Monday, 30 May 2011

Philip Guston - part 1

This is the first of a two-part post on the works of Philip Guston. This first post deals with his earlier, more ‘conventional’ abstract expressionist style if you will. The second post focuses on the radical change of style his work underwent in the late 1960s, and for which he is arguably better known.

Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) was a notable painter and printmaker in the New York School, which included many of the Abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning. In the late 1960s Guston helped to lead a transition from Abstract expressionism to Neo-expressionism in painting, abandoning the so-called "pure abstraction" of abstract expressionism in favour of more cartoonish renderings of various personal symbols and objects.

Guston, was born in 1913 in Montreal. In 1919 his family moved to Los Angeles, and with an interest in art, he was encouraged by his mother to take a correspondence course in cartooning. He attended the Manual Arts High School, where he became a friend of Jackson Pollock, a fellow student. After being expelled from that school, Guston independently pursued his interest in art, including comics, as well as delving into various philosophical theories. In 1930 he received a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute. He left after three months.

In 1935–1936 he moved to New York, where he worked on murals for the Works Progress Administration on their Federal Art Project. His works from this period tend toward realist social commentary but also suggest his exploration of more abstract approaches. From 1941 to 1945, he taught at the State University of Iowa in Iowa City.

1945 marked Guston’s first solo exhibition at The Midtown Galleries and a first prize award at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh. In 1947, when he had a summer home in Woodstock, New York, Guston came to know abstract painter Bradley Walker Tomlin and became more attentive to the abstract art that was a hallmark of New York’s art scene.

Bradley Walker Tomlin No.13 1952
In 1948-1949, the Prix de Rome took him to Europe, after which he moved to New York, becoming part of a circle of artists, composers, and writers including Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and John Cage.

During the 1950s Guston entered a new phase of abstract expression. Thick strokes in lush hues are woven into complex surfaces, with the brighter colours massed at the centre of the canvas; these works became hallmarks of the artist’s style. They were well received, with The Museum of Modern Art purchasing of one of his paintings in 1956. After traveling to Europe in 1960, Guston had a major retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1962.

In 1967, he moved to Woodstock permanently, and began painting in a symbolic style that revived the cartoon like forms and figures that he drew as a young man. In this body of work he created a lexicon of images such as Klansmen, lightbulbs, shoes, cigarettes, and clocks. In late 2009, the McKee gallery in NYC, Guston's historic dealer, mounted a show revealing that lexicon in 49 small oils on panel painted between 1969 and 1972 that had never been publicly displayed as a whole. Guston is best known for these late existential and lugubrious paintings, which at the time of his death had reached a wide audience, and found great popular acceptance. Guston died in 1980 at his home in Woodstock.

1947-48 The Tormentors 
oil on canvas

1950 Leaving 
quill and ink on paper

1951 White Painting II 
oil on canvas

1952 Painting No. 9 
oil on canvas

1952 To B.T.W. 
oil on canvas

1952 Untitled 
oil on canvas

1953-54 Zone 
oil on canvas

1954 Untitled

1954-55 Beggar's Joy 
oil on canvas

1955 For M 
oil on canvas

1956/57 The Clock 
oil on canvas

1957 Abstraction 
oil on paper

1957 Native's Return 
oil on canvas

1957 Oasis 
oil on canvas

1957 The Mirror 
oil on canvas

1958 Spring II 
oil on canvas

1960 Painter III 
oil on canvas

1963 Untitled 
synthetic polymer on paper

1966 Untitled ( #11 ) 

1969 Edge of Town 
oil on canvas

1969 Edge of Town ( detail )

* See part 2 on Philip Guston for later works.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Franz Kline

I’m still working my through the Abstract Expressionists, and today I’m looking at the work of Franz Kline (1910 – 1962). Kline was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. While enrolled at Boston University, he took art classes at the Boston Art Students League from 1931 to 1935. In 1935, Kline went to London and attended Heatherley’s Art School from 1936 to 1938. He settled permanently in New York in 1939. During the late 1930s and 1940s, Kline painted cityscapes and landscapes of the coal-mining district where he was brought up, as well as commissioned murals and portraits. Kline was fortunate to have the financial support and friendship of two patrons, Dr. Theodore J. Edlich, Jr., and I. David Orr, who commissioned numerous portraits and bought many other works from him. In this period, he received awards in several National Academy of Design Annuals.

In 1943, Kline met Willem de Kooning at Conrad Marca-Relli’s studio and within the next few years also met Jackson Pollock. Kline’s interest in Japanese art began at this time. His mature abstract style, developed in the late 1940s, is characterized by bold gestural strokes of fast-drying black and white enamel. His first solo exhibition was held at the Egan Gallery, New York, in 1950. Soon after, he was recognized as a major figure in the emerging Abstract Expressionist movement. Although Kline was best known for his black-and-white paintings, he also worked extensively in color, from the mid-1950s to the end of his life.

Kline spent a month in Europe in 1960, travelling mostly in Italy. In the decade before his death, he was included in major international exhibitions, including the 1956 and 1960 Venice Biennales and the 1957 São Paulo Biennale, and he won a number of important prizes. Kline died in 1962 in New York. The Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C., organized a memorial exhibition of his work that same year.

1950 Cardinal

1950 Chief

1952 Painting Number 7

1952 Untitled

1953 New York, N.Y.

1953 Suspended

1954 Painting Number Two

1955 Orange Outline

1955 White Forms

1957 Untitled

1958 C and O

1958 Heaume

1959 Black Reflections

1959 Untitled

1959-60 Blueberry Eyes

1960 Harleman

1961 Le Gros

1961 Scudera

1961 Untitled

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mary Cassatt

American Artist Mary Cassatt was one of the original Impressionists, rare for an American and for a woman. Cassatt was the only American to exhibit her work in an exhibit of the original group of Impressionist Artists, including Degas, Renoir and Monet. Cassatt said that she "hated conventional art" and when invited by Edgar Degas to exhibit with this group of independent artists in an exhibit of non-academic art she was overjoyed.

Mary Cassatt was born in 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, a town that is now part of Pittsburgh. Her father was a wealthy investment banker. Cassatt grew up in Pennsylvania, but lived in Germany and France for four years during her childhood. She entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861. In 1865 she studied Old Masters paintings in Paris.

Cassatt returned to the United States when the Franco-Prussian War erupted in 1870, but she went back the next year, despite her father's objections. She travelled and studied in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and France before settling permanently in Paris in 1875. She lived there for the rest of her life, despite the apparent fact that her affection for the French people was not great, and lessened with the passage of time.

In the late 1800s Paris was enormously progressive under the direction of the Emperor Napoleon III. While the city itself was undergoing dramatic modernization that made it the model for the modern world, the city's arts were bursting with enthusiasm. It was into this atmosphere that Cassatt settled.
In her early years in Paris, she exhibited at the Salon, France's annual juried exhibit which featured the best of conventional paintings of historical, religious and mythological subjects. But she grew restless with this kind of work and became enamoured of the work of the independent artists, later known as the Impressionists. Society at that time was embracing the scientific pronouncements of Darwinism and the industrial revolution was in full swing. The arts reflected the social unrest during this period of dramatic change. The Impressionists rejected the ethereal mythological subject matter of academic art, and painted life as they saw it, connecting the viewer to the biological world, and producing a very human sensibility in their work.

Cassatt's most famous paintings are of mothers with children, bathing, reading or doing other ordinary things. Despite the routine nature of the paintings, her style revealed emotional depth and intensity. She learned from Degas a sense of the immediate, allowing informal poses, gestures and fleeting moments to permeate her work.

Edgar Degas became a close friend of Cassatt's, mentored her and invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. She refused to exhibit there in 1882 when Degas did not exhibit. She was commissioned to do a mural for the Chicago World's Fair in 1892. After the 1886 exhibit Cassatt developed a business relationship with an art dealer named Paul Durand-Ruel who sponsored her first solo exhibit in the Durand-Ruel gallery in New York in 1893. In 1903 another showing of her work was exhibited there. She visited the United States in 1904, and for the last time in 1908.

Cassatt was influential in her support of the Impressionist movement, not just through her art, but financially, and through promotions of Impressionism. She arranged for Impressionist works to be sent to the United States through her brother Alexander. She encouraged him and others to purchase works by Monet, Manet, Morissot, Renoir and Pissaro. Alexander Cassatt ultimately became the first important art collector of Impressionist works in the United States.
Mary Cassatt died at Beaufresne, France in 1926.

1878 The Reader (Lydia Cassatt)

1890-1 The Letter

At the Francais, a Sketch

At the Theatre

Autumn (Lydia Cassatt)

Breakfast in Bed

Little Girl in a Large Red Hat

Little Girl in Big Straw Hat and a Pinafore

Lydia Seated at an Embroidery Frame

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Mother Holding a Child in Her Arms

Nude Child


The Banjo Lesson

The Bath

1893-94 The Boating Party

Woman and Child Seated in a Garden

Young Girl at a Window

Young Mother Sewing