhibition (New York: Voyages Press, 1957). 33. Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles and Reviews, edited by Pepe Karmel (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1999), 24; Pollock’s emphasis retained. He also added two final words: “Concentrated fluid.” 34. West, “Notes,” May 8, 1945, hailed “the new poetry the new art the new peace—which for a moment—is actually seen and heard—like a great love never dying . . . for a moment—good surpasses evil. Good conquers even in this world.” 35. Irving S. Sandler, “Michael West [Uptown],” Artnews 56 (December 1957): 13. Suzanne Burrey, “Michael West: Paintings at Uptown Galleries,” Arts Digest 32 (January 1958): 57. Sandler complains, “However anything goes, and the painting is apt to run away with itself.” 36. Mills (n.32) characterizes West an abstract painter “whose work has developed and elaborated the technical approach of Jackson Pollock.” He praises Space Poetry for conveying “an impression of violent motion of particles and atomic nuclei, of unidentified objects in flight at great speed, and of stellar explosions,” terming her work both “a warning and an affirmation.” 37. West, “Cézanne,” 1946. Cézanne, West believed, “anticipated the atomic age of freedom.” 38. Jeanne Willette, “Michael West: The Artist was a Woman,” arthistoryunstuffed.com/ michael-west-the-artist-was-a-woman/, points out that West’s later paintings are mostly “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.” 39. The Diaries of Judith Malina (New York: Grove Press, 1984), 322, 424; cited in Richmond, 11. Commentary on Gorky and Francis Lee’s friends: Gorky Notebook, 1978. During the 1970s, Claire Goll procured a Paris show for West at Galerie Mouffe, but shipping overseas was unaffordable. 40. Works painted on the floor were exhibited at Granite Galleries in 1963. See “Notes,” October 31, 1974. “Intense consciousness”: “Notes,” 1946. 41. Greenberg’s visit is described on the rear of a photograph of a work from this series. West also associated black and white with Christ’s transfiguration. 42. West, “Notes,” 1981, calls Kline “a strong influence since Hofmann approved of studies in black and white—the form of the painting is so clear in black and white.” 43. “New feeling”: “Notes,” May 5, 1951. 44. “Notes,” 1951 and 1946. 45. Exhibition data: Richmond, 64, n.14. Other Tachistes with whom West shared affinities are Wols and Jean-Paul Riopelle. 46. Except for last comment dated October 1984, others are undated. 47. See also Richmond, 58–60. Speedy and “vertiginous”: “Dore Ashton on Michael West,” Michael West: The Automatic Paintings (New York: 123 Watts Gallery, 1999), n.p. 48. Arthur Danto, “Lee Krasner: A Retrospective,” The Nation, February 23, 1985, 219–20. See “Forming Krasner’s Identity,” Ellen G. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Abrams, 1995), 10–16. 49. Ashton (n.47), n.p. 50. Jeanne C. Wilkinson, “Michael West: Automatic Paintings that Thrill,” The Tribeca Trib, [June] 1999, 36.


30

Blue Figure 1948, Oil and sand on canvas, 37 Ă— 26 inches, Collection credit


31

Untitled [Double-Sided] 1949, Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 Ă— 8 7/8 inches


32

PLATES


33

1 Egian Girl 1942. Oil on canvas, 33 × 25 1/8 inches Signed lower right: “Michael West / 1942” Signed, dated, and inscribed verso: “Mich West Lee / 1942 1942 / [illegible] / Rochester N.Y. / Keep / Girl with [illegible]” Collection of Scott and Antonia Davis, New York


34

2 Blue Figure 1948. Oil and sand on canvas, 37 Ă— 26 inches Private collection, New York


35

3 Untitled [Double-Sided] 1949. Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 × 8 7/8 inches Initialed and dated lower left: “M. W. / 1949”


36

4 Nihilism 1949. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 53 1/8 × 40 1/4 inches Signed lower left: “M West” Signed, dated, and titled verso: “Michael West 1949 nihilism” Magis Collection/Christopher Haqq, Michael Antonello


37


38

5 Untitled circa 1940s. Ink and graphite on paper, 8 3/4 Ă— 11 3/4 inches


39

6 Untitled [Double-Sided] 1951. Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 × 8 7/8 inches Initialed and dated lower right: “M. W. / 1951”


40

7 Still Life (City Art) 1954–57. Oil and enamel on canvas, 55 × 38 inches Signed (twice), titled, and dated (twice) verso: “Michael West Lee / Still Life / May 1954 – April 1957 / (Nov) / Michael Lee / April 1957” Private collection, Canada


41

8 Stonington Conn. (Rainy Afternoon) circa 1955. Oil on canvas, 40 1/4 × 36 inches Signed and titled verso: “Michael West / Stonington Conn. / Rainy Afternoon”


42

9 La Voir – After Juan Gris 1956. Oil on canvas, 65 7/8 × 38 1/2 inches Signed and dated upper right: “Mich West / 1956” Inscribed, dated, titled (twice), and signed (twice) verso: “Top Top Top / 1956 / title LA VOIR - mean (to see) / Mich West / Michael West / LA VOIR / Top Top”


43


44

10 Green (Shadow) 1957–59. Oil on canvas, 93 × 49 1/8 inches Initialed top left: “MW” Signed (twice), dated (twice), titled (twice), inscribed, and initialed verso: “Michael West / 1957 / Shadow / Top / M West / [illegible] / M. W. / Green / 1959” Private collection, Chicago


45


46

11 Green 1958. Oil, nails, and collage on canvas, 92 × 36 3/4 inches Signed lower left (horizontally): “Michael West”, signed lower right (vertically): “Michael West” Signed, dated, and titled verso: “Michael West 1958 green"


47


48

12 Green Apple 1959. Oil on canvas, 40 × 87 3/4 inches Titled and dated verso: “Green Apple 1959”


49


50

13 Dancing Figure 1962. Oil and collage on canvas, 91 1/4 × 50 inches Signed lower right: “Michael West” Signed, titled, dated, and inscribed verso: “Michael West / Dancing Figure / 1962 / ‘From Udhe Shanker Ballet’ / Price $5000.00”


51

Untitled [Double-Sided] 1949, Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 Ă— 8 7/8 inches


52

14 Flowers 1962–64. Oil and collage on canvas, 49 7/8 × 32 7/8 inches Initialed and dated lower left: “MW / 196[?]” Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Mich West / Flowers / 64-62?” Private collection, Canada


53


54

15 Franconia Notch 1965. Oil and collage on canvas, 49 1/4 × 36 inches Signed, titled, and dated verso: “Michael West / ‘Franconia Notch’ / Aug. 1965”


55

16 Unknown Planet (Orpheus) 1965. Oil on canvas, 61 × 50 inches Signed and dated lower right: “Michael West / 1965” Signed, dated, inscribed, and titled verso: “Michael West / Aug 1965 / Study Form / ‘Vietnam’ / (Title Unknown Planet) / Title Orpheus”


56

Blue Figure 1948, Oil and sand on canvas, 37 Ă— 26 inches, Collection credit


57

Untitled [Double-Sided] 1949, Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 Ă— 8 7/8 inches


58

17 Orange Sentinel 1965–69. Oil, enamel, and mixed media on canvas, 75 1/8 × 40 1/8 inches Signed lower right: “Mich West” Inscribed, dated, and titled verso: “Study-Red & Black / July 1965 / ‘Dinghaka’ / Orange Sentinel”


59


60

18 Red August 1966. Oil on canvas, 70 3/8 × 48 3/8 inches Signed upper center: “Michael West” Inscribed verso: “To Frank O’Hara”


61


62

19 Homage to Hofmann 1966. Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 3/4 inches Initialed and dated lower right: “MW 1966” Signed, dated, and titled verso: “Michael West / Feb. 18–1966 / ‘Homage to Hofmann’”


63


64

20 Continuum 1968. Oil on canvas, 79 1/4 × 71 1/2 inches Initialed lower left: “MW” Signed, titled, and dated (twice) verso: “Michael West / Continuum / 1967”


65


66


67


68

21 Untitled circa 1970s. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 28 × 22 1/8 inches Estate stamp verso Inscribed verso: “TUBE2-70S”


69


70

22 Untitled circa 1970s. Oil on canvas, 36 × 16 1/4 inches Signed upper left: “Mich West”


71


72

23 Untitled [Double-sided] 1970–71. Enamel on paperboard, 28 × 22 1/8 inches Initialed, signed, and dated (twice) lower left: “M.W. / 1970 / Michael West 1970” Signed and dated verso: “Michael West / 1971”


73

24 Untitled 1971. Oil and enamel on canvas, 50 × 36 inches Initialed lower right: “MW” Signed and dated verso: “Mich West / March - 1971”


74

25 Music (The Drummer) 1973. Oil and enamel on canvas, 50 3/8 × 20 1/4 inches Dated, signed, and titled verso: “1973 / Mich West / Music - The Drummer”


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26 Homage to the Square 1973–74. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 75 × 50 1/4 inches Signed (twice) and dated (twice) upper left: “Michael West 1973 / Mich West / 1974” Inscribed, signed (twice), dated (twice), and titled verso: “Top / Mich West 1973 / 1973 / Michael West / ‘Homage to the Square’” Private collection, Park City, Utah


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27 Black and White 1981. Oil on canvas, 49 5/8 × 28 inches Signed, dated, and titled verso: “Mich West / 1981 / Black & White”


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28 Memorial Day 1982. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 28 1/8 × 22 1/4 inches Signed, dated, and titled lower left: “Michael West / May - 1982 / (Memorial Day)”


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29 White Heat Vibrations 1982. Oil on canvas, 50 × 28 inches Initialed and dated lower right: “MW 1982” Titled, signed, and dated verso: “White Heat Vibrations / Mich West / Halloween 1982 / August 1982”


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ESSAYS AND POEMS BY THE ARTIST


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“Cézanne,” January 1946. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.


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“Edge—Texture,” March 1948. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.


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“The New Mysticism in Painting,� circa 1946. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.


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“The New Art,” 1942. Photo courtesy of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.


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CHRONOLOGY

1908 Michael West is born Corinne Michelle West in Chicago. 1927–30 West attends the Cincinnati Art Academy. Local artist Myer Abel creates a portrait of her during her student years (fig. 1). 1931 West marries Cincinnati-based actor Randolph Nelson. The marriage ends in divorce within a year. 1932 West moves to New York, settling in Greenwich Village at 21 West 10th Street. 1932–35 West enrolls at the Art Students League, where she attends the first class offered at the school by Hans Hofmann. Fellow Hofmann students include Mercedes Matter, Betty Parsons, and Louise Nevelson. After six months West leaves Hofmann’s class and studies with Raphael Soyer and Kenneth Miller.

Fig. 1 Myer Abel, Corinne West, 1929. Oil on canvas, 22 × 18 1/4 inches. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate. Fig. 2 Arshile Gorky, Corinne West, 1934. Graphite on paper (Wadsworth Atheneum Pablo Picasso exhibition catalogue), 7 3/4 × 10 1/4 inches. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate. © 2019 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

1935 Through her class monitor at the Art Students League, Lorenzo Santillo, West meets painter Arshile Gorky. They develop an intimate relationship, sharing discussions on art and theory and visiting museums (fig. 2). Gorky proposes marriage numerous times, but West declines. Later that year, West moves to Rochester, New York. She joins the Rochester Art Club, where she has her


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1945 West returns to New York, debuting in a group show at Pinacotheca Gallery along with such artists as Milton Avery, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb. She meets Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart, who, several years later, creates a multiple-image composite photo portrait of her (fig. 3). 1946 Through Pousette-Dart, West meets Jackson Pollock and dealer Peggy Guggenheim, who visit her studio, where they admire her painting Man with Cello. West pens a poem for Pousette-Dart “To a Great Mystic” in response to his solo show of the same year at Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of This Century. She also writes the essay “The New Mysticism in Painting.” first solo exhibition. West and Gorky continue their close relationship with frequent correspondence throughout 1936 and remain in touch after that, including a trip together to see the New York World’s Fair in 1939. 1939–43 West exhibits in four Rochester Finger Lakes exhibitions at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery. In 1939, at Gorky’s suggestion, West begins exhibiting under the name Mikael. 1941 West changes her name to Michael and begins to use it both professionally and personally.

1948 West exhibits her paintings Mystic Energy and Transfiguration in a group exhibition at Rose Fried Gallery in New York. That same year, she marries avant-garde filmmaker and war photographer Francis Lee. Lee’s circle includes European surrealists as well as New York School artists and critics, such as Robert Motherwell, Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, and Judith Malina and Julien Beck. West gives birth to her only child, Lionel Sardofontana Lee, the following year.


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1963 West receives a solo exhibition at Granite Galleries in New York in which she debuts a series of works, including Green (Shadow), which reflect her new technique of painting on the floor.

1949–51 West’s painting undergoes a stylistic change as she moves away from using a Cubist structure. Her new works, including Nihilism and Dagger of Light demonstrate an overall composition and are reflective of the atomic era. 1953 West exhibits in the historic Stable Gallery Second Annual show alongside such peers as Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Hans Hofmann, and Richard Pousette-Dart. 1957 West receives her first New York solo exhibition at Uptown Galleries. Among the works exhibited in this well-reviewed show are Dagger of Light and La Voir – After Juan Gris. Fig. 3 Richard Pousette-Dart, Michael West, circa 1948. © The Richard Pousette-Dart Estate. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate.

1958 West exhibits in a solo show at the Domino Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Fig. 4 Michael West at her Womanart Gallery show, October 1978. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Archives.

1960 West and Lee divorce.

1966 A third solo New York exhibition at Imaginary Art presents West’s paintings from the 1960s, such as Homage to Hofmann and Unknown Planet (Orpheus), which emphasize large, calligraphic black brushstrokes. West continues to explore the use of bold brushwork, sometimes in combination with elements of Cubist structure, throughout the remainder of her career. 1976 West suffers a stroke. She recovers and continues to paint prolifically, but exhibits less frequently. 1978 West is featured in several exhibitions at Womanart Gallery in New York including Michael West: Abstract Expressionism, in which she exhibits an earlier version of Homage to the Square and Red August (fig. 4). 1991 West dies in New York. Five years later she is honored with a posthumous retrospective Michael West: Painter–Poet at Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center.


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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

MASTER’S THESIS Richmond, Patricia. “Michael West’s Paintings from the 1940s and 1950s.” Master’s thesis, George Washington University, 1995.

CATALOGUE ESSAYS 1957 Mills, Clark. Michael West Paintings. New York: Voyages Press for Uptown Galleries, 1957. 1996 Richmond, Patricia, “Michael West: A Biographical Sketch,” and Chris McNamara, “By Any Other Name,” in Michael West Painter-Poet. East Hampton, NY: Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, 1996. 1999 Ashton, Dore. “On Michael West,” and Walter Maibaum, “Michael West: The Automatic Paintings,” in Michael West: The Automatic Paintings, edited by Josée Bienvenu and Walter Maibaum. New York: 123 Gallery, 1999. 2005 Friedman, Stuart, Roberta Friedman, and J. Pindyck Miller. Rapt in the New York School: The Art of Corinne Michael West and William Douglas McGee. Armonk, NY: The Studio, 2005. 2009 Olds, Kirsten. “The New Mysticism in Painting: The 1950s Paintings of Michael West,” in Michael (Corinne) West. New Jersey: Borghi Fine Art Gallery, 2009. 2010 Lewis, David. “Michael West: More than Gorky’s Muse,” in Michael West: Paintings from the Forties to the Eighties. Newport Beach, CA: Art Resource Group, 2010.

GENERAL BOOKS AND ARTICLES 1957 Schwabacher, Ethel. Arshile Gorky. New York: MacMillan, 1957, pp. 61–64. 1981 Kramer, Hilton. “The Case of the Purloined Image,” New York Times, June 25, 1981. 1995 Fine, Elsa Honig. “One Point Perspective.” Woman’s Art Journal 16 (fall/winter 1995/1996): p. 2. 1999 Gibson, Ann Eden. Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999, pp. 19–20, 156–57. 2000 Herskovic, Marika. “Michael (Corinne) West” in New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Other Artists: A Complete Documentation of the New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals, 1951–1957. New Jersey: New York School Press, 2000, pp. 130–37. 2001 Spender, Matthew. From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, pp. 132–36, 153–55. 2003 Herrera, Hayden. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003, pp. 239–46. 2009 Spender, Matthew, ed., Arshile Gorky: Goats on the Roof; A life in Letters and Documents. New York: Ridinghouse, 2009. 2016 Marter, Joan, “Missing in Action: Abstract Expressionist Women” in Women of Abstract Expressionism. Denver, CO: Denver Art Museum and Yale University Press, 2016, pp. 23–25.


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GROUP EXHIBITION CATALOGUES 1999 Snyder, Gary. Other Artists of the ’50s. Miami: Kendall Campus Art Gallery of the Miami-Dade Community College, 1999.

1996 Braff, Phyllis. “Review: Michael West Painter-Poet at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center.” New York Times (Long Island edition), September 22, 1996.

2000 Second to None: Six Artists of the New York School. Chicago: Thomas McCormick Gallery, 2000.

Slivka, Rose C. S. “From the Studio.” East Hampton Star, October 3, 1996, p. III-3.

2007 Kingsley, April. Suitcase Paintings: Small Scale Abstract Expressionism. Athens, GA: The Georgia Museum of Art, 2007.

EXHIBITION REVIEWS 1935 Herdle, Isabel C. “Rochester Artists Show Vigor in This Year’s Exhibit.” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), April 28, 1935; see also 1939, 1941, 1942. Sabin, Stewart B. “Art Center Has Exhibition by Corinne West.” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), November 4, 1935, p. 11. 1957 Sandler, Irving Herschel. “Michael West [Uptown].” Artnews 56 (December 1957): p. 13. 1958 Burrey, Suzanne. “Michael West: Paintings at Uptown Gallery.” Arts Digest 32 (January 1958): p. 57. “Gallery Notes.” Washington Post and Times Herald, June 26, 1958. 1963 Jaffe, Jane. “West at Granite.” Manhattan East, December 26, 1963, p. 41. O’Doherty, Brian. “Art: Christmas Doldrums.” New York Times, December 28, 1963. 1964 Gablik, Suzi. “Michael West.” ARTnews 62 (February 1964): p. 12.

1998 Conaty, Siobhan. “Michael West.” Critical Review, April 14, 1998 (online). 1999 Hanks, Victoria. “Michael West: ‘Automatic Paintings.’ The Abstract Expressionist Works.” New York Arts Magazine, August 14, 1999. Pinchbeck, Daniel. “Go West, Young Woman?” The Art Newspaper, 1999. Wilkinson, Jeanne C. “Michael West: ‘Automatic Paintings’ That Thrill.” The Tribeca Trib (New York), June 1999, p. 36. 2005 Sims, Jane. “Rediscovering the Artists of the New York School.” The Scarsdale Inquirer (Scarsdale, NY), April 25, 2005, pp. 15, 18. 2010 Chang, Richard. “A Woman Painting in a Man’s World.” The Orange County Register (Anaheim, CA), June 9, 2010 (online). 2015 Somerville, Kris. “Living Energy: The Abstract Expressionist Paintings of Michael West.” The Missouri Review (Columbia, MO), July 25, 2015 (online). Willette, Jeanne. “Michael West: The Artist Was a Woman” [Exhibition review of Michael West: Paintings from the Forties to the Eighties, Art Resource Group]. Art History Unstuffed, May 30, 2015 (online).


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EXHIBITION HISTORY

SOLO EXHIBITIONS 1935 Corinne West, Rochester Art Club, Art Center, Rochester, N.Y. 1957 Michael West: Paintings, Uptown Galleries, New York. 1958–59 Michael West, The Domino Gallery, Washington, D.C. 1963 Paintings By: Michael West, Granite Galleries, Inc., New York. 1966 Michael West: Recent Paintings, Imaginary Art, Inc., New York. 1978 Michael West: Abstract Expressionism, Womanart Gallery, New York. 1996 Michael West: Painter-Poet, Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, N.Y. 1999 Michael West: Automatic Paintings, The Abstract Expressionist Works, 123 Watts Gallery, New York. 2010 Michael West: Paintings from the Forties to the Eighties, Art Resource Group, Newport Beach, Calif. 2016 Michael West: Mysticism, Taylor | Graham, New York. 2018 Michael West: The Black and White Paintings, Mark Borghi Fine Art, Inc., New York.

GROUP EXHIBITIONS 1935 22nd Annual Exhibition of the Work of Artists and Craftsmen of Rochester, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, N.Y. 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943 The Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, N.Y. 1945 Pinacotheca Gallery, New York. 1948 Rose Fried Gallery, New York. 1953 2nd Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Stable Gallery, New York. 1965 American and Other Modern Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Sculptures, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York. 1976 22nd International American Revolution Bicentennial 1776–1976 Exhibition, Galerie Internationale, New York. 1978 Dialogues, Womanart Galleries, New York. Works & Words, Womanart Galleries, New York. Second Anniversary Show: Best of ‘78, Womanart Gallery, New York. 1979 Womanart Gallery, New York, N.Y. 1996 Other Artists of the ’50s, Miami-Dade Community College, Kendall Campus Art Gallery, Miami, Fla. 2001 Second to None: Six Artists of New York School, Thomas McCormick Gallery, Chicago.


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2005 Rapt in the New York School: The Art of Corinne Michael West and William Douglas McGee, The Studio, Armonk, N.Y.

2018 Important Women of Abstract Expressionism, Sky Gallery, Boca Raton, Fla. Gallery Selections, Hollis Taggart, New York.

2007–08 Suitcase Paintings: Small Scale Abstract Expressionism, The Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Ga. Traveled to Ball State University Museum of Art, Muncie, Ind.; Greenville County Museum of Art, S.C.; Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago; Sydney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York; and Utah Museum of Fine Art, Salt Lake City.

Summer Selections, Hollis Taggart, New York. August Spotlight: Postwar Abstraction, Taylor | Graham, New York. Compendium, Mark Borghi Fine Art, Bridgehampton, N.Y.

2008 Beyond the Cannon: Small Scale American Abstraction, Robert Miller Gallery, New York.

2018 Masters Exhibit, Mid-Century Abstraction: The American Vanguard, Sager Braudis Gallery, Columbia, Mo.

The Movement of Abstract-Expressionism, Borghi Fine Art, Englewood, N.J.

2018–19 A Gesture of Conviction: Women of Abstract Expressionism, Works from the 1950s and ’60s, Setareh Gallery, Düsseldorf, Germany.

2013 The Hans Hofmann School, Heather James Fine Art, Palm Dessert, Calif. 2015 Her Work, McCormick Gallery, Chicago.

2019 Recent Post-War Acquisitions, Hollis Taggart, New York. Summer Selections, Hollis Taggart, New York.

Red Enigma, Scape Gallery, Corona Del Mar, Calif. 2017 Advanced and Irascible: Abstract Expressionism from the Collection of Jeanne and Carroll Berry, The Georgia Museum of Art, Athens. In the Absence of Color: Artists Working in Black and White, Hollis Taggart, New York. Post-War Highlights, Hollis Taggart, New York.

Montauk Highway III: Postwar Abstraction in The Hamptons, Eric Firestone Gallery, East Hampton, N.Y. Heroines of Abstract Expressionism, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.


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This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition “Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West” organized by Hollis Taggart, New York, and presented from November 7 to December 21, 2019. Publication Copyright © 2019 Hollis Taggart All artwork and writings by Michael (Corinne) West © 2019 The Michael (Corinne) West Estate Essay © Ellen G. Landau All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited. ISBN: 978-1-7333303-0-5 Front cover: Corinne West, 1930. Photo credit: Jon Boris, Cincinnati, OH. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate. Page 4: Green (Shadow), 1957–59 (detail, pl. 10) Pages 8–9: Richard Pousette-Dart, Michael West, circa 1948. Copyright © The Richard Pousette-Dart Estate. Collection of The Michael (Corinne) West Estate. Pages 30–31: Flowers, 1962–64 (detail, pl. 14) Pages 56–57: Orange Sentinel, 1965–69 (detail, pl. 17) Pages 74–75: Untitled, circa 1970s (detail, pl. 28) Back cover: Green Apple, 1959 (detail, pl. 12)

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: Meridian Printing, Rhode Island Photography Credits: Color plates: Joshua Nefsky, New York, except Plate 4: Tim Pyle, Light Blue Studio, CT


Profile for Hollis Taggart

Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West  

This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition “Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West” organized by Hollis...

Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West  

This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition “Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West” organized by Hollis...