Category Archives: American Modernism

John Walker

I remember when there was a vogue for the work of John Walker. I didn’t like it because at that time he was using the same form over and over, which he called “Alba,” and said was derived from Goya. … Continue reading

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Space of Collage

A while back I mentioned Briony Fer’s book on abstraction and the special place she gives to collage at the origins of the practice. I picked it up again to refresh my memory and one of the points has to … Continue reading

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Taste

When in the mood I enjoy going on about Stella. I don’t like everything he does, but the funny thing is I usually come around. The Exotic Birds used to seem pretty bad, but now….good. The Brazilian Series used to … Continue reading

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Style of Work

What makes Stella so productive (and you have to investigate to find out how much, because most of the work is not widely known) is a two part process. First lots of planning and preparation, then head long improvisation and … Continue reading

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Blue Poles

Another contentious late Pollock is Blue Poles. Some people call it an outright failure. I think it was failing, but he saved it the same way he saved an earlier picture, now in the Guggenheim collection in Venice. Alchemy is … Continue reading

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Portrait and a Dream

Talking about possibilities in late Pollock—he undoubtedly went through difficult periods, as we all do, but to my eyes the work of the mid-fifties shows no slacking off. If he could have lightened up a bit I’m sure he would … Continue reading

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Convergence

Keeping on with the idea of looking at Pollock’s later works as individual pieces, not as members of a series, Convergence is one of the late large abstractions. Standing in front of it at the Albright-Knox the first thing that … Continue reading

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Plants and Animals

If some readers are not convinced by my description, in the previous post, of Krasner’s work as ruled by a plant metaphor, I submit these two works, which have titles and colours to match that theme. But it’s interesting that … Continue reading

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Crisis Moment

Krasner’s unique style is made of strongly drawn circles, arcs and ellipses. She has a kind of compulsion to go around with her arm. In her case it’s not a limitation and more than a habit—it’s an expressive language that … Continue reading

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Lee Krasner

As I said in an earlier post, Lee Krasner gave Pollock’s Easter and the Totem to the MoMA, and I think that was a measure of her regard for that work, which otherwise is not much celebrated. The conventional wisdom … Continue reading

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Easter and The Totem

I don’t think I can explain why I like this piece. It’s an example of Pollock’s late figurative work, coming after the Black Paintings and after Convergence and Blue Poles, contemporary with The Deep and Portrait and a Dream. I … Continue reading

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Repeating Patterns

As in all improvisation, patterns tend to recur. In fact, the more open and free the improv, the more subject it is to repetition. This is something I’ve learned from music, and this is why preparation helps a lot. Art … Continue reading

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Abstract Order

Following on from the previous post, Stella’s manner in the late prints especially, but also in many of his reliefs, is to be vivid, crazy, overloaded and loud. That’s what puts a lot of viewers off. It’s a style and … Continue reading

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Formal Principle

I’ve been trying to work out exactly what kind of order Stella is aiming for, looking at the prints and late paintings. I think that to avoid an ordering principle is probably, for Stella, a kind of abstraction. The topic … Continue reading

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Art for the Age of Trump

Thinking about constructivist collage—in other words, art of a revolutionary period—makes one wonder what kind of art is right for today. Does my Collage #10 really measure up, or is to too much Kutesy-Klee and Kandinsky-Kute? Are the animal/organic and … Continue reading

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Size and Importance

Further on from the previous post—if Stella was part of a larger, more general response to abstract expressionism, I think the generally accepted understanding of that response has been too limited. We usually hear that it was a reaction against the … Continue reading

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Bigger and Better

In some quarters one hears the claim that bigger means more serious or more ambitious. Not necessarily, because bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more. It’s one way to get attention in the world, and maybe does indicate a desire to get … Continue reading

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Jonathan Lasker

Back in the day (can’t remember how long ago) Jonathan Lasker’s paintings seemed inevitable. Maybe not so now. But they had a beautiful objectivity, with their squirming lines that looked like they came out of cake decorator’s tool. Looking back … Continue reading

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Color and Mark

I used to think that Stella’s Exotic Birds were not his best works. I could appreciate them as a necessary breakthrough, but bad works nevertheless. I never liked the template approach, that the forms were ready-made and just decorated with … Continue reading

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Somehow Both

Further to the Marisa Merz work in the previous post, and to the discussion about story telling in abstraction—we are familiar with the common object decontextualized to the degree that it becomes “abstract,” and also with the evocative shape or form … Continue reading

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Once Again New

It’s been pointed out, most cogently by Nietzsche, that what stirs us most in what we read is what we already know. He means philosophy or any kind of wisdom writing, not political screeds on the internet. But we still … Continue reading

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Abstraction from Life

This blog is about abstract art, and I think it offers some interesting and novel ideas. It also has some unconventional ideas, and makes no apology for that. The recent post on Ian Wallace’s work is, for me, a bit … Continue reading

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An Opportunity, or A Christmas Message

Stella teaches something every artist should know, or does know but normally forgets—that art is not a problem, it’s an opportunity, an invitation, a promise. What it is for society I have no idea, but that’s what it is for … Continue reading

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Colour in Sculpture

Stella’s Town-Ho’s Story is made of cast and poured aluminum, steel, and some ready-made bits and pieces. It’s not all scrap, in fact mostly fabricated. However, the colour of the piece leans heavily on the untreated color of the different … Continue reading

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Stories in Stories

Stella’s large sculpture, The Town-Ho’s Story, is, among other things, a collection of smaller pieces. I’ve mentioned this before, but as I suggested in the previous post, parts of the main body of the work could also be seen separately, … Continue reading

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A Story

In Moby-Dick the chapter is called “The Town-Ho’s Story,” and the story is of an encounter with the white whale. In Stella’s piece the ship is heeling over, and from the side it looks like it’s taken a hit. Jammed … Continue reading

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A Heap of Scrap Metal

On a train passing a scrap yard the piles of twisted shiny metal pieces remind me of Stella’s sculpture in Chicago. You might call the pile a piece of abstract art, in the “all over” mode, but Stella’s work is … Continue reading

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Abstraction in Iran

My facebook friend from Vancouver, Mohammad Salemy, has written a piece about the modernist art collection in Tehran. It’s worth a read. The collection is very rich, but right now I’m interested in the abstraction. Stella spent time there in … Continue reading

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A Polemic

Another chapter of my book looks at that universal favorite, Gerhard Richter. It may be the first genuine critique of an overrated artist, and the book is probably worth the price for that alone. It’s not original though; I take … Continue reading

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No Inconsistencies

The previous post on one of Stella’s Polish Villages may give the impression that all works in the series are as carefully irregular. Actually, most of them seem to be perfectly reasonable. I’m not aware of how Stella sees the … Continue reading

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