Dictionary of Art and Artists



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Abstract Expressionism: Action Painting

The world, having survived the most serious economic calamity and the greatest threat to civilization in all of history, now faced a potentially even greater danger: nuclear holocaust. This central fact conditioned the entire Cold War era, which has only recently come to an end. Ironically, it was also a period of unprecedented prosperity in much of the West, but not in the rest of the world, which, with the notable exception of Japan, has struggled until recently to compete successfully.

The painting that prevailed for about 15 years following the end of World War II arose in direct response to the anxiety brought on by these historical circumstances. The term Abstract Expressionism is often applied to this style, which was initiated by artists living in New York City. Under the influence of existentialist philosophy, Action Painters, the first of the Abstract Expressionists, developed a new approach to art. Painting became a counterpart to life itself, an ongoing process in which artists face comparable risks and overcome the dilemmas confronting them through a series of conscious and unconscious decisions in response to both inner and external demands. The Color Field Painters in turn coalesced the frenetic gestures and violent hues of the Action Painters into broad forms of poetic color that partly reflect the spirituality of Oriental mysticism. In a sense. Color Field Painting resolved the conflicts expressed by Action Painting. They are, however, two sides of the same coin, separated by the thinnest differences of approach.

Adolph Gottlieb.

During World War II, the early Abstract Expressionists evolved their own form of Surrealism that allowed them to express their sense of horror at the pervasive evil of a chaotic world. Distraught by the carnage, which threatened the very existence of civilization, they became myth-makers who sought to evoke images that expressed their sense of impending disaster. In this they were strongly affected by the theory of the collective subconscious formulated by Freud's disciple Carl Jung, who believed that universal archetypes are imbedded in our psyches. The breakthrough came in a discussion between
Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) and Mark Rothko (1903-1970), who suggested they try Classical themes. Gottlieb consequently began to paint pictographs based on Sophocles and the other Greek tragedians. Pictographs are a form of picture writing found in prehistoric art; no longer intelligible to us, they continue to exercise a mysterious, instinctive appeal. Few prehistoric images, however, have the impact of Gottlieb's pictographs (fig. 1092), which conjure up something more elemental than even the most ancient relic. The canvas owes its power to his uncanny ability to cast the viewer back into the dark, primitive realm of the subconscious. Painted in an uncompromisingly severe style, it radiates a menacing evil that is a truly frightening evocation of the war. Composed in a grid system derived from Mondrian, it contains Surrealist forms influenced by the grimmest works of Picasso, Miro, and Klee from the war years. At face value the picture seems a confusing jumble of human anatomy cut up and reassembled by a lunatic. It demands to be read section by section, yet it does not yield a literal meaning. Instead, the accumulation of intuitive responses through free association to this enigmatic image provides an experience at once overwhelming and profoundly disturbing.

1092. Adolph Gottlieb.
Descent into Darkness.


Arshile Gorky,

Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), an Armenian who came to America at 16, was the pioneer of the movement and the single most important influence on its other members. It took him 20 years, painting first in the manner of Cezanne, then in the vein of Picasso, to arrive at his mature style. We see it in The Liver Is the Cock's Comb (fig. 1093), his greatest work. The enigmatic title suggests Gorky's close contact with the poet Andre Breton and other Surrealists who found refuge in New York during the war. Gorky developed a personal mythology that underlies his work; each form represents a private symbol within this hermetic realm. Everything here is in the process of turning into something else. The treatment reflects his own experience in camouflage, gained from a class he conducted earlier. The biomorphic shapes clearly owe much to Miro, while their spontaneous handling and the glowing color reflect Gorky's enthusiasm for Kandinsky (see figs. 1079 and 1045). Yet the dynamic interlocking of the forms, their aggressive power of attraction and repulsion are uniquely his own.

1093. Arshile Gorky.
The Liver Is the Cock's Comb.

Jackson Pollock.

The most important of the Action Painters proved to be
Jackson Pollock  (1912-1956). His huge canvas entitled Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 (fig. 1094) was executed mainly by pouring and spattering the colors, instead of applying them with a brush.The result, especially when viewed at close range, suggests both Kandinsky and Max Ernst (compare figs. 1045 and 1075). Kandinsky's non-representational Expressionism and the Surrealists' exploitation of chance effects arc indeed the main sources of Pollock's work, but they do not sufficiently account for his revolutionary technique and the emotional appeal of his art. Why did Pollock "fling a pot of paint in the public's face," as Ruskin had accused Whistler of doing? It was surely not to be more abstract than his predecessors, for the strict control implied by abstraction is exactly what Pollock relinquished when he began to dribble and spatter. Rather, he came to regard paint itself not as a passive substance to be manipulated at will but as a storehouse of pent-up forces for him to release.

The actual shapes visible in our illustration are largely determined by the internal dynamics of his material and his process: the viscosity of the paint, the speed and direction of its impact upon the canvas, its interaction with other layers of pigment. The result is a surface so alive, so sensuously rich, that all earlier painting looks pallid in comparison. When he "aims" the paint at the canvas instead of "carrying" it on the tip of his brush—or, if you will, releases the forces within the paint by giving it a momentum of its own—Pollock does not simply "let go" and leave the rest to chance. He is himself the ultimate source of energy for these forces, and he "rides" them as a cowboy might ride a wild horse, in a frenzy of psychophysical action. He does not always stay in the saddle, yet the exhilaration of this contest, which strains every fiber of his being, is well worth the risk. Our simile, though crude, points up the main difference between Pollock and his predecessors: his total commitment to the act of painting. Hence his preference for huge canvases that provide a "field of combat" large enough for him to paint not merely with his arms, but with the motion of his whole body.

The term Action Painting conveys the essence of this approach far better than does Abstract Expressionism. To those who complain that Pollock was not sufficiently in control of his medium, we reply that this loss is more than offset by a gain— the new continuity and expansiveness of the creative process that gave his work its distinctive mid-twentieth-century stamp. Pollock's drip technique, however, was not in itself essential to Action Painting, and he stopped using it in 1953.

1094. Jackson Pollock .
Autumn Rhythm: Number
30, 1950.

Lee Krasner.

Lee Krasner (1908-1984), who was married to Pollock, never abandoned the brush, although she was unmistakably influenced by Pollock. She struggled to establish her artistic identity, emerging from his shadow only after undergoing several changes in direction and destroying much of her early work. After Pollock's death, she succeeded in doing what he had been attempting to do for the last three years of his life: to reintroduce the figure into Abstract Expressionism while retaining its automatic handwriting. The potential had always been there in Pollock's work: in Autumn Rhythm, we can easily imagine wildly dancing people. In Celebration (fig. 1095), Krasner defines these nascent shapes from within the tangled network of lines by using the broad gestures of Action Painting to suggest human forms without actually depicting them.

1095. Lee Krasner. Celebration. 1959-60

Willem de Kooning.

The work of Willem de Kooning (born 1904), another prominent member of the group and a close friend of Gorky, always retains a link with the world of images, whether or not it has a recognizable subject. In some paintings, such as Woman II (fig. 1096), the image emerges from the jagged welter of brushstrokes as insistently as it does in Rouault's Head of Christ (see fig. 1038). De Kooning has in common with Pollock the furious energy of the process of painting, the sense of risk, of a challenge successfully—but barely—met. What are we to make of his wildly distorted Woman II ? It is as if the flow of psychic impulses in the process of painting has unleashed this nightmarish specter from deep within the artist's subconscious. For that reason, he has sometimes been accused of being a woman-hater, a charge he denies. Rather, she is like a primordial goddess, cruel yet seductive, who represents the dark, primitive side of our makeup.

1096. Willem de Kooning.
II. 1952



Expressionism in Europe

Action Painting marked the international coming-of-age for American art. The movement had a powerful impact on European art, which in those years had nothing to show of comparable force and conviction. One French artist, however, was of such prodigal originality as to constitute a movement all by himself: Jean Dubuffet, whose first exhibition soon after the Liberation electrified and antagonized the art world of Paris.

Jean Dubuffet.

As a young man Jean Dubuffet
(1901-1985) had formal instruction in painting, but he responded to none of the various trends he saw around him, nor to the art of the museums. All struck him as divorced from real life, and he turned to other pursuits. Only in middle age did he experience the breakthrough that permitted him to discover his creative gifts. Dubuffet suddenly realized that for him true art had to come from outside the ideas and traditions of the artistic elite, and he found inspiration in the art of children and the insane. The distinction between "normal" and "abnormal" struck him as no more tenable than established notions of "beauty" and "ugliness." Not since Marcel Duchamp had anyone ventured so radical a critique of the nature of art.

Dubuffet made himself the champion of what he called L'art brut, "art-in-the-raw," but he created something of a paradox besides: while extolling the directness and spontaneity of the amateur as against the refinement of professional artists, he became a professional artist himself. Duchamp s questioning of established values had led him to cease artistic activity altogether, but Dubuffet became incredibly prolific, second only to Picasso in output. Compared with Klee, who had first utilized the style of children's drawings, Dubuffet's art is "raw" indeed. Its stark immediacy, its explosive, defiant presence, are the opposite of the older painter's formal discipline and economy of means. Did Dubuffet perhaps fall into a trap of his own making? If his work merely imitated the art brut of children and the insane, would not these self-chosen conventions limit him as much as those of the artistic elite?

We may be tempted to think so at our first sight of Le Metafisyx (fig. 1097) from his Corps de Dames series. Even De Kooning's wildly distorted Woman II (fig. 1096) seems gentle when matched against this shocking assault on our inherited sensibilities. The paint is as heavy and opaque as a rough coating of plaster, and the lines articulating the blocklike body are scratched into the surface like graffiti made by an untrained hand. Appearances are deceiving, however. The fury and concentration of Dubuffet's attack should convince us that his demonic female is not "something any child can do." In an eloquent statement the artist has explained the purpose of images such as this: "The female body . . . has long . . . been associated with a very specious notion of beauty which I find miserable and most depressing. Surely I am for beauty, but not that one ... I intend to sweep away everything we have been taught to consider—without question—as grace and beauty [and to] substitute another and vaster beauty, touching all objects and beings, not excluding the most despised ... I would like people to look at my work as an enterprise for the rehabilitation of scorned values, and ... a work of ardent celebration."

1097. Jean Dubuffet.
Le Metafisyx (Corps de Dames).


Karel Appel.

L'art brut
and Abstract Expressionism provided the mainsprings for the COBRA group in Denmark, Belgium, and Holland, which took its name from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, the capitals of those countries. The Dutch artist Karel Appel (born 1921), one of the group's co-founders, soon distinguished himself as the finest pure painter of his generation in postwar Europe. To the subject matter of Dubuffet he added the slashing brushwork and vivid colors of De Kooning. During several extended visits to the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Appel was directly exposed to the Action Painters and inspired by jazz musicians. As a result, his palette became even more sonorous, the texture more sensuous, and the space more complex. Burned Face (fig. 1098), one of the personages that inhabits Appel's work from that period, is an explosion of color applied with a brilliant technique that at first hides the figural elements lurking within the painting. In maintaining the importance of content while thoroughly integrating it with the style of Abstract Expressionism, Appel established a precedent which was followed by many other European artists, as well as by a number of American painters who have become preoccupied with the same problem.

1098. Karel Appel.
Burned Face.

Francis Bacon

The English artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was allied not with Abstract Expressionism, though he was clearly related to it, but with the Expressionist tradition. For his power to transmute sheer anguish into visual form he had no equal among twentieth-century artists unless it be Rouault. Bacon often derived his imagery from other artists, freely combining several sources while transforming them so as to infuse them with new meaning. Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (fig. 1099) reflects Bacon's obsession with Velazquez' Pope Innocent X (compare fig. 773). a picture that haunted him for some years. It is, of course, no longer Innocent X we see here but a screaming ghost, inspired by a scene from Sergei Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky, that is materializing out of a black void in the company of two luminescent sides oi beel taken from a painting by Rembrandt. Knowing the origin of the canvas does not help us to understand it, however. Nor does comparison with earlier works such as Grunewald's The Crucifixion, Fuseli's Nightmare, Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, or Munch's The Scream (see figs. 709, 899, 1003, and 1004), which are its antecedents. Bacon was a gambler, a risk taker, in real life as well as in the way he worked. What he sought are images that, in his own words, "unlock the deeper possibilities of sensation." Here he competes with Velazquez, but on his own terms, which are to set up an almost unbearable tension between the shocking violence of his vision and the luminous beautv ol his brushwork.

1099. Francis Bacon.
Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.


Color Field Painting

By the late 1940s, a number of artists began to transform Action Painting into a style called Color Field Painting, in which the canvas is stained with thin, translucent color washes. These may be oil or even ink, but the favored material quickly became acrylic, a plastic suspended in a polymer resin, which can be thinned with water so that it flows freely.

Mark Rothko.

In the mid-1940s
Mark Rothko worked in a style derived from Gorky, but within less than a decade he subdued the aggressiveness of Action Painting so completely that his pictures breathe the purest contemplative stillness. Orange and Yellow (fig. 1100) consists of two rectangles with blurred edges on a pale red ground. The lower rectangle seems immersed in the red ground, while the upper rectangle stands out more assertively in front of the red. The canvas is very large, over seven and one-half feet high, and the thin washes of paint permit the texture of the cloth to be seen. This description hardly begins to touch the essence of the work, or the reasons for its mysterious power to move us. These are to be found in the delicate equilibrium of the shapes, their strange interdependence, and the subtle variations of hue. Not every beholder responds to the works of this withdrawn, introspective artist. For those who do, the experience is akin to a trancelike rapture.

1100. Mark Rothko.
Orange and Yellow.


Helen Frankenthaler.

The stained canvas was also pioneered by Helen Frankenthaler (born 1928), who was inspired by Rothko's example as early as 1952. In The Bay (fig. 1101) Frankenthaler uses the same biomorphic forms basic to early Action Painting but eliminates the personal handwriting found in the brushwork of Gorky and De Kooning. The results are reminiscent of O'Keeffe's paintings in their lyrical and decorative qualities, and no less impressive (compare fig. 1089).

1101. Helen Frankenthaler.
The Bay.

Morris Louis.

A visit to Frankenthaler's studio in 1953 proved decisive for Morris Louis (1912-1962), perhaps the most gifted of all the Color Field Painters. The following year he painted his first "veil" paintings, then struggled unsuccessfully for several years before inaugurating a second series that proved even more majestic. The successive layers of color in Blue Veil (fig. 1102) have been "floated on" without visible marks of the brush. Their harmonious interaction creates a delicately shifting balance, like the aurora borealis, that gives the picture its mysterious beauty. How did Louis achieve this mesmerizing effect, so akin to late paintings by Monet (see fig. 958)? We do not know for certain, but he seems to have poured his gossamer-thin paints down the canvas, which he tilted and turned to give direction to their flow. Needless to say, it took a great deal of experimentation to arrive at the seemingly effortless perfection seen in our example.

1102. Morris Louis. Blue Veil. 1958-59



Late Abstract Expressionism

Ellsworth Kelly.

Many artists who came to maturity in the
1950s turned away from Action Painting altogether in favor of hard-edge painting. Red Blue Green (fig. 1103) by Ellsworth Kelly (born 1923), an early leader of this tendency, abandons Rothko's impressionistic softness. Instead, flat areas of color are circumscribed within carefully delineated forms as part of the formal investigation of color and design problems for their own sake. This radical abstraction of form is known as Minimalism, which implies an equal reduction of content. It was a quest for basic elements representing the fundamental aesthetic values of art, without regard to issues of content. Minimalism was a necessary, even valuable phase, of modern art. At its most extreme, it reduced art not to an eternal essence but to an arid simplicity. In the hands of a few artists of genius like Kelly, however, it yielded works of unprecedented formal perfection.

1103. Ellsworth Kelly. Red Blue Green. 1963

Frank Stella.

The brilliant and precocious Frank Stella (born
1936) began as an admirer of Mondrian. then soon evolved a nonfigurative style that was even more self-contained. Unlike Mondrian, Stella did not concern himself with the vertical-horizontal balance that relates the older artist's work to the world of nature. Logically enough, he also abandoned the traditional rectangular format, to make quite sure that his pictures bore no resemblance to windows. The shape of the canvas had now become an integral part of the design. In one of his largest works, the majestic Empress of India (fig. 1104), this shape is determined by the thrust and counterthrust of four huge chevrons, identical in size and shape but sharply differentiated in color and in their relationship to the whole. The paint, moreover, contains powdered metal which gives it an iridescent sheen. This is yet another way to stress the impersonal precision of the surfaces and to remove the work from any comparison with the "handmade" look of easel pictures. In tact, to call Empress of India a picture is something of a misnomer. It demands to be thought of as an object, sufficient unto itself.

1104. Frank Stella. Empress of India. 1965



African-American Painting

Following World War II, blacks began to attend art schools in growing numbers, at the very time that Abstract Expressionism marked the coming of age of American art. The civil rights movement helped them to establish their artistic identities and find appropriate styles for expressing them. The turning point proved to be the assassinations of Malcolm X in 1965 and Martin Luther King, Jr.. in 1968, which provoked an outpouring of African-American art.

Since then, black artists have pursued three major tendencies. Mainstream Abstractionists, particularly those of the older generation, tend to be concerned primarily with seeking a personal aesthetic, maintaining that there is no such thing as African-American, or black, art, only good art. Consequently, they have been denounced by activist artists who, stirred by social consciousness as well as by political ideology, have adopted highly expressive representational styles as the means for communicating a distinctive black perspective directly to the people in their communities. Mediating between these two approaches is a more decorative form of art that frequently incorporates African, Caribbean, and even Mexican motifs. Abstraction has proved the most fruitful path, for it has opened up avenues of expression that allow black artists, however private their concerns may be, to achieve a universal, not only an ethnic, statement.

Romare Bearden.

No hard-and-fast rules separate these alternatives, however, and aspects of each have often been combined into individual styles. Certainly the most successful synthesis was realized by Romare Bearden
(1911-1988). Although he got his start in the 1930s, it was not until the mid-1950s that he decided to devote his career entirely to art. Over the course of his long life, he pursued interests in mathematics, philosophy, and music that enriched his work. Bearden was inevitably affected by Abstract Expressionism but, dissatisfied with the approach, abandoned it in favor of a collage technique, although abstraction remained the underpinning of his art. His reputation was established during the mid-1960s by photomontages such as The Prevalence of Ritual: Baptism (fig. 1105). Bearden's aim, as he put it, was to depict "the life of my people as I know it, passionately and dispassionately as Brueghel. My intention is to reveal through pictorial complexities the life I know." He had a full command of the resources of Western and African art. Our example is as intricate in its composition as Terbrugghen's The Calling of St. Matthew (fig. 786), but it is couched in the familiar forms of tribal masks. The picture fulfills Bearden's goals so completely that it exercises an immediate appeal to people of all races. Small wonder that he is revered as a great African-American artist.

1105. Romare Bearden.
The Prevalence of Ritual: Baptism.

William T. Williams.

William T. Williams (born
1942) belongs to the generation of African-Americans born around 1940 who have brought black painting and sculpture to artistic maturity. He was initially a member of the "lost" generation of the lyrical Expressionists from the early 1970s whose contribution has been largely overlooked. After a period of intense self-scrutiny, he developed the sophisticated technique seen in Batman (fig. 1106). His method can be compared to jazz improvisation, a debt that the artist himself has acknowledged. He interweaves his color and brushwork within a contrasting two-part structure that permits endless variations on the central theme. Although Williams is concerned primarily with formal issues, the play of color across the encrusted surface evokes the light, patterns, and texture of a landscape, one that is deeply rooted in the artist's memory of the rural South where he spent his childhood.

1106. William T. Williams.

Raymond Saunders.

With Williams, it is the intense effort to build up meaning through dense layers of paint within a clear framework that impresses. By contrast, the work of Raymond Saunders (born 1934) has a spontaneous creativity that emanates equally from his reservoir of memories. He was among the first artists to explore the urban African-American environment. Graffiti, church facades, store signs, restaurant menus, and other commercial images—these and like motifs are grist for his mill. The specific combination in White Flower Black Flower (fig. 1107) holds no literal meaning and arises purely through free association. By the same token, there is no precise order, despite the formal presentation. Λ brilliant technician, Saunders feels at liberty to juxtapose the representational and the abstract, "real" collage elements and "imitation" graffiti, pure geometry and painterly gesture. These components are nevertheless related thematically and aesthetically through their origin in Saunders' experience. We may see this approach as a stratagem that permits him to have the best of both worlds by fusing the unique features of black culture with a singular form of abstraction in a wav that resists ready categorization.

1107. Raymond Saunders.
White Flower Black Flower.



Op Art

A trend that gathered force in the mid-1950s was known as "Op Art" because of its concern with optics: the physical and psychological process of vision. Op Art has been devoted primarily to optical illusions. Needless to say, all representational art from the Old Stone Age onward has been involved with optical illusion in one sense or another. What is new about Op Art is that it is rigorously non-representational. It evolved partly from hard-edge abstraction, although its ancestry can be traced back still further to Mondrian. At the same time, it seeks to extend the realm of optical illusion in every possible way by taking advantage of the new materials and processes constantly supplied by science, including laser technology. Much Op Art consists of constructions or "environments" that are dependent for their effect on light and motion and cannot be reproduced satisfactorily in a book.

Because of its reliance on science and technology, Op Art's possibilities appear to be unlimited. The movement nevertheless matured within a decade of its inception and developed little thereafter. The difficulty lies primarily with its subject. Op Art seems overly cerebral and systematic, more akin to the sciences than to the humanities. Op Art often involves the beholder with the work of art in a truly novel, dynamic way. But although its effects are undeniably fascinating, they encompass a relatively narrow range of concerns that lie for the most part outside the mainstream of modern art. Only a handful of artists have enriched it with the variety and expressiveness necessary to make it a viable tradition.

Josef Albers.

Josef Albers
(1888-1976), who came to America after 1933, when Hitler closed the Bauhaus school at Dessau, became the founder of the mainstream of Op Art. He preferred to work in series that allowed him to explore each theme fully before moving on to a new subject. Albers devoted the latter part of his career to color theory. Homage to the Square (fig. 1108), his final series, is concerned with subtle color relations among simple geometric shapes, which he reduced to a few basic types. Within these confines, he was able to invent almost endless combinations based on rules he devised through ceaseless experimentation. Basically, Albers relied on color scales in which primary hues are desaturated in perceptually even gradations by giving them higher values (that is, by diluting them with white or gray). A step from one color scale can be substituted for the same step in another; these in turn can be combined by following the laws of color mixing, complementary colors, and so forth. This approach requires the utmost sensitivity to color, and even though the paint is taken directly from commercially available tubes, the colors bear a complex relation to each other. In our example, the artist creates a strong optical push-pull through the play of closely related colors of contrasting value. The exact spatial effect is determined not only by hue and intensity of the pigments but by their sequence and the relative size of the squares.

1108. Josef Albers.
Homage to the Square: Apparition.

Richard Anuszkiewicz.

Albers was an important teacher as well as theorist. His gifted pupil Richard Anuszkiewicz (born 1930) developed his art by relaxing Albers' self-imposed restrictions. In Entrance to Green (fig. 1109), the ever-decreasing series of rectangles creates a sense of infinite recession toward the center. This is counterbalanced by the color pattern, which brings the center close to us by the gradual shift from cool to warm tones as we move inward from the periphery. Surprising for such an avowedly theoretical work is its expressive intensity. The resonance of the colors within the strict geometry heightens the optical push-pull, producing an almost mystical power. The painting can be likened to a modern icon, capable of providing a deeply moving experience to those attuned to its vision.

1109. Richard Anuszkiewicz
 Entrance to Green.



Pop Art

Other artists who made a name for themselves in the mid-1950s rediscovered what the public continued to take for granted despite all efforts to persuade otherwise: that a picture is not "essentially a flat surface covered with colors," as Maurice Denis had insisted, but an image wanting to be recognized. If art was by its very nature representational, then the modern movement, from Manet to Pollock, was based on a fallacy, no matter how impressive its achievements. Painting, it seemed, had been on a kind of voluntary starvation diet for the past hundred years, feeding upon itself rather than on the world around us. It was time to give in to the "image-hunger ' thus built up—a hunger from which the public at large had never suffered, since its demand for images was abundantly supplied by photography, advertising, magazine illustrations, and comic strips.

The artists who felt this way seized on the products of commercial art catering to popular taste. Here, they realized, was an essential aspect of our century's visual environment that had been entirely disregarded as vulgar and antiaesthetic by the representatives of "highbrow" culture, a presence that cried out to be examined. Only Marcel Duchamp and some of the Dadaists, with their contempt for all orthodox opinion, had dared to penetrate this realm. It was they who now became the patron saints of Pop Art, as the new movement came to be called.

Richard Hamilton.

Pop Art actually began in London in the mid-1950s with the Independent Group of artists and intellectuals. They were fascinated by the impact on British life of the American mass media, which had been flooding England ever since the end of World War II. The first work that can be called an unequivocal statement of Pop Art was a small collage (fig. 1110) made in 1956 by Richard Hamilton (born 1922), a follower of Marcel Duchamp, which already incorporates most of the themes that were taken up by later artists: comic strips, cinema, commercial design, nudes, cheap decor, appliances, all tokens of modern materialistic culture.

It is not surprising that the new art had a special appeal for America, and that it reached its fullest development there during the following decade. In retrospect, Pop Art in the United States was an expression of the optimistic spirit of the 1960s that began with the election of John F. Kennedy and ended at the height of the Vietnam War. Unlike Dada, Pop Art was not motivated by despair or disgust at contemporary civilization. It viewed commercial culture as its raw material, an endless source of pictorial subject matter, rather than as an evil to be attacked. Nor did Pop Art share Dada's aggressive attitude toward the established values of modern art.

1110. Richard Hamilton.
Just What Is It That Makes Today's
Home So Different, So Appealing?


Jasper Johns.

The work of Jasper Johns (born 1930), one of the pioneers of Pop Art in America, raises questions that go beyond the boundaries of the movement. Johns began by painting, meticulously and with great precision, such familiar objects as flags, targets, numerals, and maps. His Three Flags (fig. 1111) presents an intriguing problem: just what is the difference between image and reality? We instantly recognize the Stars and Stripes, but if we try to define what we actually see here, we find that the answer eludes us. These flags behave "unnaturally." Instead of waving or flopping they stand at attention, as it were, rigidly aligned with each other in a kind of reverse perspective. Yet there is movement of another sort: the reds, whites, and blues are not areas of solid color but subtly modulated. Can we really say, then, that this is an image of three flags? Clearly, no such flags can exist anywhere except in the artist's head. The more we think about it, the more we begin to recognize the picture as a feat of the imagination—probably the last thing we expected to do when we first looked at it.

1111. Jasper Johns. Three Flags. 1958

Roy Lichtenstein.

Revolutionary though it was, Johns' use of flags, numerals, and similar elements as pictorial themes had to some extent been anticipated
30 years before by another American painter, Charles Demuth, in such pictures as I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (fig. 1070). Roy Lichtenstein (born 1923), in contrast, has seized on comic strips—or, more precisely, on the standardized imagery of the traditional strips devoted to violent action and sentimental love, rather than those bearing the stamp of an individual creator. His paintings, such as Drowning Girl (fig. 1112), are greatly enlarged copies of single frames, including the balloons, the impersonal, simplified black outlines, and the dots used for printing colors on cheap paper.

These pictures are perhaps the most paradoxical in the entire field of Pop Art. Unlike any other paintings past or present, they cannot be accurately reproduced in this book, for they then become indistinguishable from real comic strips. Enlarging a design meant for an area only a few inches square to one several hundred times greater must have given rise to a host of formal problems that could be solved only by the most intense scrutiny: how. for example, to draw the girl's nose so it would look "right" in comic-strip terms, or how to space the colored dots so they would have the proper weight in relation to the outlines.

Clearly, our picture is not a mechanical copy, but an interpretation. In fact, it is excerpted from the original panel. It nevertheless remains faithful to the spirit of the original because of the countless changes and adjustments of detail that the artist has introduced. How is it possible for images of this sort to be so instantly recognizable? Why are they so "real" to millions of people? What fascinates Lichtenstein about comic strips—and what he makes us see for the first time—are the rigid conventions of their style, as firmly set and as remote from life as those of Byzantine art.

1112. Roy Lichtenstein.
Drowning Girl.

Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) used this very quality in ironic commentaries on modern society. A former commercial artist, he made the viewer consider the aesthetic qualities of everyday images, such as soup cans, that we readily overlook. He did much the same thing with the subject of death, an obsession of his, in silk-screened pictures of electric chairs and gruesome traffic accidents, which demonstrate that dying has been reduced to a banality by the mass media. Warhol had an uncanny understanding of how media shape our view of people and events, creating their own reality and larger-than-life figures. He became a master at manipulating the media to project a public persona that disguised his true character. These themes come together in his Gold Marilyn Monroe (fig. 1113). Set against a gold background, like a Byzantine icon, she becomes a modern-day Madonna. Yet Warhol conveys a sense of the tragic personality that lay behind the famous movie star's glamorous facade. The color, lurid and oil-register like a reproduction in a sleazy magazine, makes us realize that she has been reduced to a cheap commodity. Through mechanical means, she is rendered as impersonal as the Virgin that stares out from the thousands of icons produced by hack artists through the ages.

Andy Warhol.

Gold Marilyn Monroe.




Although Pop Art was sometimes referred to as "the new realism," the term hardly seems to fit the painters we have discussed. They are, to be sure, sharply observant of their sources. However, their chosen material is itself rather abstract: flags, numerals, lettering, signs, badges, comic strips. A more recent offshoot of Pop Art is the trend called Photorealism because of its fascination with camera images. Photographs had been utilized by nineteenth-century painters soon after the "pencil of nature" was invented (one of the earliest to do so, surprisingly, was Delacroix) but they were no more than a convenient substitute tor reality. For the Photorealists, in contrast, the photograph itself is the reality on which they build their pictures.

Don Eddy.

Their work often has a visual complexity that challenges the most acute observer. New Shoes for H (fig.
1114) by Don Eddy (born 1944), shows Photorealism at its best. Eddy grew up in southern California. As a teenager he learned to do fancy paint jobs on cars and surfboards with an air brush, then worked as a photographer for several years. Whεο he became a painter, he used both earlier skills. In preparing New Shoes for H, Eddy took a series of pictures of the window display of a shoe store on Union Square in Manhattan. One photograph (fig. 1115) served as the basis for the painting. What intrigued him, clearly, was the way glass filters and alters everyday reality. Only a narrow strip along the left-hand edge offers an unobstructed view. Everything else—the shoes, bystanders, street traffic, buildings—is seen through one or more layers of glass, all of them at oblique angles to the picture surface. The familiar scene is transformed into a dazzlingly rich and novel visual experience by the combined displacement, distortion, and reflection of these panes.

When we compare the painting with the photograph, we realize that they are related in much the same way as Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl (fig. 1112) is to the original comic-strip frame from which it derives. Unlike the photograph, Eddy's canvas shows everything in uniformly sharp locus, articulating details lost in the shadows. Most important of all, he gives pictorial coherence to the scene through a brilliant color scheme whose pulsating rhythm plays over the entire surface. At the time he painted New Shoes for H, color had become newly important in Eddy's thinking. The H of the title pays homage to Henri Matisse and to Hans Hofmann, an Abstract Expressionist whom Eddy had come to admire.

1114. Don Eddy. New Shoes for H. 1973-74.
1115. Don Eddy. Photograph for Nen Shoes for H. 1973-74

Richard Estes.

The acknowledged grand master of Photorealism is Richard Estes (born 1936). His work is marked by its technical perfection, which turns Photorealism into a form of Magic Realism. Masterful though it be, this ability is no better than that of any competent illustrator; nor does it distinguish him from the earlier Precisionists, who often used photographs as the basis for their paintings. What, then, is the key to his success? It lies in his choice of subject and composition. Estes has a predilection tor store fronts of an earlier time that evoke nostalgic memories. In this he is like an archaeologist of modern urban life. His best paintings, such as Food Shop (fig. 1116), show the same uncanny ability to strike a responsive chord as Hopper's Early Sunday Morning (see fig. 1090). The more we look at it, the more we realize that the gridlike composition is as subtly balanced as a painting by Mondrian (compare fig. 1072). In this way Estes elevates his humble store front to an arresting visual experience fully worthy of our attention.

1116. Richard Estes.
Food Shop.


Photorealism was part of a general tendency that marked American painting in the 1970s: the resurgence of realism. It took on a wide range of themes and techniques, from the most personal to the most detached, depending on the artist's vision of objective reality and its subjective significance. Its flexibility made realism a sensitive vehicle for the feminist movement that came to the fore in the same decade. Beyond the organizing of groups dedicated to a wider recognition for women artists, feminism in art has shown little of the unity that characterizes the social movement. Many feminists, for example, turned to "traditional" women's crafts, particularly textiles, or incorporated crafts into a collage approach known as Pattern and Decoration. In painting, however, the majority pursued different forms of realism for a variety of ends.

Audrey Flack.

Women artists such as Audrey Flack (born 1931) have used realism to explore the world around them and their relation to it from a personal as well as a feminist viewpoint. Like most of Flack's paintings. Queen (fig. 1117) is an extended allegory. The queen is the most powerful figure on the chessboard yet she remains expendable in defense of the king. Equally apparent is the meaning inherent to the queen of hearts, but here the card also refers to the passion for gambling in members of Flack's family, who are present in the locket with photos of the artist and her mother. The contrast of youth and age is central to Queen: the watch is a traditional emblem of life's brevity, and the dewy rose stands for transience of beauty, which is further conveyed by the makeup on the dressing table. The suggestive shapes of the bud and fruits can also be taken as symbols of feminine sexuality.

Queen is successful not so much for its statement, however provocative, as for its imagery. Flack creates a purely artistic reality by superimposing two separate photographs. Critical to the illusion is the gray border, which acts as a framing device and also establishes the central space and color of the painting. The objects that seem to project from the picture plane are shown in a different perspective from those on the tilted table-top behind. The picture space is made all the more active by the play of its colors within the neutral gray.

1117. Audrey Flack. Queen.





The art we have looked at since 1945, although distinctive to the postwar era, is so closely related to what came before it that it was clearly cut from the same cloth, and we do not hesitate to call it modernist. At long last, however, twentieth-century painting, to which everything from Abstract Expressionism to Photorealism made such a vital contribution, began to lose vigor. The first sign of decline came in the early 1970s with the widespread use of "Neo-" to describe the latest tendencies, which came and went in rapid succession and are all but forgotten today. Only one of these movements has made a lasting contribution: Neo-Expressionism, which arose toward the end of the decade and became the dominant current of the f980s. Indeed, imagery of all kinds completely overshadowed Neo-Abstraction (also known as "Neo-Geo"). to the point that abstraction itself was declared all but dead by the critics. In its place was left a feeble imitation, which signified that modern art had turned its back to the mainstream. And despite the fact that Neo-Expressionism is deeply rooted in modernism, there can be little question that it represents the end of the tradition we have traced throughout this chapter.


Francesco Clemente

The Italian Francesco Clemente (born
1952) is representative in many respects of his artistic generation in Europe. His association with the Arte Povera ("Poor Art") movement in Italy led him to develop a potent Neo-Expressionist style. His career took a decisive turn in 1982 when he decided to go to New York in order "to be where the great painters have been," but he also spends much of his time in India, where he has been inspired by Hinduism. His canvases and wall paintings sometimes have an ambitiousness that can assume the form of allegorical cycles addressed directly to the Italian painters who worked on a grand scale, starting with Giotto. His most compelling works, however, are those having as their subject matter the artist's moods, fantasies, and appetites. Clemente is fearless in recording urges and memories that the rest of us repress. Art becomes for him an act of cathartic necessity that releases, but never resolves, the impulses that assault his acute self-awareness.

His self-portraits (fig.
1118) suggest a soul bombarded by drives and sensations that can never be truly enjoyed. Alternately fascinating and repellent, his pictures remain curiously unsensual, yet their expressiveness is riveting. Since his work responds to fleeting states of mind, Clemente utilizes whatever style or medium seems appropriate to capturing the transient phenomena of his inner world. He is unusual among Italians in being influenced heavily by Northern European Symbolism and Expressionism with an occasional reminiscence of Surrealism. Here indeed is his vivid nightmare, having the masklike features of Ensor, the psychological terror of Munch, and the haunted vision of De Chirico.

1118. Francesco Clemente.

Anselm Kiefer.

The German artist Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) is the direct heir to Northern Expressionism, but rather than investigating personal moods he confronts moral issues posed by Nazism that have been evaded by other postwar artists in his country. By exploring the major themes of German Romanticism from a modern perspective, he has attempted to re-weave the threads broken by history. That tradition, which began as a noble ideal based on a similar longing for the mythical past, ended as a perversion at the hands of Hitler and his followers because it lent itself readily to abuse.

To the Unknown Painter
1119) is a powerful statement of the human and cultural catastrophe presented by World War II. Conceptually as well as compositionally it was inspired by the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, of which it is a worthy successor. To express the tragic proportions of the Holocaust, Kiefer works on an appropriately epic scale. Painted in jagged strokes of predominantly earth and black tones, the charred landscape is made tangible by the inclusion of pieces of straw. Amid this destruction stands a somber ruin: it is shown in woodcut to proclaim Kiefer s allegiance to the German Renaissance and to Fxpressionism. The fortresslike structure is a suitable monument for heroes in recalling the tombs and temples of ancient civilizations. But instead of being dedicated to soldiers who died in combat, it is a memorial to the painters whose art was equally a casualty of Fascism.

1119. Anselm Kiefer.
To the Unknown Painter.

United States


Susan Rothenberg.

Neo-Expressionism has found its most gifted American representative in Susan Rothenberg (born 1
945). In the mid-1970s the contours of the horse seen in profile provided a thematic locus and persona! emblem tor her highly formal paintings, but toward the end of the decade she turned to more emotive subjects. The sheer beauty of the surface in Mondrian (fig. 1120) belies the intensity of her vision. The figure emerges from the welter of feathery brushstrokes like an apparition from a nightmare. The face, which bears Mondrian's unmistakable features, conjures up a vision of madness. We have seen its like before in Bacon's Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (fig. 1094). The picture, then, announces Rothenberg's allegiance to Expressionism and constitutes a highly charged commentary on Mondrian, whose rigorous discipline is so antithetical to her painterly freedom.

1120. Susan Rothenberg.

Jennifer Bartlett.

Jennifer Bartlett (born
1941) has long been recognized as a talented painter; absent, however, was content worthy of her ability. Like Audrey Flack before her, she recently turned to a traditional motif which supplies that missing material. The tour elements, a popular subject with artists during the Baroque and Rococo, has provided the focus tor an extensive series that is as rich in meaning as it is in appearance.

1121). though reminiscent of Monet's Water Lilies, Giverny (fig. 958), is no mere evocation of nature: floating half-in, hall-above the water is a skeleton. Indeed, the real subject here is Vanitas, another theme associated with the elements and, in turn, the senses and the seasons. References to Fate, inexorable and quixotic, are found in the cards, dominoes, and other devices used in games and fortune-telling. These are seemingly "stuck" onto the canvas, along with illusionistic swatches of plaid material, which serve to deny the illusionism of the scene and emphasize the surface as an independent, formal entity; hence, too, the red container that seems to hover nonsensically in midair. This play between "two-D" and "three-D" has much the same effect as in Flack's Queen (fig. 1117), and it shares a similar meaning: it both enlivens the painting and places it at one remove from everyday reality, so that we are forced to contemplate its message instead of seeing it simply as a picture.

1121. Jennifer Bartlett.

Elizabeth Murray.

Neo-Expressionism has a counterpart in Neo-Abstraction, which has yielded less impressive results thus far. The greatest success in the Neo-Abstractionist vein has been achieved by those artists seeking to infuse their formal concerns with the personal meaning of Neo-Expressionism.
Elizabeth Murray (born 1940) has emerged since 1980 as the leader of this crossover style in America. More Than You Know (fig. 1122) makes a fascinating comparison with Audrey Elack's Queen (fig. 1117), for both are replete with autobiographical references. While it is at once simpler and more abstract than Flack's, Murray's composition seems about to fly apart under the pressure of barely contained emotions. The table will remind us of the one in Picasso's Three Musicians (fig. 1062), a painting she has referred to in other works from the same time. The contradiction between the flattened collage perspective of the table and chair and the allusions to the distorted three-dimensionality of the surrounding room establishes a disquieting pictorial space. The more we look at the painting, the more we begin to realize how eerie it is. Indeed, it seems to radiate an almost unbearable tension. The table threatens to turn into a figure, surmounted by a skull-like head, that moves with the explosive force of Picasso's Three Dancers (fig. 1064). What was Murray thinking of? She has said that the room reminds her of the place where she sat with her ill mother. At the same time, the demonic face was inspired by Munch's The Scream (fig. 1004), while the sheet of paper recalls Vermeer's paintings of women reading letters (fig. 804), which to her express a combination of serenity and anxiety.

1122. Elizabeth Murray.
More Than You Know.

Kay Walkingstick.

An artist who has managed to combine Neo-Expressionism and Neo-Abstraction in a particularly fruitful way is Kay Walkingstick (born 1935). Part Cherokee, she was deeply affected by her Indian spiritual heritage, especially its reverence for the earth, although she was raised in white culture. The death of her husband in 1989 brought forth the literal outpouring of grief seen in On the Edge (fig. 1123), which combines two separate landscape forms in a format that she had experimented with briefly several years earlier. The two halves respond to entirely different impulses. The left panel, built up in thick coats of paint applied mainly with her hands, pursues the abstract manner she had developed successfully for more than a decade. In the center is a fan shape, which both suggests a man-made feature in a primitive landscape, like those of the ancient mound builders, and acts as a sign, investing the canvas with mysterious emblematic significance. The right half, painted in a more naturalistic style, unleashes a torrent of anguish that is further expressed by the violent color. This duality has several layers of meaning. It can be seen as describing the contrasting aspects of nature as spiritual center and generative force, of order and chaos, of calm contemplation and powerful emotion. Thus both parts of the diptych are necessary to give the painting its full import.

1123. Kay Walkingstick. On the Edge. 1989




Painting, like sculpture, is a traditional medium that does not lend itself well to post-modernism. Indeed, it is arguable that most of what passes as post-modern painting is really late modernism in disguise. In any event, there is no fixed boundary between the two. To the extent that it can be said to exist at all, however, post-modern painting is an outgrowth of Conceptualism. Pop Art, and Neo-Expressionism. Yet it differs from them in a fundamental respect: now painting acts like a deconstructed text gutted of all significance, except for whatever we choose to add by way of free association from the reservoir of our own experience.

How did painting come to be so barren of content? Traditional vehicles such as allegory require a shared culture. However, this is hardly possible in the post-modern age, despite the concept of the "global village," for our civilization is more fractured than ever. Deconstruction, moreover, proclaims the death of the author and subject matter as unnecessary vestiges of humanism, thus rendering meaning null and void. It argues instead that representation in its broadest sense is both unnecessary and undesirable on the grounds that it strives to re-create a fraudulent reality, and therefore can never provide an authentic experience. Such an attitude is not confined to deconstruction, however. It is inherent in post-modernism as a whole.

David Salle.

The post-modem approach to painting is demonstrated by the work of David Salle (born 1952), a controversial figure who often incorporates racy images of nude women. (He worked for a while as a layout artist for a pornographic magazine.) An appropriation artist by nature, he derived everything in Miner (fig. 1261) from other sources: the Depression-era picture of a miner with two diamond rings superimposed on his jacket, and the bust of a girl hovering like a neon sign in front of the partial view of an interior. Although his technique is conventional enough, the treatment is novel. The miner's head, for example, is flanked by two smashed metal tables, as if to represent his "thoughts."

By combining different objects and materials, the diptych becomes a pictorial counterpart to installations by his friend Robert Longo (see fig.
1256), and in principle there is very little difference between them. Salle's disregard for art-historical decorum in juxtaposing unrelated elements is as great as Michael Graves' (see fig. 1247), and reflects his training under the Conceptual artist John Baldessari, for whom anything goes (compare fig. 1167). Salle is clearly a gifted painter, so that we are forced to take him seriously, despite reservations that his reputation (like that of so many other artists in the 1980s) was driven by the art market's need to find a new "star." Yet the syntax is so disjunctive that Miner refuses to yield a satisfactory meaning, try as we might to discover one.

David Salle. Miner. 1985.

A.R. Penck.

Salle was influenced decisively by a group of postmodernist artists from the former German Democratic Republic who have helped to make Germany the leading school of painting in the West today. Perhaps the most interesting among them is A.R. Penck. (born 1939). Penck is the pseudonym adopted by Ralf Winkler from a famous geologist whose specialty was the Ice Age. In fact, the artist lived in East Germany throughout most of the Cold War, a political "ice age" of its own, before emigrating to the West in 1980. The "primitive" and "childish" quality in The Demon of Curiosity (fig. 1262), with its colorful directness, is deceptive. Although largely self-taught.. Penck uses a fluid technique that is, in fact, very sophisticated, making it a wonderfully sensitive vehicle for expressing every possible meaning. But what are we to make of the picture's content? At first glance, it seems as bewildering as the rock engraving at the Cave of Addaura.

Upon closer inspection we realize that the artist's "code" can be broken, at least enough for us to understand the basic intent. The demon, as fierce as anything conjured up by Gauguin (compare fig.
995), is surmounted by a bird looking both ways that signifies inquisitiveness, to which the small crucified figure at the left has been sacrificed. The figures swim in a sea of hex-like signs, letters, and numbers, symbolizing knowledge, which fills up the man to the point where he seems literally "pregnant (or at least bloated) with meaning." The painting reflects Penck's fascination with cybernetics, the science of information systems. Indeed, to him the artist is a kind of scientist, and he sees little difference between the two.

1262. A.R. Penck.
The Demon of Curiosity. 1982

Mark Tansey.

If Penck follows in the footsteps of artists such as Paul Klee by inventing a personal vocabulary of pictographs, Mark Tansey (born
1949) uses the Roman alphabet to accomplish the seemingly impossible: construct representational images that are literally made up of texts following the principles of deconstruction. Derrida Queries De Man (fig. 1263) shows the founder of deconstruction with his chief American disciple, Paul de Man. If we look closely, we see that the landscape consists of typeset lines that merge to form the steep cliffs. Here the texture of the paint serves to bridge the gap between text and illustration by embedding the idea within the image. In this sense, the painting functions as an illustration of a metaphor. But what is it saying? Certainly it makes a serious point about the relation between content, picture, and reality. Yet it does so with surprising wit, beginning with the very idea of building a painting out of words. And, in a gesture of supreme irony, Tansey has appropriated the image from a famous illustration showing the death of Sherlock Holmes at the hands of his archenemy, Professor Moriarty! We have seen such humor before, in the work of Rene Magritte (see fig. 1077), who served as an early inspiration for Tansey. By precluding a literal reading of the painting, this astonishing juxtaposition opens up new lines of questioning for the viewer that never fully resolve themselves.

1263. Mark Tansey.
Derrida Queries De Man.


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