Category Archives: Painting


RIP Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015).

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Helen Frankenthaler, one of the few women that thrived in the boys’ club of New York school abstractionism, died earlier this week. The Times has a brief slideshow of some of her most important work.

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Via, my kind of brackets: Tyler Green has organized a tourney by polls to determine the Greatest Living American Abstract Painter. Of course, the point of a game like this is to discover someone new, and for me, the discovery is Anne Appleby and her beautiful nature-toned minimalist panels. Think Agnes Martin with more color.

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Some lists: 5

Fine slideshow of a dozen or so of the paintings borrowed by the Obama White House from local museums. Among the honored artists: Richard Diebenkorn and Washington Color School ally Alma Thomas.

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The image from Henry Darger used in the cover design of the NYRB’s reissue of a novel from 1929 by Richard Hughes, is apparently all too appropriate, if we trust reviewer Andrew Sean Greer.

To say A High Wind in Jamaica is a novel about children who are abducted by pirates is to make it seem like a children’s book. But that’s completely wrong; its theme is actually how heartless children are.

* * *

…the children have such a deformed sense of right and wrong that it’s soon the pirates who are frightened of them.

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There’s an eye-opening show downtown at the Sackler Gallery through January 25: the monochromatic seascape photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto are matched with pastels of the Maine coast by Dwight Tryon, an American tonalist and follower of James McNeill Whistler. One is tempted to write off Tryon as a fussy, anti-impressionist relic of the nineteenth century, but look again: the sparse linearity of his works, nothing but horizontal bands of color washes, makes a connection with twentieth century artists like Mark Rothko. There are some more Tryons on display with Whistlers next door at the Freer.

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About nothing but itself

Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975,” organized by the American Federation of Arts, is stopping at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in between visits to Denver and Nashville. It’s a smallish show, with some good large pieces by Jules Olitiski and Helen Frankenthaler that we don’t see enough of here, and some looks forward to minimalism as represented by Frank Stella. Some of our hometown stars like Alma Thomas don’t get much space, but the Smithsonian includes a pair of her works in a connecting hallway.

What astonished me was a painting by Larry Poons from 1963, Han-San Cadence, shown in the room with other successors to the heyday of color field painting, the Louis/Noland “post-painterly abstraction.” On a field of dark mustard yellow canvas (achieved with fabric dye), 30-cm ovals in just two colors, cyan and dark azure, are arranged in an irregular rectilinear pattern. Each oval is oriented on either a 45° or 135° axis. The pattern of dots is almost but not quite symmetrical on both the vertical axis and the southwest-to-northeast diagonal. As our eyes look for patterns in the spots, shifting from one area to another, afterimages of blue on orange dance and shimmer. After spending some time with the piece, we notice that there is a faint grain to the shading of the canvas (perhaps the result of age) suggesting wood, an organic foil to the otherwise mechano-digital ovals that whisper of secret codes and punch cards.

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Robert Hass reflects on abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter in the poem “Time and Materials.”

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Billion-dollar legacy

Steven Henry Madoff visits the trove of more than 2000 works by abstract expressionist Clyfford Still, until now in storage as part of his estate, and planned for a new museum to open in Denver in 2010.

[Clyfford] Still once wrote that painting was a way to find revelation and to “exalt the spirit of man.” Yet it is clear how personal the struggle was. [Henry T. Hopkins, a former director of what is now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art], recalled an anecdote the painter once told him. “When Still was a small child in Canada, they were digging a well, and they needed someone to go down into it to see the condition of the pit,” he said. “They put a rope around his ankle and dropped him down head first.

“He told me he was terrified, but there was the rope. And I always wondered if those streaks in his paintings, which he called his lifelines, had something to do with that experience. The line there to pull him back up.”

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