Tag: abex

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A stylized set of portraits of painter Lee Krasner, in standard color, blue, then green, in front of a painting.

Lee Krasner: A Critical Portrait

For this article I’m going to be looking at a number of paintings by the Abstract Expressionist Lee Krasner in an attempt to give an overview and critical portrait of her career. With that said, the difficulty in re-describing Krasner’s development as an artist arises from a personal resistance to many of the tropes popularized by contemporary feminist criticism. Is it possible, after all, to write an article about Krasner that doesn’t devolve into some sort of homily about gender and patriarchy?

Now let’s be serious – we’ve all seen the Ed Harris biopic. Jackson Pollock pulling a James Dean and wrapping his muscle car around a tree. Krasner alternating between muse, mother-figure and martyr in equal measure. Peggy Guggenheim lugging her Pomeranian up several flights of stairs. If you’re into mid century modernism then this sort of trivia should be second nature. (On a sidenote: why did they choose to represent de Kooning as a grinning idiot?) […]

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A sepia portrait of Agnes Martin next to her canvases.

Forcing Quiet: Notes on the Painting of Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin was one of the lesser-known abstract painters of the second New York School. This is largely because she was a woman working in a male-dominated field. It’s also because her paintings didn’t really look like other AbEx paintings so people didn’t know what to make of them. It wasn’t until after the minimalist craze of the sixties that people started really taking her seriously and calling her a pioneer and a feminist icon and such.

Martin’s compositions are invariably rectilinear and orthogonal. She started off with pencilled grids but towards the end of her career (the period I am most interested in) she settled on horizontal and vertical pinstripes. Her colours are muted pales and pastels. The scale—middling. Not large. Not small.

Agnes Martin uses paint in thin, transparent washes with traces of the underdrawing still visible. No bravura or technical virtuosity. Just cool, quiet regularity without being too evidently adroit. The reiteration is mechanical but not mechanically reiterative. There are exquisitely subtle modulations but whether they are unconscious or staged is impossible to say. […]

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Paintings by Hilma af Klint, as depicted in Halina Dryschka's "Beyond the Visible" (2019)

Neglected, Rejected: Hilma af Klint in “Beyond the Visible” (2019)

‘Have you ever heard of Hilma af Klint?’ I asked my painter friend. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I have mentioned her many times. A great artist. A Revolutionary.’

Regrettably, at the time I did not recall his mentioning her. I then went on to explain that witnessing a documentary on a subject is an entirely different experience from hearing one’s name. In fact, I even mistyped her name as Klimt, rather than Klint, and I shamefully wondered if she was related to Gustav. Oy!

I begin this essay admitting that I am not a painter and nor am I experienced enough with Abstract Expressionism to be able to render some sort of judgment on it, outside my limited purview. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions.

I stumbled upon Halina Dyrschka’s 2019 documentary Beyond the Visible while surfing the Criterion Channel. Although I felt some initial trepidation due to the film’s labeling af Klint an Abstract Expressionist, (curious she might be another Rothko wannabe) how wrong I was. So, I went ahead with this both enjoyable and illuminating experience. Apparently, my not hearing of Hilma af Klint is nothing extraordinary. Nor have many, according to the documentary. Born in 1862 in Sweden, af Klint lived a quiet life, where she painted in private and withheld much of her work from public eye. […]