Posts Tagged ‘Abstract Expressionism’


I perceive the world in fragments. It is somewhat like being on a very fast train and getting glimpses of things in strange scales as you pass by. A person can be very, very tiny. And a billboard can make a person very large. You see the corner of a house or you see a bird fly by, and it’s all fragmented. Somehow, in painting I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos. I have a very pretentious idea that I want to make life, I want to make sense out of it. The fact that I am doomed to failure – that doesn’t deter me in the least.

–Grace Hartigan
Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) was a painter based in NYC. She often called herself a second-generation Abstract Expressionist because she used the influence of the major artists of the genre as a jumping off point for her own distinct work.
While we certainly work in different forms of expression, I admire the strength and vibrancy of much of her work. I also like her work, such as some below from her Oranges series, that incorporate the written word, in this case the poems of her close friend, poet Frank O’Hara. And I certainly understand her own words above, especially about perceiving the world in fragments and trying to put that chaos into some coherent form of logic. And the doomed to failure part, as well.
I think that sense of failure, that goal that always move out of reach, is the compelling part of painting. If you felt you reached that desired endpoint, there would be no point in continuing.

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Remembering the Artist-Robert De Niro Sr.The other day I watched the HBO documentary Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr., a film produced by actor Robert De Niro to better illuminate the work of his late painter father.  Robert De Niro, Sr. had been a rising star in the New York art world of the 40’s and early 50’s, working in a style that was expressionistic and abstract yet still representational, very much influenced by earlier painters such as George Rouault and Henri Matisse.

He gained some fame early with an acclaimed solo show at the Art of the Century Gallery ran by Peggy Guggenheim who later began the museums bearing the Guggenheim name.  But fame was fleeting as the art world’s flavor of the month changed from the figurative Expressionism which he maintained as the primary vehicle for his artistic voice  to Abstract Expressionism in the 50’s  to the Pop Art of the 60’s.  He was left toiling in a style that was viewed as outdated  while others who he may have viewed as inferior talents or at best equals were lifted in the spotlight, earning the fame and fortune that he sought and  thought his work deserved.  This left him bitter yet to his credit, he remained faithful to his style and his own artistic voice.

It’s an interesting portrayal of the artist in general, touching on many areas that resonate with anyone who works in a creative field and struggles to make their work visible to the world.  His resentment in having his work, which represents everything he understands himself to be,  marginalized is a feeling that many artists will find familiar.  I know that I have felt that same bitterness, that same resentment at times in my career.  But I have come to recognize that it is simply part of the deal I bargained for in becoming an artist, that my work would sometimes find itself as a flavor of the month and at other times simply exist as a possible favorite for a few.

An artist in the film explained this with a great analogy, saying that artists are like characters on a stage in a play.  The spotlight moves around the stage and sometimes falls upon you but soon passes on to the next character and that moment in the spotlight is gone.  But if you persist and stay consistent and in character, eventually the spotlight will cycle around to you again.  He felt that much of De Niro’s life was in between those moments in the spotlight.  And for some, like De Niro, that can be a very difficult thing with which to live.

For me, that was the thing I took from this film, that as an artist you cannot control, the spotlight, cannot control how your work is received or perceived.  You can only do that work that comes from your core– staying consistent and in character, true to your inner voice– and bide your time on the stage, hoping that the spotlight will once again come around.  I fit does, great.  If it doesn’t find you, you have the solace of the work itself, knowing that you have maintained your vision,  and the hope that it will find a champion, as De Niro Jr, is for his father,  in its life after you are gone.

I encourage you to watch the film.  It’s an interesting look at an interesting painter in an interesting era.

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