Milton Resnick

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Milton Resnick
Milton Resnick - untitled acrylic on paper c. 1990, private collection.jpg
Untitled, c. 1990, acrylic painting on paper, private collection
Born (1917-01-07)January 7, 1917
Bratslav, Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire
Died March 12, 2004(2004-03-12) (aged 87)
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Movement Abstract Expressionism
Spouse(s) Pat Passlof
Awards Jimmy Ernst Award (1990)[1]

Milton Resnick (1917-2004) was an American artist noted for abstract paintings that coupled scale with density of incident. It was not uncommon for some of the largest paintings to weigh in excess three hundred pounds, almost all of it pigment. He had a long and varied career, lasting about sixty-five years. He produced at least eight hundred canvases and eight thousand works on paper and board.

He also wrote poetry on a nearly daily basis for the last thirty years of his life. He was an inveterate reader, riveting speaker and gifted teller of tales, capable of conversing with college audiences in sessions that might last three hours.

During his lifetime he was represented by the following galleries: Poindexter Gallery, Howard Wise Gallery, Max Hutchinson, and Robert Miller.

Paintings held in public collections include: New Bride, 1963 Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., Mound, 1961 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Saturn, 1976 National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario], Elephant, 1977 Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, New York, Earth, 1976 Museum of Modern Art, NYC, Wedding, 1962 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Pink Fire, 1971 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and Untitled, 1982 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, along with many pictures of comparable quality in smaller collections — public and private — make for some, an effective case for Resnick as an exponent of the sublime.

His remaining estate is held in trust by the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation. Beginning in 2017, the centenary of his birth, the Foundation plans to open his former residence and studio, at 87 Eldridge Street in Manhattan as a public exhibition space to showcase his work, that of his wife Pat Passlof, and other Abstract Expressionist painters.

Milton Resnick’s estate is represented by Cheim & Read, New York.

Childhood[edit]

Milton Resnick was born of Jewish parentage in the village of Bratslav, in the Ukraine. His given name was Rachmiel. Both his parents came from wealthy families: the Resnicks builders and the Mutchniks flour merchants. In the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Bratslav was repeatedly terrorized by Cossack gangs and the town — like so many others — decimated. Under duress, Resnick’s father abandoned his business and property, and emigrated along with his wife’s family to America in 1922. They settled in Brooklyn where Milton Resnick lived for the next ten years.

Disobeying his father, the boy left home at seventeen to become an artist. In order to survive he sold his blood, modeled, and worked at the American Artists School, 131 West 14th Street, as the elevator boy, in exchange for tuition. In 1938 Resnick met Willem de Kooning, likely introduced to him by his sweetheart, Elaine Fried. She married de Kooning in 1943. Resnick was enrolled in the Federal Art Project of the WPA in 1939. He became immersed in the art world after meeting many of the artists at Stewart’s cafeteria, where they would congregate after collecting their WPA checks. Drafted into the army in 1940, he served in Iceland, Normandy, Northern Europe and the Rhineland. In 1945 at the age of twenty-eight, Resnick was finally discharged from the armed forces. Willem De Kooning, a faithful friend, had stored some of his art for that period. The rest was lost.

Early Years: Abstract Expressionism[edit]

Resnick spent two years painting in Paris (August 1946 – 1948). His studio, at 21 Rue de Seine, was fortuitously located for engaging post-war French art. There he befriended the artist Wols, who lived next door. He also met Giacometti, Gruber, as well as dealers Katia Granoff and Pierre Loeb. He observed Artaud, Matisse, Picasso, and Derain at close range, and spent an afternoon with Brancusi in his studio. John Graham visited him there several times.

Resnick was one of the founding members of the artist’s club, known simply as ‘The Club,’ in 1949. It became known as the den of what was later to be called the Abstract Expressionists. Other founding members included Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, and Jack Tworkov. The Club became famous, a venue for intellectuals and luminaries like Dylan Thomas, Hannah Arendt, John Cage, Joseph Campbell, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Goodman, William Barrett, Edgar Varese and the young Pierre Boulez. In 1951 he participated in the 9th Street Art Exhibition, the first of many organized group exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism in New York City.

After a 1949 debut exhibit at Charles Egan Gallery was cancelled, due to a dispute over missing paintings, Resnick did not have a solo show until 1955. As a consequence, his reputation was compromised for several decades. Labeled a second generation Abstract Expressionist, his immersion in the Abstract Expressionist idiom directly after the war remained unacknowledged.

Resnick’s public reputation increased through the late 1950s and early 1960’s. With the new decade, his work, previously characterized by muscular, sometimes chunky interlocking forms that seemed to function as a byproduct of a generalized aggressive attack, began to be replaced with a less fraught, loose and dispersive handling of paint. His paintings simultaneously began to assume a massive size, the largest of which, ‘Swan’ (1961) reached 25 feet in length.

In 1961 he married Pat Passlof, an accomplished painter and former private pupil of de Kooning. For the greater part of their forty-four year long marriage, they lived apart but nearby each other.

Maturity[edit]

Night, oil on canvas, 93 x 104 inches, 1977

With the rise of Pop Art and optical painting, not to mention Neo-Dada and Conceptualism, Resnick withdrew somewhat from the art world. Increasingly tending his own garden, he turned inward and began to produce — in complete disregard and perhaps defiance — the dense and rigorous all-over abstractions that would make his reputation. An indefatigable worker, these paintings often took months to accomplish before they were realized to his satisfaction.

In 1971 he was awarded a large scale exhibition featuring paintings from 1958 to 1970 at the Fort Worth Art Center Museum in Texas. It traveled to the Milwaukee Art Center later that year. In 1985 the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston mounted a retrospective exhibition. He also taught during these years, serving in a visiting capacity at several universities, but never joined any faculty.

In 1976 he bought a synagogue on the lower East Side of Manhattan — an earlier one being turned over to his wife — and lived and worked in it until his death in 2004.

Later life[edit]

In the 1980’s along with many canvases, he painted more than one hundred and forty small abstractions on stiff planks of cardboard. In 1986 he started to introduce into his pictures proto-human figures often in a cruciform or slingshot gestalt, and nearly interchangeable with his sign for a tree. They remained largely abstract in feeling and tone. No inviting space beckons the viewer nor compromises the quite distinctive agitation of the surface that, along with a preference for mineralized color, characterizes much of Resnick’s work for the last forty years of his life.

He also painted numerous strange hermetic insignia's. The X, a sign of negation, frequently decomposed into two elbows that often didn’t align properly. The attitude towards symmetry and order remained light-heartedly derisive. He always maintained that ideas and narratives were just grist for his mill; nothing more. Content had no significance to him other than to provide an occasion to paint. He didn’t generate ideas but made use of them as a subject if it pleased him to. Much of the late work was painted on rag or mold made paper, often with acrylic or gouache. His written poetry became increasingly important to him in the last ten years of his life.

Milton Resnick took his life in March 2004.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jimmy Ernst Award". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 7 October 2010. 

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