November 15, 2010

More on abstract expressionist art

Lee Krasner, Untitled, 1949. . . and me (photograph by Kay Mathew)
I mentioned a few days ago that I recently went to the exhibit of abstract expressionist art at MOMA.  There was so much in this exhibit that I responded to.  Some by artists I already knew and loved (Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline, Louise Nevelson, Hans Hoffman), some by artists I knew of, but had not seen work that moved me as some of the work in this show did (Barnett Newman, especially his etchings, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner), and then some artists I didn't know of at all (Adolph Gottlieb, Grace Hartigan, Bradley Walker Tomlin) and photographers too (Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan).  The narrative/analysis that accompanied the art works was also unusually helpful and illuminating.  Two interrelated characteristics of much of this work were clarified for me:  the use of a grid, and the use of invented forms as a kind of language.  "The artists used the structure of the grid to compose paintings that provide compartments for the individual signs.  Gottlieb wrote, 'One can say that my paintings are like a house, in which each occupant has a room of his own.'"  Food for thought for a quilter. . .  The Gottlieb painting that this quote was next to was my favorite of his in the show, but the only image I can find is this black and white photo documenting a show in 1969 (from the exhibition catalog, Ann Temkin, Abstract Expressionism at the Museum of Modern Art, 2010); the Gottlieb is the painting on the right in the foreground. (I'm not sure if it's OK to put these images from the catalog on the blog.  I've noticed that in many quilting blogs, people put up images from books they like--people who seem to be careful about copyright when it comes to the quilts themselves.  If someone lets me know that I shouldn't have these photos up, I'll remove them from the post.)

The Krasner painting at the top of this post is another example of a grid with signs.  As my friend Kay captured in this photo, I looked at this painting a long time, and kept coming back to it.  From the museum signage:  "Krasner invented a language of private symbols that implied but did not specify meaning. . . .  These invented forms evoked the spirit of language without literally constituting it."  I have been collecting images of such private languages for some time.  I would like to make my own.  I know what I have to say, but I have not found the forms.

Some other examples of work from the show that I loved, these all from the exhibition catalog:
Motherwell, The Little Spanish Prison (pl. 2)

Mark Rothko, No. 1 (Untitled) (p. 39)

Mark Rothko, Untitled (pl. 105)

Franz Kline, Chief (pl. 42)

Clyfford Still, 1951-T No. 3 (pl. 65)
Joan Mitchell, Ladybug (p. 77)

Grace Hartigan, Shinnecock Canal (pl. 78)

Adolph Gottlieb, Blast, I (pl. 79)
And here are four of the wonderful Barnett Newman etchings--not in the catalog, but taken by Kay.  Each etching is quite small, perhaps 4x6", but done on a much larger piece of creamy paper.  These are all from a collection of 18 etchings, called Notes.


  1. I hope you aren't teaching over Winter Term, Penny, because I'm sensing that you are on fire with ideas! That top Barnett Newman etching is very harmonious with the piece you made in your screen printing class earlier this year! I have an article on Still that I'm looking for to share with you when we have tea...

  2. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont when I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site, Wahooart, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?