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abstract expressionism The dominant trend in western painting throughout the 1950s began with a handful of American artists later termed Abstract Expressionists. Their paintings were often made of shapes, lines, and forms not meant to depict a “reality” from the visible world. They believed that non-representational painting could express spiritual and emotional truths in the most direct way. These artists often used a spontaneous and physical process in order to present an immediate response to emotion. They found their mentors in many of the artists who fled Europe during World War II for America. Piet Mondrian and Max Ernst were both important influences representing the revolutionary spirit of the artist and a break from traditional painting. Other artists such as Arshille Gorky and Hans Hoffman instilled in the Abstract Expressionists a concern for the physicality of paint and the possibilities of expression in abstraction. The Abstract Expressionists was a group of very different and individual artists, many of whom came together in New York’s Greenwich Village. Among the most famous were Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell. While the wild physical “action” paintings of Jackson Pollock have come to represent the revolutionary mood of the times, a number of other painters played crucial roles in this movement. Mark Rothko’s enormous fields of color expressed both the spiritual and monumental concerns of the time. Willem de Kooning, who had taught at Black Mountain College, created work centered around aggressive applications of paint that, through free expressive brush strokes, created emotionally intense imagery. The giant canvases of Franz Kline and Clyfford Still concerned themselves primarily with human fragility. Together with Ad Reinhardt, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman, and Elaine de Kooning, these painters expanded the possibilities of the medium.
perle fine (1905-1988)
Born in Boston, Perle Fine moved to New York in about 1927, enrolling first at the Grand Central School of Art and then at the Art Students League. In 1933, she was among the first students at Hans Hofmann’s New York school; she also studied with Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Committed to abstraction at the start of her career, Fine began to receive recognition in the early 1940s, when she showed at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery and the Museum of Nonobjective Painting (now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). She was among the few women artists to become part of The Club, the elite artists’ group initiated in 1949, that was spearheaded by Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning; the latter invited Fine to join. A friend of many noted artists of the time, including Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, Fine was represented by several important galleries, including those of Nierendorf, Betty Parsons, and Tanager. In 1954, Fine moved to Springs on the east end of Long Island, where she and her husband, Maurice Berezov, built a one-room studio-house in the woods. Fine began her Cool Series in this context in 1961, creating them all of a sudden after destroying a group of works she had been producing for her next exhibition. Limiting her imagery to rectangles and squares placed off center on mostly monochromatic grounds, she sought to eliminate “irrelevancies” in order to exact an explicit and clear image. Fine’s economy of means and the universalist implications of her stable yet dynamic arrangements can be associated with her long admiration for the art of Piet Mondrian, whom she knew (in 1947, she was commissioned to create an identical copy of his last painting, Victory Boogie-Woogie). Yet her mixed and atmospheric colors depart from Mondrian’s limited palette as do her edges – which vary from crisp to blurred – endowing her work with a unique delicacy and poetic equilibrium, qualities that were given recognition by the critics of the time. With their glowing light and dignified, reductive arrangements, the Cool Series paintings express a meditative metaphysical experience. Related in their spiritual content to Mark Rothko’s late-period art, Fine’s paintings envelop the viewer in emotional experiences that are at once volatile and restrained. Created from 1961 to 1963, the Cool Series were among the first examples of Color Field painting, revealing Perle Fine’s attunement to the spirit of her time. Fine displayed her work extensively in solo and group shows during her lifetime. Following her death, she was the subject of exhibitions at Hofstra University in 1974 and 2009 and at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York, in 2005. Her work is represented in many numerous museum collections, including the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and many others.
untitled, 1957, oil and collage on canvas, 12 x 10 inches
albert kotin (1907-1980)
Albert Kotin was born August 7, 1907 in Minsk, Tsarist Russia and emigrated to the USA in 1908. He became a US citizen in 1923. His studies included: (1924–1929) at the National Academy of Design, New York City; with Charles Hawthorne, Provincetown, Massachusetts; (1929–32) at the Academie Julian, the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and at the Atelier de Fresque and Colarossi, Paris, France; (1947–1951) at The Art Students League of New York, New York City; under the GI Bill he went to study with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and in New York City. He participated in the Federal Art Project: Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) (1933–34) and Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) (1935–40). Albert Kotin won competitions that were funded through commissions under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (later known as The Section of Fine Arts) in Ada, Ohio,and in Arlington, New Jersey. Albert Kotin served in the U.S. Army military service during World War II (1941–1945). After the war he found a studio on 10th Street. He soon joined the “Downtown Group” which represented a group of artists who found studios in lower Manhattan in the area bounded by 8th and 12th street between First and Sixth Avenues during the late 1940s and early 1950s. These artists were called the “Downtown Group” as opposed to the “Uptown Group” established during the war at The Art of This Century Gallery. In 1949 Albert Kotin joined the “Artists’ Club” located at 39 East 8th Street. Kotin was chosen by his fellow artists to show in the Ninth Street Show held on May 21-June 10, 1951. The show was located at 60 East 9th Street on the first floor and the basement of a building which was about to be demolished. “The artists celebrated not only the appearance of the dealers, collectors and museum people on the 9th Street, and the consequent exposure of their work but they celebrated the creation and the strength of a living community of significant dimensions.” Kotin participated in all the invitational New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals. The first annual in 1951 was called the Ninth Street Show. From 1953 to 1957 the invitational New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals were held in the Stable Gallery on West 58th Street in New York City. He was among the 24 out of a total 256 New York School artists who was included in all the Annuals. These Annuals were important because the participants were chosen by the artists themselves. Harold Rosenberg, New York art critic listed Albert Kotin among the “Tenth Street Artists: Individuals Prevail over the Group:” Alexander Calder wrote in 1968, “As long as there are people such as Al Kotin, there is no danger to art.”
calliope, 1959, oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches
john little (1907-1984)
John Little was born in 1907 in Alabama. He attended the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy from 1924 to 1927, and in 1933 studied under George Grosz at the Art Students League. Little then studied under Hans Hofmann from 1936-1943. Hofmann’s “Push Pull” theory, methodology and use of color was what Little was looking for as he needed to understand that threedimensional nature is translated into two-dimensional paintings by means of tension between, space, form and color. In 1946 Little started to work on a series of colorful paintings of interlocking forms in cubist-inspired compositions with mythical titles. He submitted on to a group show in San Francisco at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, which resulted in an invitation to his first solo exhibition, opening there in November 1946. The angular abstraction Pagan Ritual, 1946 was included in this exhibition. The late 1940’s was a time of change for Little. He regularly visited the Pollack’s in East Hampton and on one of these visits Lee Krasner mentioned to Little that there was a charming three hundred year old house that was a total wreck and it was for sale. Little purchased the house in 1948, renovated it and also purchased an old barn and had it moved to his property, which became his studio. The Hampton’s were becoming an outpost for New York’s avant-garde such as Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, Mary Abbott, Alfonso Ossorio, Perle Fine, David Budd, David Slivka, Esteban Vicente, Wilfred Zogbaum, Robert Motherwell, Norman Bluhm, Franz Kline, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Richenburg, Grace Hartigan, Adolf Gottlieb and Michael Goldberg among countless others. Little’s work began to shift in the early 1950’s as is evident in Ominous Night, 1951. This haunting work is a summation of things learned from Hofmann and a self confident style of gestural abstraction. He states, “I was trying to get away from the drawing letting form and color carry the idea rather than the line”. A summation of the 1950’s work might be found in Congo, 1959. Little told Judith Wolfe that he came upon the titled because “I felt it had a kind of savage quality, the way it’s put together architecturally”. Wolfe states that “Congo’s Blues, green, violet and white move from top and bottom, tempered by sideways advances of yellow and ochre, the whole slashed over the center with a vital cadmium red. It seems effortless in its rightness”. In the late 1050’s Little began a series of collage works on paper. Some wee spare and simple and others were a riot of materials and color such as Untitled, 1959. Little’s starting point was often a page from the New York Times on to which he applied layers of painted and torn paper, oil paint and whatever else was close at hand. These works carry the same sense of aggressive energy found in his oils.
untitled, 1959, oil on canvas, 14 x 16 inches
michael loew (1907-1985)
One of the major proponents of Abstract Expressionism and influenced by the Neo-Plasticism of Mondrian, Michael Loew circulated among the upper echelons of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. Despite their opposing approaches to abstraction, he became a longtime friend of Willem de Kooning, whom he met completing WPA projects during the 1930s. Writing on the relationship, Rose C. S. Slivka writes, “They [de Kooning and Loew] generally agreed on most things, including the recognition that although each was on opposite sides of the coin, it was the same coin. ‘Yours,’ said Michael Loew to Willem de Kooning, ‘is the lyrical grid.’ ‘And yours,’ said Willem to Michael, ‘is the song that breaks bars. I could learn plenty from you.’” (“Willem de Kooning,” Art Journal, Fall 1989: pp. 219-221.) Although Loew began his Neo-Plasticist mode during the 1940s, it was the 50s that brought the full development of his mature style. After WWII, Loew studied with Hans Hofmann and cultivated his sensibility for color effects. He used the grid-structure of Mondrian as a base from which to experiment with the possibilities of the palette; to focus on subtle transitions of tone or harmony of color relationships. Drawing inspiration from life, he transformed subjects into unique patterns of rectangles or color fields, naming the final composition according to the dominant colors. He exhibited these works at the Stable Gallery Annuals, beginning a full and successful exhibition career. In 1957, Loew participated in the International Assoc. of Plastic Arts Touring Exhibition, Contemporary American Painting as juror and exhibitor. Here he exhibited alongside Milton Avery, Samuel Adler, Josef Albers, de Kooning, Reinhardt, Walkowitz and others. The same year he gained representation at Zabriskie Gallery, next to Johns, Motherwell, and Rauschenberg. A recognized pillar of American Modernism, Loew maintained an active teaching and exhibition schedule until his death in 1985.
grey turbulence, 1959, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
herman cherry (1909-1992)
Herman Cherry was born in Atlantic City on April 10, 1909, and grew up in Philadelphia, where he studied art in a local settlement house. At the age of 15, he moved with his family to Los Angeles and dropped out of high school to work for 20th Century-Fox, designing blueprints for sets. Later, he studied with the noted painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright in Los Angeles. In 1930, after working his way to Europe and back, he hitchhiked to New York City and studied at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton. Back in Los Angeles by 1931, he set up a gallery at the Stanley Rose Bookstore, where he gave shows to Philip Guston, Reuben Kadish and Lorser Feitelson, among others. He had his own first solo show at the gallery in 1934. In the 1930’s, Cherry also did murals under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration, a Depression relief program. He was also a founder of the Artists’ Union in Los Angeles. Cherry left the West Coast in 1945 and settled in Woodstock, N.Y. Two years later, he won acclaim with a show at the Weyhe Gallery in Manhattan of a series of wire, plastic and metal constructions he called Pictographs. In the 1950’s, his painting took a decisive step toward abstraction, and he showed at a number of New York galleries, including the Stable, the Poindexter and the Tanager. In 1975, after a decade and a half of teaching art at various schools across the country, Cherry stopped painting and began to write poetry. The next year he published a book, “Poems of Pain and Other Matters.” But he was soon back at his easel, and in 1984 received an award for painting from the American Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1989 and 1990, he had a retrospective at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
untitled #12, 1959, oil on rag paper, 20 ½ x 15 ¾ inches
john opper (1909-1994)
When he arrived in New York in the mid-1930s, John Opper was already a well-trained painter, adept at rendering still lifes and particularly landscapes depicting the American scene. A reviewer of his 1937 exhibition at the Artists’ Gallery in New York, for example, wrote about Opper’s “colloquial flavor . . . spontaneity and an imaginative use of color which conveys just the feeling” which the subjects-East River tugboats, old garages, and scenes around Manhattan-suggest. By 1937 Opper had become familiar with modernism, though he was not yet converted to the cause. Earlier, in 1935 and 1936, he studied with Hans Hofmann and began to think in terms of forces and tensions within the picture plane. He met Wilfrid Zogbaum, Giorgio Cavallon, Byron Browne, Rosalind Bengelsdorf, and George McNeil, with whom he shared a studio. He paid frequent visits to Gallatin’s Gallery of Living Art. He joined the WPA easel project in 1936 and began to paint in “a kind of transformed cubist style.” For Opper, though, abstraction conflicted philosophically with a strong commitment to social reform. Opper said he preferred to combine creative work with social comment and was as yet unwilling to do completely abstract art. During the early 1940s, he noted, he was torn “between the needs of the society and the needs of war on one hand, and on . . . what I felt were the aesthetic needs of painting.” Only when he resolved to separate these two, did he begin systematically to pursue abstract work. Eventually, he came to believe that the only thing important to art “is that which changes . . . the language and the substance of it.” Opper had two one-man exhibitions during the late 1930s, but it was not until the 1940s that he began to show frequently in large museum exhibitions and receive widespread attention. For Opper, this was a time of maturity. Initially Opper’s abstraction was based on nature, though later he became committed to the idea that “painting is concerned with painting,” an end in itself rather than a means to communicate other concerns. Early on he was allied with the “intuitive” (rather than the rationally inclined) faction within the American Abstract Artists. But Opper moved far afield stylistically from the densely painted, expressionistic works of the 1930s and 1940s. In time, he became known as an Abstract Expressionist, a painter of large canvases in which vertical bands of varying widths pulsed with color. His gesture was controlled, yet dynamic; his overlays of color luminous and tactile. In these works, and in field paintings in which clouds of color seem to float against soft grounds, he strengthened his commitment to “painting as painting” that he first developed as a Hofmann student.
Untitled, 1954, oil on canvas, 45 x 33 inches
lillian orlowsky (1914-2004)
Lillian Orlowsky knew she had lived through a revolutionary period in American art. As she put it: “I was fortunate to have taken part in one of the most important periods of art in this century. The 1930’s through the 1950’s saw a cultural upheaval where diverse concepts in painting went from one extreme to another: from realism to abstraction.” In studying with Hofmann, she moved, as she said, “From unconscious cubism to an understanding of the picture plane. He made me realize that you don’t imitate nature,” but recreate it. Orlowsky’s early paintings are characterized by vibrant color, and her later works by expressionist use of line. The early paintings are highly realistic, the later ones expressionist and semi-abstract. She was very much aware of the constraints being a woman had on her life and art. However, in her characteristically forthright way, she was emphatic about not wanting to be called “a woman painter.” “Not because I am anti-feminist,” as she put it, but because “I don’t paint like a woman. I don’t know how a woman paints. I don’t think like a woman painter, I think like a painter.” Lillian Orlowsky began her art studies at the Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side of New York City. Recognized early as an up and coming artist by the Works Progress Administration where she held the coveted position of “easel artist”, she was one of the few remaining WPA artists. She showed regularly throughout her life in both New York and Provincetown as well as throughout the US and in Japan, France, Denmark and the Czech Republic. In the 40’s and 50’s she was a textile designer. From 1963 to 1977 she taught drawing and painting at Bronx House in New York, Orlowsky painted and exhibited widely throughout her life, but in her last ten years she gained substantial recognition. In 1995 she had a three gallery retrospective at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the Cortland Jessup Gallery in Provincetown and Cherry Stone Gallery in Wellfleet. She exhibited at the University of Virginia at Blacksburg, where she also taught a master class, traveled to Japan with a group of artists from the Cortland Jessup Gallery, received a grant from the Richard Florsheim Art Fund, participated in numerous programs on the WPA artists and sold to major collectors. She is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Baltimore Museum of Fine Art, the Cape Museum of Fine Art, the Jerusalem Museum, and the Rose Museum of Brandies University.
still life – red dominated by yellow, oil on canvas, 31 ½ x 26 ½ inches
friedel dzubas (1915-1994)
Dzubas born April 20, 1915 in Berlin and studied at the Prussian Academy of Fine Art and under Paul Klee while in Dusseldorf from 1936 to 1939. In 1939, Dzubas fled Germany for London and the United States where he later became a citizen. In 1948, he he answered art critic Clement Greenberg’s anonymous advertisement for a summer roommate. It was the height of the Abstract Expressionist Movement in New York, and through Greenberg Dzubas met Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman. Later, in the early 1950s, Dzubas shared a studio with Helen Frankenthaler, associating with some of the younger generation of abstract painters in New York including Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland. In the early 1950s, he began exhibiting his work in New York. In the 1960s, he started experimenting with color field painting. Dzubas’ mature paintings since the 1960s assimilate his early interest in German Romanticism and Expressionism into post-war American abstraction. “He abandoned oil paint for Magna acrylic in 1965 when he found he could achieve with a brevity of gesture the brilliance and luminosity of oil paint applied in thin veils of color. He could thus effect the richness and variation of traditional glazed tones using a more expressive, immediate process. By the early 1980s, Dzubas abandoned his preliminary preparations of sketching and priming, thereby inviting spontaneity and accident into his painting process. Although he typically coated his canvas with a gesso primer before painting, he began to apply it so thinly that the pigment was almost immediately absorbed into the ground, making it impossible for him to revise and rework his compositions. Dzubas’ change in technique reveals a thoroughly modernist sensibility: “I like that risk,” he explained. “I think, to a certain degree, I have to make it mechanically difficult and unreliable for myself. If I can predict the effect too much, then I probably am not supposed to be doing it. I function better if my footing is not too sure, so to speak.” The rich, velvety hues of Grade’s reds, greens, and blues appear radiant in places. Dzubas heightened his color drama – a drama characterized as quintessentially Baroque by some critics – by varying the density of his paint. His rectangular forms appear to ebb and flow in an orchestrated movement across the surface of the picture plane.” A retrospective of Dzubas’ work was shown at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston in 1974 and at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston the following year. In 1983, Dzubas was honored with an exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
untitled, 1957-9, acrylic on silk on linen, 36 x 72 inches
john schueler (1916-1992)
Schueler was born September 12, 1916 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From 1934 to 1940, he attended the University of Wisconsin, earning a B.A. in Economics in 1938 and an M.A. in English Literature in 1940. In 1941, he joined the Air Corps of the U.S. Army and in 1944 took medical retirement. He then moved to California and taught English Literature at the University of San Francisco. In 1945, he and his wife enrolled in a portrait painting class, and shortly after moved to San Francisco. There from 1948 to 1951, he attended the California School of Fine Arts, and was especially influenced by Clyfford Still. He also studied with Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Hassel Smith, and Mark Rothko. In 1951, he moved to New York City and for the remainder of his life traveled extensively in Italy, Britain, and Scotland, spending several years (1970-1975) in Mallaig, Scotland. He also taught at the Yale University School of Art from 1960 to 1962 and from 1963 to 1967, was visiting artist at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore. In 1992, Schueler died in New York City, and in 1999, his autobiographical writings, “The Sound of Sleat: A Painter’s Life” was published. The book was described by Phoebe-Lou Adams in “The Atlantic Monthly” as “an amazing, totally peculiar piece of work. It may be the best thing ever written about the workings of a painter’s mind and eye.” In November 1999, a video about Schueler was completed with Magda Salvesen, the artist’s wife, as Director and Executive Producer. Titled “Jon Schueler: A Life in Painting”, the video explores his childhood in Milwaukee, his World War I experience as a flight navigator in Britain, his years at the California School of Fine Arts where he studied painting, his life as an artist in New York in the 1950s, and his maintaining of studios both in New York and western Scotland in the remote fishing village of Mallaig. In Scotland, his painting was oriented towards nature, especially the dramatic skies and weather. Schueler’s concentration is almost entirely on landscape, most particularly on skyscape or lightscape. The paintings are never abstract, since they depend always on the existence of something observed. What he chooses to observe in nature, however, is never static or enclosed, never a “thing”, but always a process of change, a happening, or, as he calls it, “the unfolding of an event.”
earth color, 1957, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches
melville price (1920-1970)
Melville Price was born in Kingston, NY in 1920 and died in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1970. Working in New York City in the 1940s he became one of the youngest members of the Abstract Expressionist movement. His earliest influences were Joseph Stella who became a mentor in 1939 and Franz Kline with whom he shared a close, lifelong friendship. After experimentation with Cubist and Surrealist based imagery Price made his breakthrough about 1948 with the “Maze Series,” a body of completely original, complex and organically twisting abstractions. With the “Maze” paintings Price began to gain critical notice with exhibitions at Peridot, Egan, Hugo, Bodley and Iolas Galleries. In 1951 he was included in the seminal 9th St. Show and was invited to join the “Club”. In spite of his growing success he, like most of his colleagues, suffered from chronic poverty. Beginning in 1951 Price began commuting to Philadelphia where the painter Leonard Nelson had helped him secure a teaching job at the Museum School. He eventually moved there becoming a full-time faculty member. In Philadelphia he exhibited at Dubin and Hendler Galleries and, in 1955, married one of his students, Barbara Gillette. The couple soon moved to New Hope, a small village on the Delaware River where he began his next major cycle of paintings — “The New Hope Series.” Reflecting the artist’s new-found happiness, these colorful, large canvases were a complete departure from the “Maze” works but also unlike anything anyone else was doing. In 1958 Price accepted an excellent job opportunity at the University of Alabama where he remained until his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 50. Over those twelve years he created some of his most compelling work. In 1960 he began a series of small oils that became the basis for “Black Warrior,” a 10 x 16 foot work completed in a rented studio in Brigantine, NJ, where he worked while on sabbatical from the University. He followed the success of the “Black Warrior” series with a group of massive collage-based canvases. He began incorporating words, numbers and fragmented elements of advertising onto the surfaces along with paint and collage. These works were clearly in response to new influences of artists like Robert Rauschenberg. After his death Price was honored with retrospective exhibitions at the Speed Museum and the Corcoran Gallery. He is represented in numerous private and public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Corcoran Museum of Art, the Greenville County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum County Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago and the Speed Museum.
untitled (new hope), 1957, oil on paper laid to canvas, 23 x 29 inches
robert richenburg (1917-2006)
An Abstract Expressionist painter and also a long-time art teacher, Robert Richenburg was known for “ominous paintings in which fields of black were punctuated by bursts of color and line.” Of the signature artwork of Robert Richenburg , a critic in a 1959 review wrote: “This painting must symbolize the most terrifying aspects of metropolitan life.” Robert Richenburg was a student of Hans Hofmann and was very much a part of the hey-day activities of Abstract Expressionism in the mid 1950’s in New York City. While a student of Hofmann, Richenburg exhibited at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later the Guggenheim) in 1950. The following year, he participated in the historic Ninth Street Art Exhibition. This exhibition, which was supervised by the famous art dealer Leo Castelli, helped establish the New York School of painting. Richenburg subsequently taught at Pratt Institute along with Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, Jack Tworkov, Philip Guston, Milton Resnick and Tony Smith (sculptor). By 1961, critic Irving Sandler declared that “Richenburg emerges as one of the most forceful painters on the New York Art Scene.” The Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others, purchased his work. Richenburg resigned from the Pratt Institute in 1964 over the administration’s objection to him encouraging a student who was making assemblages out of rags and tin foil. The artist then took a job teaching at Cornell University and moved to Ithaca with his wife and son. This change meant that Robert Richenburg focused more on his teaching than his art work, but he never stopped painting. In the 1980’s, thanks to the support of Bonnie Grad, an art professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, exhibitions were held of the art of Robert Richenburg. In 2006, a 60-year retrospective of the work of Robert Richenburg was held at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College in Manhattan.
Untitled, 1955, oil on canvas, 39 x 39 inches
elaine de kooning (1918-1989)
Elaine DeKooning was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York and spent her childhood studying the lives of artists and visiting the museums and galleries of New York City. After high school she attended the American Artists School and the Leonardo da Vinci School and was swept up in the cultural excitement in New York of the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1943 she married Willem de Kooning, one of the group of artists soon to emerge as the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. He was sixteen years older than she. Elaine never completely abandoned representation. A substantial part of her career had been devoted to portraiture, for which she was particularly known in the 1950s and 1960s. Her most famous portrait commission was of President John F. Kennedy, which she was trying to complete at the time of his assassination. During most of her career she had drawn and painted the male figure. She painted in series and she tended to work on a series for long periods and to work on many canvases within a series simultaneously. When the image was transferred to her canvases, it disintegrated into fragments of pattern and color as the dashes of greens, lavenders and yellows re-created the experience of sky, figure and forest dissolving into the fracturing sunlight. Like Lee Krasner, wife of Jackson Pollock, Elaine spent much of her life making sure that her husband was the biggest success that she could make him. Whatever time was lost from her own career had been well spent in service to her husbandâ€™s genius. She followed him into a period of alcoholism. But their marriage was not always happy and Elaine was known to have affairs, although with two of the art worldâ€™s most famous opinion-makers, who helped make sure Bill de Kooning got good publicity. Long interested in animal forms, DeKooning made several excursions in 1983 to see the pre-historic caves in southern France and northern Spain. She made sketches in her hotel room after visiting the sites and then translated this material into larger paintings back in the United States. She uses high-keyed colors and the vigorous brushwork of the Abstract Expressionism, declining to mimic the original cave drawings. The work is powerful, suggestive, and at the same time, delicate and painterly.
untitled, 1955, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches
fritz bultman (1919-1985)
Described by Robert Motherwell as “one of the most splendid, radiant, and inspired painters of my generation,” Fritz Bultman was a central member of the New York School. A New Orleans native, he studied with Morris Graves and then moved to Munich for two years. There he boarded with Maria (Miz) Hofmann, the wife of Hans Hofmann; after Bultman returned to the United States he studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and New York City. By the late 1940s, he was showing his work with others identified as Abstract Expressionists; the New York Times praised the paintings in 1949 as possessing a “remarkable power of organization” that created a “welcome clarity” in his densely arranged compositions. In 1950, he was among the group dubbed the “Irascibles” after protesting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s conservative exhibition program, confirming his place in the avant-garde. He did not appear in Nina Leen’s famous photograph of the group published in “Life” magazine on January 15, 1951, because he was living abroad. A grant-funded period in Italy in 1951 allowed him to learn sculpture, and his bronzes from the 1950s and 60s suggest both monumentality and organicism. He would incorporate sculpture into his work for the rest of his career. After his return from Italy, the early 1950s were marked by a retreat from the art world while he pursued Freudian therapy; the years after intensive analysis were marked by heightened activity and frequent exhibitions. He showed with the Stable Gallery, Martha Jackson, and Gallery Mayer in the late 1950s. In the 1960s, he began exploring collage in earnest, employing both found and painted papers. The medium would become central to his work. Well established by the 1960s, Bultman received awards and grants from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Guggenheim Foundation, and he studied in Paris on a Fulbright fellowship. He taught at numerous institutions around the country, including Pratt Institute, Hunter College, and Tulane University. He created and exhibited his work regularly until his death in 1985.
prytania, 1957, oil on board, 24 x 20 inches
Ernest briggs (1923-1984)
From dense layers of calligraphic brushstrokes to broad, sweeping passages of luminous color, Ernest Briggs’s paintings from the 1950s bristle with the artist’s sense of elation at leaving traditional image-making behind. Briggs was an active participant in the later wave of Abstract Expressionism, the revolution in abstract painting that secured New York City’s position as the art capitol of the world in the post-World War II period. Also known as “action painting,” Abstract Expressionist painting combined a heightened sense of physicality and a grand, heroic scale with the lessons of the European avant-garde-Cubism’s rejection of objective reality, Surrealism’s ‘automatic’ approach to drawing, and German Expressionism’s experiments in pure, abstract color. The Abstract Expressionists celebrated the performative act of painting and the recording of the artist’s subconscious as central themes of their art. Born and raised in southern California, Briggs studied with the Abstract Expressionist painters Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1946 to 1951. In 1953 Briggs arrived in New York with his own style of large scale, heavily layered gestural abstraction. In his works from the 1950s Briggs combined a raw, unbridled physical application of paint with a highly keyed, lyrical use of color. Briggs sought to eliminate conventional imagery without surrendering a sense of drama, to capture the essence of human emotion and the vitality of nature in abstract terms. Although Briggs was a strong presence in the New York School, as New York’s avant-garde circle of the 1950s was known, his reputation was, like many abstract painters of his generation, overshadowed by the star quality of the Abstract Expressionists who preceded him. In 1954 and 1955 Briggs had solo shows at the Stable Gallery, one of New York’s leading venues for avant-garde art in the 1950s and 1960s. He was included in the Whitney Annuals in 1955, 1956 and 1961, and in 1956 he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s influential 12 Americans exhibition. From 1961 until his death in 1984, Briggs taught painting at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he passed along the principles of expressionistic painting to a younger generation of New York artists. His work has been collected by The Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA; The Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Rockefeller Institute, New York; The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA.
Untitled, 1959, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches
robert beauchamp (1923-1994)
Beauchamp was one of the first and more prominent Figurative Expressionist painters to appear in the American art world in the late 1950’s. His work was bold, inventive, and at times eccentric and wildly humorous. He was greatly admired by his peers: including artists, critics and curators. He was one of those rare individuals who went his own way and developed his own vision without compromise. His output, which was extensive, included not only oil paintings on canvas, but also oversized drawings and large oil-stick paintings on paper. His early works depicted romantic and somewhat enigmatic fantasies. Later Beauchamp developed a more existential expression in which seemingly unrelated objects, animals and people, were combined in a dynamic tapestry. As he matured, the human condition, with all its expectations, fears, and ironic confusions, became his focus. Beyond the subject, however, there was always the very nature of paint itself, which he used as an emotional experience much as the Abstract Expressionists did. The Beauchamp trademark was his masterful control of the medium. The texture of the paintings, infused with his inexhaustible energy, became just as important as his bold compositions and his powerful colors. Beauchamp was an active participant in the New York art scene, exhibiting extensively throughout his career. During his lifetime he had 54 one-man exhibitions and participated in numerous invitational group shows. He first showed in a group exhibition at the Tanager Gallery, on Tenth Street in New York City in 1955, then at the Hansa Gallery and the Green Gallery downtown. In the late 1960’s he was represented at the Graham Gallery, and then at Monique Knowlton in the 1980’s and 90’s. The Whitney Museum included Beauchamp in six of their Annual Invitationals, and the Guggenheim Museum included him in their “Ten Independents” exhibit.
abstract head with blue and purple, 1978, oil on canvas, 29 x 21 inches
fred mitchell (b. 1923)
Known as a gifted Abstract Expressionist painter since 1951, Fred Mitchell was a draftsman and painter from an early age. Mitchell often painted and drew his local environment around Meridian, Mississippi where he grew up. His interest lay in modern art and he was well informed of the latest art trends. In 1942 Mitchell attended the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh on a Scholastic Magazine Art Scholarship. There he met and became friends with painter Philip Pearlstein. In 1951 Mitchell moved to New York City and became one of the first painters to open a painting studio in downtown Manhattan in the seaport area along the East River known as Coenties Slip. During the ensuing years other artists moved into Coenties Slip lofts including Ellsworth Kelly (introduced to the area by Mitchell in 1951) Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, Jack Youngerman, and James Rosenquist. 1952 Fred Mitchell along with Angelo Ippolito and fellow artists Lois Dodd, Charles Cajori and William King organized Tanager Gallery on East 9th Street as an artist’s cooperative gallery with a loan from painter Pearl Fine. Tanager Gallery quickly became known as the most influential and respected co-op gallery in New York just as the Abstract Expressionist movement swept the art world. Mitchell’s first New York solo show was at Tanager Gallery in 1952 with solo exhibitions also in 1954 and 1960. Philip Guston introduced Mitchell to other artists at the Cedar Tavern, and Philip Pavia brought him to ‘The Club’ in New York. The world of talented painters and sculptors in New York City was small and Mitchell became friends with many of them during this period including Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg who both lived above Mitchell loft on Front Street in New York. In 1954 Mitchell’s work was included in the landmark Guggenheim Museum show ‘Younger American Painters’. The exhibition traveled to The Dallas MoA, and The Detroit Museum. In 1953 and 1954 Mitchell was included in the prestigious ‘Stable Gallery Annual Exhibition’. In 1955 Mitchell returned to Cranbrook Academy to teach for several years while also exhibiting in New York and Cleveland as well as traveling back to Positano Italy. Throughout the 1960’s to the 1990’s, Fred Mitchell exhibited in numerous museums and galleries including: The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis MN, ‘Vanguard ‘55’; Roko Gallery, NYC; Landmark Gallery, NYC; The Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Museum of Modern Art, New York; SUNY Binghamton, NY; Munson Williams Proctor Institute; The South Street Seaport, NYC; U. of Oregon Art Museum; Jackson MS Memorial Art Museum; The Bronx MoA; The Wooster Art Center, Danbury,CT; Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery,NYC; Tabakman Gallery, NYC; Susan Teller Gallery, NYC; Pace Gallery,NYC; and ULAE Workshop Gallery, NYC, among others.
Untitled, 1958, oil on canvas, 36 x 38 inches
james gahagan (1927-1999)
The art and life of James E. Gahagan, Jr. has been one of the more widely known secrets of the art world. A painter’s painter, he has achievements as a colorist that stand with those of his mentor Hans Hofmann, as well as with other pioneers like Robert Delaunay and Henri Matisse, who developed color as the primary vehicle of form and meaning. Gahagan’s sensitivity to color relationships and the dynamics of spatial movement and tension developed during his years as Associate Director of the Hans Hofmann School and as Hofmann’’s assistant during the creation of two major mosaics murals in New York City. Born in Brooklyn, Gahagan became a moving force among his contemporaries in the Fifties, when he helped found the James Gallery in 1954. As a principal organizer and the first elected President of the Artist Tenants Association, Gahagan led a successful strike by artists to win zoning for artists’ lofts in New York in 1962, resulting in the establishment of Westbeth and other early artist’’s buildings. Gahagan taught painting at Pratt Institute (1965 - 1971), Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts (1968-1971), and Goddard College (1971-1979), where he became Chairman of the Art Department. He opened the James Gahagan School of Fine Arts in Woodbury, VT during the summers of 1971-1974. He was invited to be a Visiting Artist at Notre Dame University, IN (1978) and at Humboldt State University, CA (1989). He was invited to teach at the founding of the prestigious Vermont Studio Center (1984-1999) and in 1991-92, became the Artist/Critic at the International Art Workshop in New Zealand. After serving in the Navy during WW II, Gahagan attended Goddard College, Plainfield, VT (194751) where he studied with Richard Lippold. He moved to New York, becoming involved with the ten burgeoning abstract movement, joining Han Hofmann’’s school shortly afterwards. He exhibited extensively in New York, Provincetown and periodic exhibitions in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Paris. His work was chosen for a 1957 travelling exhibition to 64 nations, sponsored by the United Nations and selected by Art News for a 1959 exhibit of twelve Americans in Spoleto, Italy, the same year he was awarded a Longview Purchase Grant. Gahagan participated in the 1993 Copenhagen group show “USA on Paper” in Denmark. His work is represented in the public collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the University of Art Museum in Berkeley, among others.
september song, 1957, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches
wolf kahn (b. 1927)
Wolf Kahn, the youngest of four siblings, was born into a well-to-do artistic family. His father was the conductor of the Stuttgart Philharmonic Symphony, and his mother came from a family of art collectors. During 1938, Kahn took his first art lessons, but most of his initial drawings were of military or historical events. The next year Kahn was sent to England for safety following the ascendancy of Hitler to power, and in 1940, he immigrated to the United States. In 1942, he entered New York’s High School of Music and Art, and while there, he was employed by a commercial art firm doing illustrations. After a stint in the Navy, Kahn entered Hans Hofmann’s school, and among his fellow students were Neil Blaine, Jane Freilicher, Allan Kaprow and Larry Rivers. His initial results were done with a dark palette and abstracted forms, and although Hofmann’s style of teaching was difficult, Kahn has consistently praised him for teaching him the value of control and understanding. Kahn’s first exhibition was a 1951 group show in a loft with several other artists in lower Manhattan. From this impromptu show, a group effort evolved called the Hansa Gallery Cooperative. In 1953, Wolf Kahn had a one-man show at this gallery, which was reviewed by Fairfield Porter, and at this same time bolder, more vivid colors began to appear in his work. By the mid-1950’s, on a summer trip to Provincetown, Kahn’s paintings indicated a new direction of softening warm colors in the manner of Bonnard. He was included in Meyer Shapiro’s seminal exhibition, The New York School: The Second Generation at the Jewish Museum, and by the end of the 1950s, he had developed his abstracted landscape style for which he is best known. In 1966, he made his first “barn” painting on Martha’s Vineyard that reduced the complexities of detail of the architecture to a more basic shape, a stylistic convention that is evident in the Museum’s painting. Kahn has since commented frequently on his use of color as a unique and specific component of each work as the situation demands, where the gradual buildup of the colors resembles the beauty and translucent nature of pastels. Since then Kahn has had oneperson exhibitions at the Kansas City Art Institute, Chrysler Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art and the Columbus Museum, among others. His work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums throughout the United States.
olives and cypresses, 1963-4, oil on canvas, 20 x 19 ¾ inches
emily mason (b. 1932)
One of America’s well-known non-representational painters, Emily Mason has spent more than five decades exploring her distinctive vein of lyrical, luminous abstraction. Robert Berlind said of her in Art in America: “Mason works within the improvisational model of Abstract Expressionism, though notably without angst or bravado.” Her place secure in art history, Mason has enjoyed a long career at the heart of the evolution of American abstract painting. Her oil on canvas paintings are distinguished by a sense of intriguing intimacy combined with uncompromising, though gentle, intensity. They evince a sense of structure within open, luminous space and juxtapose robust color harmonies with vivid contrasts that create an engaging optical vibration. Mason has said, “When I start a picture I like to use the medium as directly as I can . . . [this] puts me in a state of mind which avoids pictorial constraints. I try to use paint for its brilliance, transparency, opacity, liquidity, weight, warmth and coolness. These qualities guide me in a process which will determine the climate of the picture. All the while I work to define spatial relationships, resulting in certain kinds of places. I cannot name them but know intuitively when they appear.” Born and raised in New York City, Mason graduated from New York City’s High School of Music and Art and then studied at Bennington College before attending and graduating from the Cooper Union. She spent 1956-58 in Italy on a Fulbright grant for painting and for part of that time studied at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Venice. During Mason’s two-year stay in Italy she married the painter Wolf Kahn, whom she had met earlier in New York. Mason and Kahn’s daughter, Cecily Kahn, is also an abstract painter, as was Emily Mason’s mother, Alice Trumbull Mason, a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group in New York. Mason has had numerous exhibitions of her work since her first one-person exhibition at the Area Gallery in New York City in 1960. In 1979, she was awarded the Ranger Fund Purchase Prize by the National Academy. She has taught painting at Hunter College for more than 25 years, and her work is in numerous public and private collections.
solution, 2004, oil on canvas, 44 x 40 inches
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Abstract expressionism was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York at the center of the...
Published on Mar 11, 2013
Abstract expressionism was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York at the center of the...