Saturday, February 4, 2017

Five: Mid-20th Century in America

Surrealism in America

Surrealism was basically a European movement
that was brought to America by immigrating artists.

In Europe, the two major Surrealists were Magritte and Dalì. 
Here are examples of their work:

Salvador Dalì
The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Rene Magritte
The False Mirror, 1928

The most prominent men to bring Surrealism to America were 
Yves Tanguy, from France, and Max Ernst, from Germany.
Here are examples of their work:

Yves Tanguy
Indefined Divisibility, 1942

Max Ernst
The Attirement of the Bride, date not given

Both Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst were associated with women Surrealists.

Yves Tanguy was married to Kay sage.

Kay Sage
Men Working, 1951
Joslyn / Jan's photo

A Story about Max Ernst, Surrealist

We first met Max Ernst in a photo of Sophie Taeuber-Arp:

Max Ernst, Gala, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Paul Eluard, 1928

Here's another sample of his work:

Gala Éluard, 1924

> At that time he was in a menage à trois  with a woman known as Gala and her husband, the poet Paul Eluard. He was 37 and he had previously been married for a few years and fathered a son. 

Soon after his relationship with Paul and Gala, he married again. 
That relationship apparently lasted 10 years.

> When he was 46 Max met a beautiful and wealthy young painter named Leonora Carrington, age 20 who was fascinated by Surrealism. 

He divorced his second wife to live with Leonora in France. They had a couple of peaceful years in which both of them produced a lot of paintings. 

> With the outbreak of World War II, Max was arrested, first by the French and later by the Germans. 

He managed to escape with the help of  art patron Peggy Guggenheim. 

Max and Peggy moved to New York and got married in 1941, his 3rd marriage. 

> In 1942 he met Surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning; he was 51 and she was 32. 

They began a relationship, and in 1946, when his divorce from Peggy was complete, 
Max and Dorothea were married. 

That marriage lasted the rest of his life, 30 years.

Surrealist Artists who had relationships with Max Ernst

> Leonora Carrington was a dedicated Surrealist throughout her career.

> Like Salvador Dalí, she used inscrutable symbolism from her own personal dreams.

> She was active as a painter from the 1940s through the end of the century.

> She was always recognized by the art world as an important Surrealist, but she is less famous than other Surrealists because she did not promote her work strongly, and most of it is held in private collections.

> She is known for her affair with Surrealist painter Max Ernst, 
and for a bout with mental illness in her early 20s.

> She was born in England, but she spent her career in Mexico City.

> She was also a prolific writer.

> Dorothea Tanning was a leading Surrealistic painter in the 1940s.

> In the 1950s and 1960s, Dorothea developed a unique style of painting in which bodies and body parts, vague faces, and biomorphic forms are shown as if through as prism, with planes faceted like jewels.

> In the 1970s she switched from painting to soft sculpture.

> In the 1990s, when she was in her 80s, she began to concentrate on writing, both fiction and nonfiction.

> She is known for a long-term marriage to Max Ernst.

> She is one of the few women painters to be self-taught.

Abstract Expressionism 

Abstract Expressionism was developed in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s.

This movement dominated American art for a couple of decades, and made New York the new center of the art world.

Artists painted huge canvases that were intended as reflections of their individual psyches, and they hoped that in doing so they were tapping into universal inner sources.

Abstract Expressionists valued spontaneity and improvisation, and they felt that the process of making the painting was the most important value.

Painters were very interested in the qualities of paint and in the way paint was applied to the canvas.

There were two basic approaches to Abstract Expressionism.

One approach emphasized dynamic, energetic marks on canvas.

The other was a quieter look at more open fields of color.

In either case, the imagery was primarily abstract, but sometimes vaguely recognizable objects would appear.

The two most prominent Abstract Expressionists were Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Here are examples of their work:

Jackson Pollock
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950

Willem de Kooning
Excavation, 1950

Both Pollock and de Kooning were married to Abstract Expressionists.

Jackson Pollock was married to Lee Krasner.

Willem de Kooning was married to Elaine de Kooning.

Both Lee and Elaine put their husband's career before their own. The disadvantage was that they were seen as Wives first, and Artists, second.

The advantage was that as wives they received attention that they might have been denied on their own.

First Generation

> Lee Krasner was an important Abstract Expressionist painter in the 1950s and 1960s.

> Her work is admired for all-over compositions, with formal rhythms and subtle color harmonies.

> Lee is known for her marriage to Jackson Pollock, her efforts to channel his talent, and her promotion of his career.

> Lee reached her full potential after Jackson's accidental death. Her energy was liberated from constant concern for her husband, and his studio provided her with ample room to work.

1918-1989: Elaine de Kooning

> Elaine de Kooning was both a gifted figurative painter and a committed Abstract Expressionist. 

> She started her career in the 1950s and continued to paint through the 1980s. 

>She is best known for her portraits, especially a series of drawings and paintings depicting John F. Kennedy. 

>In addition, she was an important figure in the art world because of her work as a critic and educator.

>She was also known as the wife of Willem de Kooning, one of the stars of Abstract Expressionism.

Second Generation

Abstract Expressionism lasted long enough that a second generation of artists came to New York to follow in the footsteps of Lee and Elaine, and their more famous husbands, Pollock and de Kooning. The two most prominent women painters in this generation were Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell. Helen made her career in the same milieu in New York as the first generation, but, after making her name in New York, Mitchell spent a major portion of her career in France.

1928-2011: Helen Frankenthaler

> Helen Frankenthaler a prominent member of the second generation of artists in the Abstract Expressionism movement in New York.

> Helen was a pioneer of Color Field painting. She invented the soak-stain technique which became quite a fad among painters for awhile.

> In the 1960s she was married to Robert Motherwell, one of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists.

1926-1992: Joan Mitchell

> Joan Mitchell was a prominent member of the second generation of artists in the Abstract Expressionism movement in New York.

> Joan differed from other members of this New York-based group by moving to Paris, after she had established her reputation.

> She continued to paint Abstract Expressionist style and to exhibit with the New York school.

Summary of Ab Ex in a Mural by Red Grooms

Red Grooms,
Kaldis (artist), Krasner, Elaine / Newman, Grooms, Unknown artist, Chamberlain on floor / Ruth Kligman, De Kooning, Pollock / Rosenberg (pro de Kooning), Reinhardt, Kline, Greenberg (pro Pollock), Stamos (artist) in foreground / Frankenthaler, Motherwell, Rothko in front with unknown artist / Guston asleep in back, 1986
Colored pencil and crayon on 5 sheets
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2013


Although Abstract Expressionism dominated art criticism and art training for a couple of decades, many artists deliberately bucked the trend, while others just ignored it.

> In the mid-1930s, when portraiture was considered too old-fashioned to count, Alice Neel developed an approach that somehow looked contemporary and relevant. 

> She used the strong, liberated brushstrokes of the Ab Ex artists; she captured the revealing poses and gestures that had also been Elaine de Kooning's strength.

> But faces were her principal interest, and she was brilliant at conveying personality and attitude without pretense.

> In the first part of her career, during the 1940s and 1950s, she focused on  ordinary people: workers, struggling artists, gays, ethnic types. She did not get many exhibitions.

> In a desperate bid for attention in her later years, she began to ask gallery owners and other taste-makers to sit for her. It worked. In her 70s she became quite famous.

> Janet Fish is a contemporary realist who revitalized the still-life genre.

> She is known for paintings of colorful objects with reflective surfaces, but some of her paintings feature objects with complex, overlapping patterns and few reflections.


San Francisco had its own art scene in the mid-20th century based around its own art institute and local art movements.

1929-1989: Jay DeFeo

> Jay DeFeo was at the center of the Beat community of artists, poets, and musicians in San Francisco in the 1950s.

> Her masterpiece is called The Rose,  in which she used paint as a medium for relief sculpture. Not only is her technique innovative, but her final image is inspiring.

> Her later work changed to a more personal direction, and her technique was intensely experimental. This work is not shown very much.

1938-1990: Joan Brown

> Joan Brown was a major figurative artist in the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s.

> Her principal theme was her own life.

> Her style changed from thickly-pigmented abstractionism to flat, decorative figuration.

> In the 1980s, Joan became a devotee of a guru from India and started painted more symbolic work which has not been exhibited much.

> Later she began focusing on public sculpture, often in the form of an obelisk.

> She died at the age of 52 in an accident while installing one of her obelisks in a temple in India. 

Currently Oakland is home to one of the most important contemporary painters, Chinese immigrant Hung Liu. 

Born 1948: Hung Liu, Chinese-American

> Hung Liu is one of the most important and well-known contemporary painters in the U.S.

> She grew up during Mao's Cultural Revolution and worked in a labor camp.

> She received a degree in mural painting in 1975. She learned to paint in a socialist-realist style. 

> In China she was a successful art teacher with her own television show.

> She immigrated from China in 1984 in order to study art at UCSD.

> In 1990 she became a professor at Mills College, a position she held for 20 years.

> Since her retirement in 2010 she has been incredibly productive.

> Her paintings usually depict figures and scenes from China's past.