NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Southwest Premodernism

Nampeyo- Hopi Potter- Matthews Gallery Blog

This is part 2 of our blog series on the history of women artists in New Mexico.
Read part 1 here, and learn more at our May 8-31st exhibition
NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico.

“I have alluded to Nampeyo as a ‘modern artist,’ because the more I understood her life and work, the more her extraordinary career seemed to parallel that path,” writes Steve Elmore in the last chapter of his book In Search of Nampeyo. Elmore stepped in as our guest blogger last week, which gave us some time to study the links between Pueblo aesthetic innovations and the diverse New Mexico art movements that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What did romanticist painters of the early Santa Fe and Taos art colonies learn from Pueblo traditions that had been around for centuries before they arrived? How did the elegant abstract patterns on San Ildefonso jars and bowls influence abstract expressionists like Beatrice Mandelman and Janet Lippincott?

Nampeyo- Hopi Pottery- Matthews Gallery Blog

Elmore provided the first clues to this investigation in his biography of Nampeyo (1856-1942), a Hopi-Tewa potter whose innovative images bridged the ancient and modern worlds. Here’s more from In Search of Nampeyo:

While much of Nampeyo’s life was that of a traditional Hopi woman, we need to consider her life and work outside of the academic fields of archaeology and anthropology, which have heretofore defined how Nampeyo has been perceived by the public. Today, her masterpieces are mostly displayed in natural history museums next to Anasazi jars or in anthropological exhibits of Pueblo Indians—not in art museums—and certainly not as modern art.

Yet, in the end, Nampeyo was not an ancestral potter, nor even a traditional Pueblo potter, although these conditions were the context for her achievements. While she was trained as a traditional potter, she evolved into a unique artist using modern marketing techniques to sell her work to a new Euro-American audience.

As Elmore stresses, it’s important to understand Nampeyo, Maria Martinez and other influential Pueblo potters not as isolated traditionalists but as artists who interacted with newcomers and adapted to the cultural changes they affected. The realities of frontier living necessitated a constant dialogue between the first artists who emigrated from the East Coast and Pueblo artisans. This interchange continued as the market for Pueblo arts and crafts grew and shifted based on the demands of visitors.

IlaMcAfee

Ila McAfee (1897-1995), one of the early “Euro-American” transplants, drew inspiration from Pueblo traditions in her work. McAfee often painted wild horses in profile, echoing the stark monochrome of pottery designs. In The Golden Triad, three beasts hover before a textured golden-brown field that captures the hues of high desert clay.

Taos art dealer Robert Parsons interviewed McAfee about her early years in Taos:

It was so different then. There was nothing between me and the mountain when we first got here. The village was small and the Indians remained uninfluenced by the invaders. Once I asked one of them, ‘What did you call this country before the Europeans came?’ ‘Ours,’ he told me.

Dorothy-Brett-Artist-Matthews-Gallery

Other early Taos artists such as Helen Greene Blumenschein (1909-1989) and Dorothy Brett (1883-1977) also interacted with the nearby Pueblo. Blumenschein meditated on the relationship between the new settlers and the natives in her Taos memoirs, and Brett spent years making genre paintings of the Taos Poblanos. Later on, Brett switched to more mystical subject matter that was inspired by Native American spirituality. Her paintings Cat Shaman and Moon Ray reflect her mature philosophies that link humanity and nature.

Agnes Sims Artwork with New Mexico Petroglyphs- Matthews Gallery

In the 1930s, Santa Fe artist and archaeologist Agnes Sims (1910-1990) arrived in New Mexico and began studying the ancient Pueblo petroglyphs. As she pondered the mysteries of the lost language, she began developing her own abstract symbol system in a series of paintings and sculptures.

Sims’ abstract experiments prefigured the innovations of Beatrice Mandelman (1912-1998) and Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), abstract expressionists who helped bring a bold new aesthetic to the Desert Southwest in the 1940’s. This wave of modernists surely took note of Pueblo aesthetic innovations that had spread from Nampeyo’s studio to the San Ildefonso Pueblo and beyond. From Elmore:

Nampeyo’s abstract drawings are strangely prescient of the abstractions of Euro-American modern art. This remains a large part of her mystique. In particular, critics have noted the comparison between Nampeyo’s abstractions of birds to Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s invention of Cubism, wherein an object is shown from multiple views at the same time.

Elmore’s observations complete the circle of influences, revealing a far more interconnected aesthetic evolution than we originally imagined. Check back next week for the continued tale of women artists in New Mexico, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

Nampeyo and Pablo Picasso- Matthews Gallery Blog*Images of Nampeyo’s pottery courtesy of Steve Elmore. Image of New Mexico petroglyph courtesy of Roch Hart.

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SPRING OF MODERNISM: The Circle

Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O'Keeffe- Matthews Gallery BlogMabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O’Keeffe

If you visit our SPRING OF MODERNISM show this month, two things will become abundantly clear about the 20th century artists in the exhibition. Firstly, they’re all linked, in one way or another, to the 1913 Armory Show in New York City. Secondly, they are all tied to each other. In fact, the modernists of the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies are so intertwined that we tried and failed to create a chart of their relationships. There are so many connections, it reminds us of Gertrude Stein’s Paris! Here’s just one line of the friendship chain, which begins with Stein herself:

Jan Matulka- Surrealist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog
MATULKA
Jan Matulka (1890-1972) was born in Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic. He moved to New York City in 1907 and enrolled at the National Academy of Design soon after. A Joseph Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship enabled him to visit the Desert Southwest in 1917, where he was inspired by the cultures of the Pueblo Native American Tribes. He maintained studios in Paris and New York during the 1920s, befriending Gertrude Stein, Andre Lhote and Max Weber.
DASBURG
Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979) also knew Stein. He was born in Paris and emigrated to New York City in 1892. He studied at the New York Art Students League and spent time in Paris with Stein, Henri Matisse and Morgan Russell as a young man. In 1913, he exhibited Lucifer (above) at the Armory Show, and was later invited to New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan. He moved to Taos in 1921, and was part of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz’s circle here.

 Cady Wells- Taos 1947- Matthews Gallery Blog Cady Wells, Taos 1947, Ink and Watercolor on Paper

WELLS

Cady Wells (1904-1954) knew Luhan and O’Keeffe and studied under Dasburg. He grew up in Southbridge, Massachussets and traveled extensively as a young man, studying music and the visual arts before deciding to become an artist in his late 20s. He moved to New Mexico in 1932, where he found an enthusiastic mentor in Dasburg and drew inspiration from the rich culture of the Desert Southwest. The Smithsonian American Art Museum writes:

Portraying the Southwestern landscape in watercolor, Wells moved through various modernist idiots. His early work incorporated gestural, calligraphic lines suggestive of Chinese ideograms. Later he investigated the structure of natural forms [and the] pattern-like appearance of the landscape. Influenced by Dasburg, Raymond Jonson and Georgia O’Keeffe, Wells developed a personal semi-abstract style that brought considerable praise from his peers.

 Raymond Jonson- Oil Number 12- Matthews Gallery BlogRaymond Jonson, Oil No. 12, 1958, Oil on Canvas

JONSON 

Wells’ friend Raymond Jonson (1891-1982) was born in Chariton, Iowa and grew up in Portland, Oregon. He attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chicago Art Institute as a young man, but his true artistic breakthrough came when he attended the 1913 Armory Show and saw the artwork of early abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky.
Jonson traveled to New Mexico for the first time in 1922, and moved here two years later. Here he founded the Atalaya Art School and took a teaching position at the University of New Mexico.
Along with his friends Emil Bisttram, Agnes Pelton and others, Jonson formed the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) in 1938. The collective was inspired by early abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, as well as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism and Dynamic Symmetry. The TPG only lasted a few years, disbanding in 1942 because of World War II. However, the collective’s influence endures in the Southwest and beyond. Some consider the group an heir to Russian Constructivism, Gino Severini and the Bauhaus.
Emil Bisttram- After the Blizzard- Matthews Gallery Blog
BISTTRAM 
Jonson’s friend Emil Bisttram (1895-1976) was born in Hungary and immigrated to New York City with his family at 11. It wasn’t until his mid-30s that he visited Taos, but he fell in love with the area and would become a major player in the art colony when he moved there a year later.In 1933 Bisttram helped open the first modern art gallery in Taos and in 1938 he co-founded the Transcendental Painting Group. He promoted the ideas of the collective through the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism, where Janet Lippincott was one of his students.
Janet Lippincott- Llano Ridge- Matthews Gallery Blog
LIPPINCOTT
Bisttram’s student Janet Lippincott (1918-2007) was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and spent part of her childhood in Paris. There she learned about the aesthetic innovations of Picasso and Matisse. Back in New York, she took classes at the New York Art Students League as a teenager.During World War II, Lippincott enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and was wounded. She pursued art studies in Colorado and San Francisco on the GI Bill, and also attended the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos in 1949 and the Alfred Morang Academy of Fine Art. In 1954, she moved to Santa Fe permanently and lived here for over five decades.Lippincott was considered part of a “second wave” of New Mexico modernists, who ventured to the Southwest after WWII. She is known as an abstract expressionist, but her early modernist influences in Paris stuck with her, as evidenced in her career-spanning series of figurative prints.

Alfred Morang- Blue Mountain Yellow Sky- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, Blue Mountain, Yellow Sky, Ink and Watercolor on Paper

MORANG 

As a young man, Lippincott’s teacher Alfred Morang (1901-1958) suffered from tuberculosis. He left his home in Portland, Maine in 1937 and came to New Mexico to recover in a dryer climate. The reports vary, but when Morang got off the train he was met by Randall Davey or Raymond Jonson, two of the city’s most established modernist artists. Morang’s bohemian manner quickly charmed the Santa Fe art world, and the City Different became his permanent home.

Late in his life, Morang moved to a Canyon Road studio just behind Claude’s Bar. Just across the street was an artist and writer’s compound run by Agnes Sims.

 Agnes Sims- Dance Rattles- Matthews Gallery BlogAgnes Sims, Dance Rattles, Watercolor on Paper

SIMS 

Morang’s Canyon Road neighbor Agnes Sims (1910-1990) was born in Devon, Pennsylvania. She managed a marionette theater and worked as a textile designer in Philadelphia before moving to Santa Fe in 1938 and founding a Canyon Road artist’s compound. In New Mexico, she took an interest in the ancient petroglyphs of New Mexico’s Native American Pueblos, and received a grant to study and sketch them. Her archaeological work inspired a series of paintings and sculptures in which she developed her own semi-abstract symbolism.

Sims’ longtime partner was the literary editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and helped popularize Truman Capote‘s work. Capote was friends (and sometime enemies) with Georgia O’Keeffe. And so the circle comes back around to Andrew Dasburg!

We could do this for ages, but you get the point. The New Mexico art community was a western frontier of avant-garde innovation, forged by a group of passionate friends whose efforts gave birth to the Land of Enchantment of today. And thank goodness for that!

Click here to see all of the artwork in our Spring of Modernism show, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Bohemians

Alfred Morang Art Exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

How did you get this many Morangs together?”

That’s the most frequent question we’ve received from Alfred Morang fans who’ve come to our show in the past few weeks. It’s common to see one or two works by the Santa Fe master in a gallery’s collection, but it’s quite a special experience to view 37 pieces in one place.

Truth is, we called our exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS because we thought Morang’s contemporaries would dominate the show. It was only through a huge response from the Santa Fe community—private collectors, dealers, galleries—that it all came together. We’re so grateful to everyone involved for working with us, with special thanks to El Farol, Silver Sun Gallery, the Matt Kuhn Collection and our co-curator Paul Parker.

And what a show it was! As we take the paintings down today, we’re feeling quasi-nostalgic for the Santa Fe golden age that Morang’s diverse body of work evokes. For the last 21 days, we’ve been transported to a City Different full of wild saloons and drunken shootouts, free-flowing absinthe and spooky ghosts.

For our final blog post on the show, we thought it would be fitting to spotlight the colorful clique of bohemian artists who surrounded Morang during his time here in the 1930’s- 50’s. Morang was a brilliant art teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. They ensured that his influence still ripples through the New Mexico art world today…

Portrait of Alfred Morang by Tommy Macaione- Matthews Gallery Blog

 TOMMY MACAIONE

This portrait of Alfred Morang appeared in the exhibition courtesy of the Matt Kuhn Collection. It was made by another colorful Santa Fe character, Thomas S. Macaione (1907-1992), also known as ‘El Diferente’. Macaione’s mature painting style was heavily influenced by Morang’s teachings, and they also had similar lifestyles. They lived as true bohemians, devoted to art above all else.

“[Macaione’s] passion for plein-air painting was not entirely appreciated at first in the town’s lingering Wild West atmosphere,” wrote the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2013. “Once, when painting a garden on Acequia Madre, he was scared off by the property owner, who fired a pistol in the air in his flowers’ defense.” A photograph of this bust appears on the final page of Walt Wiggins’ essential biography of Alfred Morang, A Neglected Master, along with a quote from Margaret Turner Williams:

 [Morang] died as he lived: alone. Yet he was never lonely, for he was a creator, and creators learn early in life to bridge the gap between the pain of loneliness and the peace of solitude.

With no material wealth, he was one of the richest human beings who ever lived. Everyone who knew him, and some who didn’t, feel a sense of loss at his passing.

Alfred Morang- Into Tomorrow- Matthews Gallery Blog

TRANSCENDENTAL PAINTING GROUP

A small group of New Mexico artists including Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram, and William Lumpkins formed the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) in 1938. The collective was inspired by early abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, as well as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism and Dynamic Symmetry. Their goal was to validate and promote abstract art by transcending their senses to explore spiritual realms. The group organized lectures, published articles and mounted exhibitions in New Mexico, San Francisco and New York. Alfred Morang was not a founding member of the group, but he acted as their press secretary for a number of years. An excerpt from Morang’s November 4, 1938 article “Transcendental Foundation Plans Extensive Activities” in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

It is deeply significant that in this time of readjustment in almost every stratum of life, a few people are intent upon an important branch of cultural development. In Santa Fe the founding of the ‘American Foundation for Transcendental Painting, Inc.’ marks the start of a new phase of American art. […] Briefly, transcendental painting is no school or ism. It is a phase of art that, out of many more or less isolated experiments, has evolved toward non-objective painting, the type of painting that is not dependent upon an object, in nature, but is deeply concerned with forms conceived by the imagination.

The TPG only lasted a few years, disbanding in 1942 because of World War II. However, the collective’s influence endures in the Southwest and beyond. Some consider the group an heir to Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus. Morang completed a number of abstract works inspired by the group’s philosophy, including the oil painting above titled “Into Tomorrow“. Click here to see more.

Janet Lippincott- Alfred The Painter- Matthews Gallery Blog

JANET LIPPINCOTT

 “Alfred Morang was one of the few people who encouraged me in my abstract expressionism,” said Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), one of Morang’s  best-known pupils. Lippincott came to New Mexico in 1946 and studied at the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos. Bisttram was a founding member of the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a collective of abstract painters with a spiritual, non-political approach to art, for which Morang served as press secretary. Santa Fean Magazine interviewed Lippincott for an article on Morang in their April 1978 issue:

He was an excellent painter and inspiring teacher “and he had a good mind,” Janet Lippincott says. She studied landscape painting with him for three months one summer, and she remembers that “he had something about him that could draw out the best you had in you.”

This portrait of Alfred Morang isn’t the only artwork by Lippincott that appeared in the show. Click here to see more.

Dorothy Morang- Untitled Abstract 1935- Matthews Gallery Blog

DOROTHY MORANG

Dorothy Morang (1906-1994) was born in Richmond, Maine. She met Alfred in 1925, and they were married in 1930. They lived in Portland, Maine for a number of years, and moved to Santa Fe in 1937 to alleviate the symptoms of Alfred’s tuberculosis.

Dorothy and Alfred divorced in 1950, but she looked out for him for the rest of his life and arranged the transfer of his estate to a Morang relative after his death in 1958. Dorothy was an impressive painter in her own right—here she draws inspiration from the Transcendental Painting Group, for which her husband acted as press secretary. She worked for many years at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, primarily as a curator. An excerpt from an oral history interview with Dorothy Morang by Sylvia Loomis in the Archives of American Art:

SYLVIA LOOMIS: Were you painting after you got to
Santa Fe?

DOROTHY MORANG: Yes, I started even more seriously. I’d been working quite steadily in Portland, Maine – Alfred and I lived there for about seven years before we came here – and I went on and worked very seriously with some criticism from Alfred and from Raymond Jonson, who was living in Santa Fe then. […] Alfred had also taken up writing, and he was very active, as you know, on radio, too, interviewing artists on the radio. He had an interview program for several years. He was extremely active.

William Vincent Kirkpatrick- Upper Canyon Road- Matthews Gallery Blog

WILLIAM VINCENT KIRKPATRICK

“[Alfred Morang] taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see,” remarked an unknown Santa Fe artists after Morang’s tragic death in 1958. The Morang School of Fine Art was instrumental in the development of a new generation of Santa Fe artists. At the time of Morang’s death, William Vincent Kirkpatrick (1939-2004), one of his star pupils, was studying at the Taos School  of Art. He returned to Santa Fe, rebuilt his master’s studio and worked on a series of canvases inspired by Morang’s vivid hues and painterly textures. Vincent Kirkpatrick also did a painting on the wall at El Farol near Morang’s series of murals, ensuring that their work would hang side-by-side for years to come!
Learn more about Alfred Morang and his contemporaries on the Matthews Gallery website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news. Also keep your eye out for our 2015 exhibition schedule, which will explore other corners of the Santa Fe art colony. Coming very soon!

OUTSIDER/INSIDER: Abstract Expressionism at Matthews Gallery

Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell at Matthews Gallery Boxer (left) and Motherwell

It was Mark Rothko’s 111th birthday this Friday, and the occasion has us pondering one of the 20th century’s most polarizing art movements: abstract expressionism.

Three artworks by renowned abstract expressionists have recently landed on our walls. The first two are heavily impastoed oil paintings by Stanley Boxer, who resolutely clung to the far fringes of the movement. Determined to defy labels, he was furious when art critic Clement Greenberg called him a color field painter, and yet the arc of his creative explorations closely paralleled that of his abstract expressionist contemporaries:

In the manufacture of my art, I use anything and everything which gets the job done without any sentiment or sanctity as to medium. Then, too, I have deliberately made a practice of being “visionless”… this is, I go where my preceding art takes me, and never try to redirect the future as to what my art should look like. This is a general credo and foundation for everything I have ever done and stands firm in its solidity as this is written.

Boxer, who died in 2000, would have loved Grace Glueck’s New York Times review of a 2004 exhibition of his late works. She notes that he was “never part of a movement or trend,” but rather driven by paint’s “physical possibilities without script or program.”

Abstract Paintings by Stanley Boxer- Matthews Gallery Blog Atriumofashreddednight  (top) and Crisppitchofsigh, Oil on Linen

Glueck ends the piece with a brief analysis of Boxer’s titles, lyrical lists of words that are jammed together in unbroken strings. The works in our collection, for example, have names that read like fragments of beat poems: Atriumofashreddednight and Crisppitchofsigh. Glueck writes, “As Boxer joked in his titles, these canvases, more than most, do not really lend themselves to verbal exposition. They live for the eye, to which they bring deep satisfaction.”

Boxer’s titles provide a link to Robert Motherwell, the other abstract expressionist represented in our collection. Unlike many “abex” artists who labeled their canvases using dates or arbitrary numbers, Boxer and Motherwell were unapologetic in their wordplay.

That’s where the similarity ends. While Boxer considered himself an isolated frontiersman of abstract painting, Motherwell was an eager icon of abstract expressionism. He coined the term ‘New York School’ to describe his revolutionary circle, which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and acted as a spokesperson for the movement in the world of academia.

If Boxer’s titles were little more than impressionistic quips, Motherwell, who was a scholar before he became a “serious artist” and wrote numerous essays on aesthetics, chose names that have inspired endless analysis. His most famous series of paintings, Elegies to the Spanish Republic, chronicles the Spanish Civil War in bold strokes of black and white and subtle passages of ochre, blue, green and red.

Mainly, I use each color as simply symbolic: ochre for the earth, green for the grass, blue for the sky and sea,” Motherwell wrote. “I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.” In varying contexts, each color holds a universe of meanings. To fully understand the use of ochre in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies, “You would have to know that a Spanish bull ring is made of sand of an ochre color,” the artist wrote.  Other works that feature ochre, like Western Air or Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, would naturally spark different associations. 

Robert Motherwell- Africa 4- Silkscreen- Matthews Gallery Blog Robert Motherwell, Africa 4, Silkscreen

What to make of our Motherwell silkscreen, titled Africa 4? Motherwell completed the Africa suite in 1970, the same year he created his Basque and London suites. They were his first projects entirely devoted to silkscreens, and a divergence from the heavily layered nuances of his oil paintings. Here his black abstract forms stand crisply against their off-white backgrounds, although on closer inspection, their tumultuous edges still seem to weave in an out of focus.

“All my works [consist] of a dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis,” the artist wrote in 1944.

Motherwell first explored the concepts of automatism and the subconscious with a group of Parisian Surrealists, including Duchamp, Ernst and Masson, who had fled Europe during World War II.  Their ideas would help shape the spiritual side of abstract expressionism, a spontaneous, intuitive element that Motherwell carefully balanced with his more intellectual inclinations.

Motherwell’s connection to the Surrealists lends us a potential clue to the significance of the ‘Africa’ title. In his 1946 essay ‘Beyond the Aesthetics‘, Motherwell discusses the life of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who helped inspire Surrealism. In the final decades of his life Rimbaud quit writing and set off on an African expedition, a leap of faith that Motherwell compares to the Surrealists’ break from Dada and formation of a new movement:

Like Rimbaud before them, the Surrealists abandoned the aesthetic altogether; it takes a certain courage to leave poetry for Africa (as Rimbaud did, fh). They revealed their insight as essentially moral in never forgetting for a moment that most living is a process of conforming to an established order which is inhuman in its drives and consequences. Their hatred sustained them through all the humiliating situations in which the modern artist find himself, and led them to conceptions beyond the reach of more passive souls. For them true ‘poetry’ was freedom from mechanical social responses. No wonder they loved the work of children and the insane – if not the creatures themselves.

Perhaps Motherwell’s Africa suite represents a similar journey, a leap into the unknown that is a clear break from previous adventures. Just as Rimbaud abandoned an intellectual pursuit for one centered on travel and action, and as the Surrealists broke from the societal battles of the Dadaists to explore dreamscapes, so Motherwell’s stark Africa forms landed him in a new realm of image-making. Perhaps he sought to prove that even the most distinctly divided blacks and whites could possess endless shades of grey.

Learn more about Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for more gallery news.

BURST OF BRILLIANCE: Adolph Gottlieb’s Southwestern Epiphany

“It was like being at sea,” said Adolph Gottlieb. The artist had just spent a year in the Desert Southwest- from 1937 to 1938- and returned to his hometown of New York City with a radically altered style. “There’s… a tremendous clarity of light and at night the clouds seem very close,” he continued. This was a very different type of “sea” than the one that carried Gottlieb on his inaugural artistic journey. When he was 17 he dropped out of high school and caught a merchant ship to Europe. He spent two years there, including six months in Paris where he audited art classes and visited the Louvre every day. Back in New York, he studied at The Art Students League and befriended Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Milton Avery. Together they founded the abstract expressionism movement, working to develop color field painting and other innovations. They remained close until Gottlieb decided to strike out on his own to Tucson, Arizona. It was an endeavor that would markedly separate him from his contemporaries, even after his return to the East. Gottlieb’s New York friends called the style he had developed in Arizona simplistic, but the artist refused to look back. He distanced himself from his colleagues and focused on developing a Surrealist style. Experiments with automatism and surrealist biomorphism helped him create an abstract symbol system for his gridded Pictographs series. Finally, in the 1950’s, he started work on two series that would become his most well-known work. Both series are represented in our collection, and their very existence seems linked to the bare, elegant vistas of the Desert Southwest.

IMAGINARY LANDSCAPES

Around 1950-51… I was finally getting away from the pictographs and looking for something… So it was necessary to find other forms, a different changed concept. So finally after a certain period of transition I hit on dividing the canvas into two parts, which then became like an imaginary landscape… What I was really trying to do when I got away from the pictographs was to make this notion of the kind of polarity clearer and more extreme. So the most extreme thing that I could think of doing at the time was dividing the canvas in half, make two big divisions and put something in the upper division and something in the lower section.

The color and texture of the land mass in “Green Foreground” recalls Gottlieb’s sea simile. In this period the artist was consolidating surrealist and abstract expressionist theories by approaching the two movements as different sides of the same coin (hence a “polarity”). Our lithograph implies a fantastical landscape, but works just as well as a flat, wholly abstract composition. If we imagine ourselves exploring this terrain, it would look much like Gottlieb’s surroundings in the Southwest, albeit with a greener tint.

BURSTS

After doing the imaginary landscapes until say 1956, in ’57 I came out with the first Burst painting… There was a different type of space than I had ever used and it was a further clarification of what I was trying to do. The thing that was interesting that it was a return to a focal point, but it was a focal point with the kind of space that existed in traditional painting. Because this was like a solitary image or two images that were just floating in the canvas space. They had to hold the space and they also had to create all the movement – that took place within the rectangle.

Gottlieb’s Bursts are Imaginary Landscapes that have further dissolved into abstraction, though their compositions still root them somewhat in reality. In “Crimson Ground” two discs rise (or set) like a sun and moon from a monochrome tangle with the most ephemeral of horizon lines.

When I started doing the Bursts I began to do part of the painting horizontally. It was necessary to do that because I was working with a type of paint which had a particular viscosity, which flowed, and if it were on a vertical surface it would just run. If it were on a horizontal surface, I could control it… I was using a combination of brushes and knives, palette knives… and spatulas… I’ve tried everything, rollers, rags, I’ve put paint on with everything.

“Crimson Ground” isn’t a painting, but it still has a painterly quality to it. The edges of the discs are uneven and textured, and the forms below are as splattered as a Pollock drip painting. This further highlights the polarity between the surreal landscape and an abstract expressionist painting. One is focused on depth, the other focuses solely on the surface. Learn more about Adolph Gottlieb on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for to-the-minute gallery updates!

The 10 Artists Who Changed Art History Forever, Pt. 2

To top off our list of art history’s most influential players (click here for part 1), we had to make some tough decisions. Would Monet still be known today if not for a fateful trip to the seashore with Boudin? Who had a greater influence on abstract expressionism: Pollock or De Kooning? Browse our choices and let us know if you agree or disagree in comments below or on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Eugene Boudin, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Trouville, Eugene Boudin

 6. Eugene Boudin (1824-1898)

French painter Eugene Boudin grew up riding across the English Channel on his father’s steamboat between his home village of Honfleur and the city of Le Havre. Boudin’s mother put an end to the voyages when the young boy nearly drowned, and the family moved to Le Havre to open a picture frame shop. Perhaps it was these early years at sea—and that terrifying dip in the tumbling waves—that drove Boudin to create the small but dynamic compositions that would directly inspire Impressionism.

As a young man Boudin opened his own framing shop and showed work by artists such as Constant Troyon and Jean-Francois Millet. At 22 he started painting full-time, capturing coastal scenes with an impeccable eye for light and a keen interest in the social interactions of beach-goers. He was greatly influenced by the 16th century Dutch masters, and was one of the first French painters to work in the outdoors.

Boudin moved to Paris on a scholarship when he was 23 and soon met the teenage Claude Monet. Monet was working as a caricaturist on the streets of Paris, but Boudin convinced him to travel to Normandy and paint en plein air. In 1874 Boudin showed work in the first Impressionist exhibition alongside Monet’s pivotal Impression, Sunrise, which was painted in Le Havre and inspired the name of the new movement. Without Boudin’s encouragement, Monet may never have moved past charcoal.

Pissarro, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Two Women Chatting by the Sea”, Camille Pissarro

 7. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) 

Picasso and Matisse called Paul Cezanne “the father of us all”, but there’s always a mentor behind a master. Cezanne was heavily influenced by Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. “He was a father for me,” Cezanne said. “A man to consult and a little like the good Lord.”

Pissarro grew up on the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies and attended a boarding school near Paris. In school he studied the French masters and excelled at drawing and painting. He moved to Paris in 1855 to apprentice with Anton Melbye and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. While Corot worked on his paintings in the studio, Pissarro insisted on painting en plein air and often finished works in one sitting.

The artist was criticized for his technique, which often exposed the rougher, less picturesque side of the French landscape, but his quick, intuitive methods attracted a small group of artists who would soon be known as the Impressionists. Pissarro became their patriarch, and was the only artist to participate in all eight Impressionist exhibitions. However, it was his switch to Neo-Impressionism at 54 and his great influence on Post Impressionism that landed him on this list. Pissarro’s impulse to look deeper into the landscape and trace every rough edge would inspire Seurat, van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne in their revolutionary explorations of perspective that would fracture (and eventually completely dissolve) the classical picture plane.

Pablo Picasso, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Dora Maar au Chat, Pablo Picasso

 8. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) 

Pablo Picasso is arguably the most famous—and prolific—artist of the 20th century. He created roughly 13,500 paintings and hundreds of thousands more prints, engravings, illustrations and sculptures over the course of his 75-year career. Though he’s famous for co-developing Cubism, it was his explorations into all corners of the plastic arts that made him so influential. No matter the medium or style, Picasso had a hand in radically changing it all.

The artist was born in Malaga, Spain. His father was a professor of art who began formally training his son from a very young age. By 16, Picasso had gained entrance to the prestigious Royal Academy of San Fernando. In the early 1900s he moved to Paris, where he met art collector Gertrude Stein and many of the most famous artists of the time. He started working with Georges Braque in 1909, and the close friends developed a style that pushed Cezanne’s explorations of multiple perspectives to new extremes.

Cubism encouraged artists to analyze objects and break them into thousands of pieces, and similarly shattered the art world into myriad Modernist movements from Futurism to Constructivism.

Pollock, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
No. 5, 1948, Jackson Pollock

9. Jackson Pollock (1912- 1956) 

Jackson Pollock was called “Jack the Dripper” and “The Worst Living Artist in America” by the media, and a large slice of the public saw him as a reclusive drunkard who dealt the killing blow to order and sense in art. Sometimes when you’re drumming up an art revolution, things have to get messy.

Pollock grew up the youngest of five brothers in Arizona and California. He and his brother Charles moved to New York City in 1930, where he studied at the Art Students League and worked for the WPA Federal Art Project. In 1936 he took an experimental workshop on liquid paint that would later influence his famous drip paintings. Under the watchful eyes of collector Peggy Guggenheim, art critic Clement Greenberg and his wife Lee Krasner, who he married in 1947, Pollock would become the figurehead of the Abstract Expressionist movement and radically change the world’s definition of art.

Greenberg saw Abstract Expressionism as the final step in painting’s inevitable reduction to its most essential elements. There was an unmatched purity to Pollock’s atmospheric, gravity free color fields that only the eye could traverse. “Jackson was the greatest painter this country has produced,” Greenberg mused. Whether you agree with the critic or not, Pollock undoubtedly subverted figurative painting in an unprecedented way, and changed art history in the process.

Andy Warhol, click here to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol

10. Andy Warhol (1928-1987) 

Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Austro-Hungarian immigrants. In third grade he developed Sydenham’s Cholera, a disorder of the nervous system that left him bedridden for months at a time. Isolated from his peers, the shy child became a voracious student of pop culture. Just a few years later he would build his own towering pedestal using the very figures and symbols that he pinned on his bedroom walls.

Warhol graduated from high school in 1945 and attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology for commercial art. In 1949 he moved to New York City, where he worked in the publishing and advertising industries and got his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in pictorial design. In the 1950’s RCA records hired Warhol as a designer, where he pioneered innovations in various image-making techniques, most notably in screen printing. At the same time he was using similar processes—and subject matter—in his fine art, which he showed in galleries around New York. It was an approach to art that offended many critics at the time, who accused Warhol of succumbing to the homogenizing forces of consumerism.

This was Warhol’s true impact on art history: to show contemporary artists that they couldn’t avoid or ignore the foundational social changes affected by the mass media. Whether he was exploring identity, vanity, sexuality, fame or nothing at all, Warhol was molding the mercurial landscapes of Modern and Postmodern art.

Don’t forget to read part 1 of this series, and connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest to let us know who you would choose!