American Figurative Expressionism

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According to Marilyn Stokstad, the art historian:

Expressionism (is) the manipulation of formal or representational elements to convey intense feelings.” [1]

Early Expressionistic movements[edit]

Expressionistic movements before and after 1910 were developed by three artists' groups:

Les Fauves ("wild beasts") • Die Brücke (“The Bridge”) • Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”)

pioneered by James Ensor, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh. One of the earliest and most famous examples of Expressionism is the Starry Night which Vincent van Gogh painted from the window of his room in the asylum at St. Remy.[2]

Early American Figurative Expressionists in the 1930s and 1940s[edit]

According to Klaus Kertess, curator of MOCAD:[3]

"Ironically, in the late thirties and forties, on the eve of the new abstraction's purge of figuration and its rise to all-encompassing prominence, the figure began to acquire a new and forceful vigor."

New York Figurative Expressionism of the 1950s[edit]

New York Figurative Expressionism of the 1950s represented a trend where "diverse New York artists countered the prevailing abstract mode to work with the figure."[4]

Categories of figurative expressionist modes:

Willem de Kooning, (1904 - 1997); Jackson Pollock, (1912 - 1956); Conrad Marca-Relli, (1913 - 2000)

Larry Rivers, (1923 - 2002); Grace Hartigan (1922 - )

  • Representational portraiture:

Elaine de Kooning, (1918 - 1989); Balcomb Greene, (1904 - 1990); Robert De Niro, Sr., (1920 - 1993); Fairfield Porter, (1907 - 1975); Gregorio Prestopino, (1907-1984); Lester Johnson, (1919 - 2010); George McNeil, (1909 - 1995); Henry Gorski, (1918-2010); and Robert Goodnough, (1917 - )

Jan Müller, (1922 - 1958); Robert Beauchamp, (1923 - 1995); Nicholas Marsicano, (1914 – 1991); Bob Thompson, (1937 - 1966); Ezio Martinelli, (1913-1980) Irving Kriesberg, (1919-2009).

According to Klaus Kertess, curator of MOCAD:[6]

"during the late forties and early fifties... the figure in its role as harbinger of conservatism became an obvious target for abstractionist defensiveness—a defensiveness prone to blur the vast distinctions between figurative painters and to exaggerate the difference between the figurative and the nonfigurative. It was not until the late sixties and early seventies that the figure was permitted to return from exile and even to make claims to centrality."

Aspects of Figuration in New York, 1950-1964[edit]

According to Judith E. Stein,[7] During the war years and into the fifties, the general public was to remain highly suspicious of abstraction, considered by many as un-American. While the art critic Clement Greenberg successfully challenged the public’s negative response to abstraction his attempt to communicate to the New York figurative painters of the fifties was less successful. A conversation recollected by Thomas B. Hess emphasized the perceived power of the critic:[8]

“It is impossible today to paint a face, pontificated the critic Clement Greenberg around 1950. “That’s right,” said de Kooning, “and it‘s impossible not to.”

In the winter of 1953 a new journal was founded, Reality.[9] The editorial committee included:

The Journal’s intention was “to rise to the defense of any painter’s right to paint any ways he wants.”

In the Autumn of 1959 Philip Pavia, the “partisan publisher” of It is, a magazine of abstract art wrote in an open letter to Leslie Katz, the new publisher of Arts Magazine:[10]

“I am begging you to give the representational artist a better deal. The neglected representational and near-abstract artists, not the abstractionists, need a champion these days.”

Although the New York Figurative Expressionists lacked advocates of the stature of Clement Greenberg or Harold Rosenberg, they were recognized by critics who perceived them as the new radicals.[11]

“representatives of a new generation to whom figurative art was in a sense more revolutionary than abstraction.”

The literary historian, Marjorie Perloff has made a convincing argument that Frank O'Hara’s poems on the works of Garace Hartigan and Larry Rivers proved “that he was really more at home with painting that retains at least some figuration than with pure abstraction.”[12] Frank O’Hara wrote an elegant defense in ”Nature and New Painting," 1954.[13] He listed the following artists:

who responded to “the siren-like call of nature.” O’Hara aligned the New York Figurative Expressionists within abstract expressionism, which had always taken a strong position against an implied protocol, “whether at the Metropolitan Museum or the Artists Club.” Thomas B. Hess,[14] wrote:

“the ‘New figurative painting’ which some have been expecting as a reaction against Abstract Expressionism was implicit in it at the start, and is one of its most lineal continuities.”

Boston Figurative Expressionism[edit]

The well-known art historian Judith Bookbinder established Boston Figurative Expressionism as an integral part of American modernism bracketing the Second World War:[15]

"(it) expressed the anxiety of the modern age with the particular accent of the city…Boston figurative expressionism was both a humanist philosophy – that is, a human-centered and rationalist or classically oriented philosophy – and a formal approach to the handling of paint and space.”

The German Expressionists’ images of Max Beckman, George Grosz and Oskar Kokoschka were the source of Boston Figurative Expressionism.

The early members of the Boston Expressionsit group were immigrants or children’s of immigrants from Central Europe, and many of them were Jewish with Germanic background.

Members of the Boston Figurative Expressionists:

Decline of Abstract Expressionism – West Coast Figurative Expressionism[edit]

Chicago’s figurative expressionists of the 1950s “shared a deep concern with an existential human image of thwarted but inexorable endurance.”[16] According to the Poet and Art Critic, Carter Ratcliff:

”The Chicagoans of the 1950s never coalesced into a group.[17] For all its incompatibility, their art shared one purpose: to announce the artist’s alienation in terms clear enough to be widely understood.’'

Members of the Chicago figurative expressionists:

In the United States by the end of the 1950s… Abstract Expressionism was no longer, in fact, new... The crisis of Abstract Expressionism now freed many …artists to follow their long-frustrated inclination to paint the figure,” which resulted in the resurgence of the American Figurative Expressionsim.[18] Richard Diebenkorn was among the earliest Abstract Expressionist who returned to the figure before the crisis of Abstract Expressionism.

Early figurative painters of the San Francisco area:

Bay area figurative artists 1950-1965: ,[19] [20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Marilyn Stokstad, Art History, Volume II, Revised edition. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall ©1999.) ISBN 0-13-082872-6, ISBN 978-0-13-082872-9 p.1025
  2. ^ Marilyn Stokstad, Art History, Volume II, Revised edition. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall ©1999.) ISBN 0-13-082872-6, ISBN 978-0-13-082872-9 pp.1038-1039
  3. ^ Paul Schimmel and Judith E Stein, The Figurative fifties : New York figurative expressionism, The Other Tradition (Newport Beach, Calif. : Newport Harbor Art Museum : New York : Rizzoli, 1988.)ISBN 0847809420, ISBN 978-0-8478-0942-4 0917493125 9780917493126 p.22; p.23
  4. ^ Paul Schimmel and Judith E Stein, The Figurative fifties : New York figurative expressionism, Introduction (Newport Beach, Calif. : Newport Harbor Art Museum : New York : Rizzoli, 1988.)ISBN 0847809420, ISBN 978-0-8478-0942-4 0917493125 9780917493126
  5. ^ Paul Schimmel and Judith E Stein, The Figurative fifties : New York figurative expressionism (Newport Beach, Calif. : Newport Harbor Art Museum : New York : Rizzoli, 1988.)ISBN 0847809420, ISBN 978-0-8478-0942-4 0917493125 9780917493126 p.15
  6. ^ Paul Schimmel and Judith E Stein, The Figurative fifties : New York figurative expressionism, The Other Tradition (Newport Beach, Calif. : Newport Harbor Art Museum : New York : Rizzoli, 1988.)ISBN 0847809420, ISBN 978-0-8478-0942-4 0917493125 9780917493126 p.17
  7. ^ Paul Schimmel and Judith E Stein, The Figurative fifties : New York figurative expressionism, Figuring Out the Fifties, (Newport Beach, Calif. : Newport Harbor Art Museum : New York : Rizzoli, 1988.)ISBN 0847809420, ISBN 978-0-8478-0942-4 0917493125 9780917493126 pp. 37-51
  8. ^ Willem de Kooning; Thomas B. Hess; M. Knoedler & Co., De Kooning; recent paintings, (New York, Walker and Company, 1967.) OCLC: 320929 p.40
  9. ^ ”Editorial,” Reality, A Journal of Artists’ Opinions (Spring 1954), p.2 and p.8
  10. ^ Philip Pavia, “An Open Letter to Leslie Katz, Publisher of Arts Magazine, New York City,” It is (Autumn 1959), p.79
  11. ^ Martica Sawin, “Jan Müller: 1922-1958,” Arts Magazine 33 (February 1959), p.39
  12. ^ Marjorie Perloff, Frank O’Hara, poet among painters, (New York: G. Braziller, 1977.) ISBN 0-8076-0835-1, ISBN 978-0-8076-0835-7 p.85
  13. ^ Frank O’Hara, Nature and new painting, (New York: Tiber Press, 1954.) OCLC 6890031
  14. ^ Thomas B. Hess, “The Many Death of American Art,” Art News 59 (October 1960), p.25
  15. ^ Judith Bookbinder, Boston Modern: Figurative Expressionism as Alternative Modernism (Published by Durham, N.H. : University of New Hampshire Press ; Hanover : University Press of New England, ©2005)
  16. ^ Theories and documents of contemporary art : a sourcebook of artists' writings, (Berkeley : University of California Press, ©1996.) p. 173
  17. ^ Paul Carroll, “Here Come the Chicago Monsters,” Chicago Perspective (April 1964).
  18. ^ Marilyn Stokstad, Art History, Volume II, Revised edition. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall ©1999.) ISBN 0-13-082872-6, ISBN 978-0-13-082872-9 p.1123
  19. ^ Caroline A. Jones, Bay Area Figurative Art (Berkeley [u.a.] : Univ. of California Pr., 1990.)ISBN 978-0-520-06842-1
  20. ^ American Abstract and Figurative Expressionism: Style Is Timely Art Is Timeless (New York School Press, 2009.) ISBN 978-0-9677994-2-1 pp. 44-47; 56-59; 80-83; 112-115; 192-195; 212-215; 240-243; 248-251

Books[edit]

See also[edit]