Recent Abstract Expressionist brush paintings by Japanese artist Kiro Uehara are amazing! I talk a little about why they are a break from the trad AbEx concepts, how they fit right in, and why I love them!
Sam Francis is an artist in the later Abstract Expressionist vein. He was also th eman whose expressionism wasfar more colorful than Rothko, Pollock, or their ilk. In fact, Francis is more Mitchell, Abbott, Louis, or Frankenthaler than those first 'rounders. The works at SFMoMA are from 1978 and 1980, and they use the structural grid form, but then layers more paint, thin stains of acrylic across the canvas. It is more contained than many AbExers, almost Clyfford Still-esque, but it's color, my ghod the colours!
The fact is his palette here is undeniably of the 1980s. It'/s not just the pastel sensation of a lot of his work, but the abutting of teals and reds, yellows and hot blues. It is the feeling of the 1980s, defined before the decade actually started. These works would help define what the 1980s would look like, moving beyond the fine arts space into graphic design, fashion, MTV.
Of all the Morris Louis works out there, this one is the most powerful, and frankly, terrifying. It is an Ambi, instead of his allowing the thinned paint to slide down in one direction, here it goes in two directions towards the centre, but that is not what's the scary thing here. The scary thing is that the outermost coating is black, as if they are teeth closing, holding us in the mouth, preparing to chew us to oblivion.
I feel as if the colours, the blues, yellows, red, greens, they are living on the outside, as if they were being used to draw us towards them, to allow us to be chomped upon. It is a terrifying work, and certainly my favorite Louis work in any museum.
The only thing I can say about this work is that it is what it is, and the methodology seems to support the antithesis of the title. This is a picture of cool greys,
Mary Abstract Expressionism was not killed by Pop Art. In fact, it continued in a fascinating direction, and has bubbled up from time to time into the popular art discourse. Mary Weatherford is one of those Abstract Expressionists who happened to have been born after the deaths of Pollack, Kline, and Ryan. Her work is in the vein of Joan Mitchell, Morris Louis, and the de Koonings, and though this is hte first piece of hers I've witnessed in the flesh, I was incredibly moved by experiencing it. it is a piece that comes to me with an impact of Joan Mitchel's 1970s and 80s work or early Philip Guston abstract pieces, but then there's the neon, a single stripe of neao buzzing blue through teh center, immediately bringing the power of Barnett Newman to the party. In a sense, this is a synthesis of the great Abstract Expressionist work of the 1950s, but using the neon tube seems to push the idea that this is a piece of technology as well, and since neon signage is the way I see the 1950s, it all ties togehter. The fact that this is a piece of 2017 is so impressive.
The Anderson Collection is so smart with this piece. It is placed across from the Frankenthaler, between a Morris Louis, a Robert Motherwell, nest to the alcove where slumbers Lucifer, the Kline, the David Smith, the Gottleib, and the Rothkos. It is set among the Abstract Expressionist master that is seems to be speaking of, or perhaps speaking to, and that makes it a heavy punch.
I love this gallery, but am not thrilled with this piece personally, though I completely get why it's one of the most important in the Anderson Collection, and absolutely adore how they've positioned it as a focal point, a defining aspect of the most important room of the museum!
Norman Lewis is one of the very few African-Americans you read about when looking into the art of the era that brought us Abstract Expressionism. He was often exhibited alongside the works of the rest of the New York School. He was a master, but after being considered a major figure at the time, he was shunted to the side in the following decades, which is a shame as I find his work to be incredibly engaging. The inclusion of three of Lewis' work as a temporary exhibition is a very nice touch, especially since the three works are hung on the free-standing wall that has the Pollock work Lucifer on the other side.
The piece Untitled from 1949 is a joy. I had only once seen a Lewis painting, and it was far more like the larger canvas, also Untitled. Here, Lewis is working in rough-hewn geometry, seeming to create a series of somewhat hazy intersecting and interlocking triangles. The effect is impressive, as it brings the eye not to the pinnacle of the forms, but to the splashes of color that are present at random intervals. Those alone made me wonder what was the idea here - to create an image which celebrated the colors presented by giving them room to land thoroughly, or was it to show them being consumed by the black and grey, as if they had once ruled the canvas and now the darkness was seeping in from all side.
This work was not my favorite of the Lewis pieces, but it was the one I spent the most time with on two of my visits.
What of Robert Motherwell, his great black swatches in the center of the canvas, his quick globs of depth seeming to fester, infecting with other colors present? What did he mean by this, this haunting of a painting that seems more suited to the rambling than of any sort of conversation.
I love Motherwell for his distance, his inability to allow you in. Even his series of Elegy for the Spanish Republic, a title worthy of mournful celebration, is nothing more than a collection designed to serve paint as sticking place.
This work, where the black is front, the taupe behind, the white still further away, is worthy of inclusion in his best, but it is not so easily defined. It is neither map nor tombstone nor milemarker nor invitation. it is, instead, a work that feels like a work, and not one to be taken overly lightly.
There is a set of stairs in the Anderson. It takes visitors from the first floor to the second where the vast majority of the art sleeps. As a rule, whatever you experience when you come to the top of the stairs is the focal point.
At the top, on the wall facing you, is a Clyfford Still.
Clyfford Still is going through a resurgance. He is one of the featured artists in the major Abstract Expressionist exhibit in London. While Pollock, Rothko, Motherwell, and deKooning have all become household names, Still was the one who came to abstraction first.
The piece in the Anderson is large, and to my eyes, one of the most beautiful pieces in the entire collection. The contrast between the reds, blacks, and whites allows the mind to go from edge to edge of the surface, making it impossible to travel the distance in a straight line. The borders formed contain nations, zones, territories of pure colors, but they are full of weight. It is not a light piece, not like the MItchell around the corner, but it is also not nearly the AbEx impression as is given off by the Pollock, Rothko, or Frankenthaler in the collection. The feeling is something new, different, and when I first saw it, I could not place what I was experiencing.
Adolph Gottlieb (1903 - 1974)
oil on canvas
90 x 60 1/8 in.
Gottlieb's grand unification theorem
for Abstract Expressionism
Christopher J Garcia - Curator, Fan Writer, Podcaster, and a guy who just loves art.