East End: Artists and their Environment
East End: Artists and their Environment
July 9, 2008 - September 9, 2008
EAST END: ARTISTS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT
For over a century, the ‘East End’ of Long Island has continued to maintain its mass appeal as an artist colony, equal in ranks to that of Provincetown, Bucks County and New Hope. As a culture, we continue to relish in the romantic, yet provocative lives of those artists who dominated the East Hampton landscape during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, including de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Brooks and many others belonging to the New York School.
Using the mission of our gallery as our central vision, East End: Artists and their Environment, serves to pay homage to the lives, works and vision of artists who led double lives between Manhattan and East Hampton during the mid- century, with specific focus on the under-recognized artists of the New York School. Following below is a brief history of East Hampton as an artist colony and then biographies on some of these artists, Elaine de Kooning, Mary Abbott, Hedda Sterne, David Slivka, and Ibram Lassaw, who along with the few that would become iconic, fled to East Hampton for their safe haven from the gridlock, noise, heat and stress of the City.
EAST HAMPTON HISTORY
Beginning in the 1870’s, with the completion of the Long Island Rail Road, traveling between Manhattan and Long Island, especially the East End, became more easily accessible. The formation of the Hampton Bays Art Group in 1941 proved to be a great impetus on the establishment of East Hampton as a unique summer art colony. The founding members, David Burliuk, Raphael and Moses Soyer and Milton Avery (as a tertiary and non-committed party), remained committed to creating socially responsible art with stylistic independency at the forefront. The same general commitment ran fervent among the Abstract Expressionists in Manhattan who held common views on artistic philosophy, but were polar opposites in style and technique (i.e. color-field painters and action painters).
Beginning in the summer of 1945 when Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner moved their permanent residence to 830 Fire Place Road, East Hampton again, became a popular summer residence and for many, a home away from home. The artists presented in this exhibition as well as Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning and others traveled back and forth from Manhattan to the Hamptons, many making it their permanent residence. In following with the tradition and excitement that followed the artistic community of East Hampton, artists who shared success beginning in the 1960’s such as Jasper johns, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, continued to make East Hampton an artist’s haven.
BIOGRAPHIES ON ARTISTS IN THE EXHIBITION
ELAINE de KOONING (1918-1989)
Elaine and Willem traveled between Manhattan and East Hampton for years before they finally settled on the Island permanently until 1975.
Elaine de Kooning continues to steadily emerge from the shadow of her teacher and husband, Willem de Kooning, as an important artist in her own right and it has been only recently that her work has gained the market recognition it deserves. Her work is highly representative of her dedication to the traditional academic approach as well as her passion for non-conventional methods and styles most intimately associated with the New York School and Abstract Expressionists. In addition to artistic skill, Elaine positioned herself as an art critic for major art magazines, giving her the means to shape the art world as well as the career of her husband.
The 1950’s were an artistically prosperous time for Elaine, as she secured several solo exhibitions at notable galleries such as the Stable Gallery and the Graham Gallery and also participated in numerous noteworthy shows including the Ninth Street Show, 1951, Young American Painters at the MoMA, 1956, and Artists of the NY School: 2nd Generation at the Jewish Museum, 1957. She was included in the Ten Best list in ArtNews in 1956 as well as the Great Expectations I article written by Thomas Hess that same year.
Elaine would continue painting in an abstract manner for the rest of her life, with the exception being her renowned portraits and series paintings (Bull, Basketball, Bacchus). Her ability as an exceptional portrait artist was confirmed with her commission to paint a series of portraits of President John F. Kennedy for the Truman Library in 1963, just before his death.
Her mastery of this genre is exemplified in her ability to effectively convey the moment, a feeling, a gesture, a sense of likeness about the person as opposed to their physicality. She wavered between precisely configured portraits and those of extreme abstraction, many times faceless. No matter the approach, whether figurative, abstract, or both, the character of Elaine’s subjects were always alive with a personality unique to themselves.
In her series paintings Elaine brought the same level of likeness as her portraits, with an added immediacy to the moment. Each work exemplifies the most heightened moment of the theme, the moment that determines if you win or you lose the game or the moment right before the bull charges.
In her series titled Basketball, Elaine’s mastery of figurative abstraction is noteworthy. Her brushstrokes dance around the figures, sweeping up and around, in and out, constantly shaping the multi-dimensional contours of their actions, creating a transcendence of energy throughout the entire painting; evidence of her extraordinary talent as an action painter.
MARY ABBOTT (1921-)
At 87 years of age, Mary Abbott is one of just a handful of the first generation Abstract Expressionist artists alive today who continues to live and work in East Hampton.
As an artist heavily indebted to the existential qualities found in post-war art, Abbott’s entire body of work, reflect the expressive energies embedded in the ideologies of Abstract Expressionism. The sense of immediacy and adventure which dominates her canvases, are snapshots of her most intimate relationship, with that of nature.
Each work carries with it a sense of exalting and dynamic space, perhaps homage to the sublimity and honesty of her peers and mentors in the late 1940’s,1950’s and 60’s, namely Rothko, Baziotes and de Kooning. Using her brushstroke with varying speeds and creating colors with varying intensities, Abbott successfully created works which match in comparison to her contemporaries, works which exemplify the modern traditions and culture of the times and works which remain timeless in their appeal.
While Abbott’s adventurous personality bred varied styles and techniques across her oeuvre, it was without sacrifice to her main initiative of translating the ambiguities of sensation into a concrete impression and energy within the canvas, much like the dynamics of a conversation.
Abbott’s work has been exhibited by the Kootz Gallery, Tibor de Nagy, Tanager and now by Thomas McCormick Gallery and Levis Fine Art.
HEDDA STERNE (1916-)
Sterne was one of the coterie of artists to travel to the Springs during mid- century and to be affected by it’s quietness.
Except for a few isolated cases, the body of Hedda Sterne’s work has been completely overlooked in the art historical narrative of the mid-20th century, especially considering her prominent position as the only women in the radical art group known as the Irascibles. This group included Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Theodoros Stamos and many others. These rebel artists challenged the Metropolitan Museum of Art by protesting a juried exhibition intended to increase the museum's collection of contemporary art. They banded together and signed a petition accusing the curator and director of loading the jury with critics hostile to "advanced art," particularly Abstract Expressionism. Such would be a great catalyst for the abstract movement, drawing significant press coverage and public awareness.
1941 marked a landmark year for Sterne as her move to New York was overshadowed by her inclusion in the Art of This Century exhibition, funded by Peggy Guggenheim. It was here where notable dealer Betty Parsons discovered Sterne’s work and gave her a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1943 and it was for this exhibition that Sterne first presented her use of circular canvases to create the Tondo Series. These tondos are mounted on a central axis so the viewer can turn them at will to gain varying perspectives. A pioneer in her use of both medium and form, Sterne used the tondo throughout the balance of her career. Similar to Pollock, Sterne was also recognized for her divergence from using mediums and forms contemporaneous with the times.
The theme of Sterne’s works during the 1940’s and 1950’s was essentially machine-based, whether their nature was Surrealist or completely abstract. Some of her works, including New York Apt. #5, 1955 are part of her New York series and depict the “hurtling trains, derricks, and bridges as though they were looming monsters, in an attempt to portray the pace and power of the big city”. Sterne’s use of acrylic spray paint allowed her to echo speed and motion while also discovering that illusion of depth could be achieved without the use of perspective. It was also during this time period that she became associated with the New York School, and as a result began using more primary and muted colors.
Sterne was primarily interested in the desire for invisibility and abandonment of self, in her work, in exchange for receptivity to her environment. While Sterne constantly changed her styles and techniques, regardless of the positive reviews she received, her resistance to imposing any kind of personal identity upon her work was an idea which contrasted sharply with her contemporaries and a desire which ultimately buried her successes as they came along.
Sterne’s work is represented in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Whitney, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is seldom available.
DAVID SLIVKA (1913-)
Originally a Chicago native, David Slivka began his formal studies on a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago and later at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It wasn’t until 1945 that Slivka moved to Manhattan and began working with the printmaker, Stanley William Hayter. Deeply affected by both the work and his friendships with Jacques Lipschitz,, Joan Miro, and wood sculptor Raoul Hague, Slivka began carving in wood. Upon his membership in the Eighth Street Artists Club, his friendships expanded to include Elaine and Bill de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, who he began visiting in the Springs in the later 1940’s. In 1962, Slivka was awarded with his first one- man show at Graham Gallery and had his first major artist statement in ArtNews.
Although Slivka’s style varied throughout his career, his aesthetic philosophy remains the same as he constantly seeks to “balance the line and the plane, the mass and the edge”, all formal elements which undoubtedly suggest a relationship between humanity and nature. Genesis, pictured in this exhibition, although dated much later in his career, expresses the most mature synthesis of these formal elements into a harmonious relationship with each other. The wood and various components of this piece as well as other sculptures originate from the Eastern Long Island landscape.
Slivka’s work remains in the permanent collections of numerous major institutions and has been included in exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guild Hall Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
IBRAM LASSAW (1906-2003)
Lassaw began spending summers in East Hampton in the mid 1950’s and permanently settled there with his family in 1963.
Contemporaneous to David Smith’s welded iron sculptures, Ibram Lassaw was one of the few Americans to create a type of sculpture which incorporated line as a major function. Lassaw’s infamous “open-metal” sculptures are a testament to his ability as an artist to push the traditional boundaries of space, scale and mass.
His first formal instruction began in 1926 at what is now known as the Sculpture Center under Dorothea Denslow and concurrently at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in Manhattan. As early as 1933, he created the foundation of his signature style. In addition, Lassaw was one of the founders of the American Abstract Artists group, holding the position of president from 1946-1949, and was one of the original members of the artist’s “Club” in 1949, which privately organized artistic lectures and discussions in various artists’ studios. Artists and friends who participated in the “Club” activities included Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Franz Kline, Milton Resnick, Philip Pavia, and countless others. This informal group of artists came to be known as the Abstract Expressionists.
Lassaw’s aesthetic was primarily based upon the “unification of man, nature and the cosmos; a relationship which the artist took part in but also was responsible for creating”. The energy reflected in his linear-wire mazes transcends the actual mass of his physical structures. He uses a harmonious balance between his medium and it’s malleability as such with welding, to suggest and indicate spatial tensions, physical relationships, and movement, all which don’t rationally exist. Similar to Pollock’s works and his desire that art employ and reflect the mediums and techniques of the modern age, Lassaw believed that art should represent a move towards the future, and as a result he employed techniques which were applicable to the future of sculpting.
Lassaw was represented by the infamous Kootz Gallery from 1951-1965 (during a highpoint in his career) and his work remains in the permanent collections of numerous institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.
This exhibition is on view by appointment only and a full length biography is available upon request. Please contact Jim Levis for more information on these artists and others.
© Levis Fine Art 2008