Being and Becoming: First and Second Generation Abstract Expressionist Compositions

Abstract Expressionism remains the most important and quintessential American art movement to date and was instrumental in shifting the gravitational center of the modern art world from Paris to New York in the mid-twentieth century. Although rooted in the early abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky as well as in the late Cubist and Surrealist works of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, respectively, Abstract Expressionist compositions are immediately distinguishable from their European progenitors by their creational spontaneity, compositional indeterminacy, and emotional immediacy. The main innovation of the movement was to foreground as subject the artist’s feelings and emotions by creating visual states of being and becoming.

States of being are best exemplified in compositions whose simplicity of form and subtlety of color invite quiet meditation (e.g., Roth, de Kooning, Grillo, Parker, Dugmore, and early Springford), whereas states of becoming are most typified in works whose gestural boldness and chromatic richness exude the vital qualities of energy and dynamism (e.g., Burlin, Yamamoto, Kishi, and late Springford). Most Abstract Expressionist paintings, however, combine elements of both states of being and becoming (e.g., Burlin, Schueler, Francis, Brooks, and Bluhm), thereby producing compositions of exceeding semiotic complexity and profundity.

Artists included in the exhibition are Paul Burlin, Hans Hofmann, Vivian Springford, Jack Roth, Elaine de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Ray Parker, Hans Burkhardt, Jon Schueler, Taro Yamamoto, Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Edward Dugmore, John Grillo, Masatoyo Kishi, and Carl Holty.

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About the Artists
(1886 - 1969)
Paul Burlin was born in New York in 1886. He received his early education in England before returning to New York at the age of twelve. He worked for a short time as an illustrator under Theodore Dreiser at Delineator magazine, where he was exposed to Progressivist philosophy and politics. He soon grew tired of commercial work and enrolled at the National Academy of Design. There, he received a formal education and refined his technical skills; though he later dropped out to pursue his artistic studies more informally with a group of fellow students. He was also a frequent visitor at Alfred Steiglitz’s ‘291’ gallery.

Burlin achieved a great deal of early artistic success. He visited the Southwest for the first time in 1910. Paintings from this visit were received warmly in New York and exhibited in a 1911 exhibition. As a result of his early success, he was the youngest artist (at twenty-six years of age) to participate in the 1913 Armory Show – the revolutionary exhibition of avant-garde European work that can be credited with introducing modern art to the United States and stimulating the development of modernism in America. There, Burlin’s work was exhibited alongside works by such artists as Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, and Duchamp.

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(1914 - 2003)
Vivian Springford was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and educated at the Spence School in New York City, and then the Art Students League. Born to a prominent family (her father was the former president and chairman of the board of Sevel, Inc, an early maker of refrigerators), she was pictured in The New York Times “Debutantes of the Winter Season in New York” in 1932.

Originally a portrait artist, she illustrated Albert Carr’s 1938 book Juggernaut with portraits of twenty political dictators from the Napoleanic era to the early twentieth century.

She was championed in the late 1950s by Howard DeVree, the New York Times art critic, and Harold Rosenberg helped Springford get her first show at Great Jones Gallery in 1960.

Springford provides a fascinating case study of a mid-century American woman artist. Working first in an Abstract Expressionist and then in a Color Field vocabulary, she was active in multiple facets of the New York art world from the 1950s to 1970s, during which time she had solo and group exhibitions at the Great Jones Gallery, the Preston Gallery, Women in the Arts, and the Visual Arts Coalition.

With an emphasis on gesture, dripping, and splattering, Springford’s works of the 1950s bore a clear connection to Abstract Expressionism. The primary influence of her early work came from East Asian arts and letters, particularly Chinese calligraphy, Taoism and Confucianism. She credited the Chinese-American painter Walasse Ting, whom she met in the mid-1950s, with introducing her to Asian culture. Part of what attracted her about calligraphy as a technique was the fact that it cannot be altered once a mark is made. Her use of this technique resulted in “one-shot” paintings: virtuosic works made in a single go, without alteration or revision.

By 1970 Springford had developed a manner of stain painting that was distinctively her own. Her use of thinned paint on raw or thinly-primed canvas, which she developed with her calligraphic paintings of the late 1950s, developed into more abstract and wash-like marks, with stained colored lines expanding into floods of color. This stylistic approach aligns with the Color Field painters’ exploration of stain painting as a primary mode of mark-making.

Springford once remarked that, for her, the act of painting was an “attempt to identify with the universal whole…. I want to find my own small plot or pattern of energy that will express the inner me in terms of rhythmic movement and color. The expansive center of the universe, of the stars, and of nature is my constant challenge in abstract terms.” With her technical inventiveness, formal originality, and seductive use of color, her work deserves a place in the annals of postwar American art, particularly in relation to the histories of Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painting. Following her inclusion in the Denver Art Museum's exhibition catalogue, Women of Abstract Expressionism (Joan Marter 2016), the time is right for a critical revision and appreciation of Springford’s abundant talent and tireless persistence—a story that mirrors those of so many women artists, past and present.

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(1927 - 2004)
Although he was fully two decades younger than some of the elder statesmen of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Jack Roth exhibited alongside Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, William Baziotes and others while still in his twenties. Roth was a true polymath, pursuing interests in chemistry, literature, music, mathematics and Zen Buddhism in addition to painting. Despite the rarified company he kept and his many accomplishments, Jack Roth’s contributions to 20th century modernist painting have been largely overlooked until fairly recently. Rachel Roth, his wife of fifty years, remembered him this way: “Jack was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. I’ve never said this before, but I think he was a genius, and I don’t say that lightly!”

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(1918 - 1989)
Elaine DeKooning was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York and spent her childhood studying the lives of artists and visiting the museums and galleries of New York City. After high school she attended the American Artists School and the Leonardo da Vinci School and was swept up in the cultural excitement in New York of the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1943 she married fellow artist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), one of the group of artists soon to emerge as the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. During her marriage, de Kooning continued painting; however, much of her time was devoted to ensuring the success of her husband. In the summer of 1948, de Kooning and her husband left New York for North Carolina so that he could teach at Black Mountain College. At the end of the summer, her husband left North Carolina, and de Kooning stayed behind. During that period at Black Mountain, she created a series of paintings titled "Black Mountain Abstractions." The following year, de Kooning and her husband were part of an exhibition entitled "Artists: Man and Wife" at the Sidney Janis Gallery, which featured several artist couples.

The 1950s were an artistically prosperous time for de Kooning, as she secured several solo exhibitions at notable galleries such as the Stable Gallery and the Graham Gallery, and she also participated in numerous noteworthy group shows including the Ninth Street Show in 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. De Kooning came to New Mexico in 1957-58, where she was a visiting professor in the University of New Mexico's art department. The light, space, and colors of New Mexico had a lasting impact on her work.

She was an accomplished portrait artist, as well as a masterful abstract painter, as seen in the painting shown here. She also worked as an editorial associate and art critic of ArtNews magazine, and taught at many universities, including the University of New Mexico, the University of California - Davis, Yale University, the Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Wagner College, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 1985 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1988. In the 1980s, de Kooning was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her health began to deteriorate until she succumbed to the disease in 1989. Her works are found in many museum collections, including the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
(1880 - 1966)
Hans Hofmann is one of the most important figures of postwar American art. Celebrated for his exuberant, color-filled canvases, and renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists—first in his native Germany, then in New York and Provincetown—Hofmann played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism.

As a teacher he brought to America direct knowledge of the work of a celebrated group of European modernists (prior to World War I he had lived and studied in Paris) and developed his own philosophy of art, which he expressed in essays which are among the most engaging discussions of painting in the twentieth century, including "The Color Problem in Pure Painting—Its Creative Origin."

Hofmann taught art for over four decades; his impressive list of students includes Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Alfred Jensen, Wolf Kahn, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson and Frank Stella. As an artist Hofmann tirelessly explored pictorial structure, spatial tensions and color relationships. In his earliest portraits done just years into the twentieth century, his interior scenes of the 1940s and his signature canvases of the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Hofmann brought to his paintings what art historian Karen Wilkin has described as a "range from loose accumulations of brushy strokes…to crisply tailored arrangements of rectangles…but that somehow seems less significant than their uniform intensity, their common pounding energy and their consistent physicality."

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(1904 - 1994)
An extremely prolific artist, Hans Burkhardt remained relatively silent in the Los Angeles art world, choosing to let his artworks express his feelings and thoughts. A forerunner of abstracted, expressionist painting, particularly amid the more conservative Los Angeles figurative painters in the late 1930s, Burkhardt nonetheless based his experimentation on a solid artistic foundation. The order and balance in Burkhardt’s compositions derive from his training as a draughtsman and his belief in the importance of underpinning painting with strong drawing skills. Following the advice of his mentor, Arshile Gorky, who had often directed the young artist, “painting is not more than drawing with paint,” Burkhardt always created sketches in pencil, pastel, or ink before beginning a canvas in oil. As a result, his compositions exhibit a strong sense of structure and design, even in their abstraction.

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(1917 - 2014)
John Grillo was a painter, sculptor, and lithographer. He was born in Lawrence, MA, and studied at the Hartford School of Fine Arts from 1935 to 1938. He relocated to San Francisco, CA, and attended the California School of Fine Arts from 1945 to 1947. In 1948, he returned to Massachusetts and studied under Hans Hofmann (German/American, 1880–1966) at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Provincetown. Grillo’s first exhibition was held at Daliel's Gallery in Berkeley, CA, in 1947, and in the following year, his second solo exhibition was held in New York at the Artists' Gallery. In 1952, Grillo had his third solo exhibit at Tanager Gallery in New York, and in 1953, three other New York galleries showcased his work: the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, and the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Grillo was a visiting artist at the University of California at Berkeley, Iowa University, Studio School of New York, and Illinois University at Carbondale. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, New School of Social Research in New York, the Pratt Institute, the University of Massachusetts and Provincetown Art Association, and Museum in Provincetown, MA. Grillo has also won several awards, including First Prize in Oil Painting and a prize for best sculpture at the Wistariahusrt Museum in Holyoke, MA. The artist’s work has been exhibited at the Katherina Rich Perlow Gallery in New York, the Cove Gallery in Wellfleet, MA, the Aaron Galleries Modern in Chicago, Robert Green Fine Arts in Mill Valley, CA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in, New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York, and the Stable Gallery in New York.

Grillo’s work can be found in public collections at The University of Texas Museum, Dartmouth College, the Bundy Art Gallery Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Portland Museum, the University of Massachusetts, and the Norfolk Museum in Virginia. The artist currently resides in Provincetown, MA.

(1916 - 1992)
The American painter Jon Schueler was often grouped with the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, although as a survey of his paintings from the mid-1950s makes clear, his body of work is much broader in its affiliations. If anything, his painting reaches back to Monet and the French Impressionists, while leaning toward the mystical realism of J. M. W. Turner, who was a lasting influence on Schueler during his last prolific decades, when he lived part-time in Scotland and often painted visions of the sea and sky in eerie contention. A leading figure among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, Schueler’s earliest paintings often contained zigzag lightning bolts, vivid displays of color, and palette-knife gestures that gave to the paintings a thickly textured aura.

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(1921 - 1999)
Norman Bluhm was born in Chicago in 1921, and initially studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies van der Rohe. He studied briefly in Florence before moving to Paris in 1947 to continue studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After serving in World War II, Bluhm lived in Paris and developed an interest in figurative painting. In the 1960s, Bluhm was exploring relationships between swirling, loosely applied forms and unexpected arrangements of color in abstract painting. He used large brushes, soaked with vibrantly hued paint, and treated his work surface with enthusiasm and energy. This method produced works that were orgiastic in their dramatic intensity—bold, organically applied pigment insouciant in its application and outlook.

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(1923 - 1994)
California-born abstract expressionist Sam Francis (1923–1994), one of the 20th century’s leading interpreters of light and color. Sam Francis maintained studios in Bern, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo, making him the first post–World War II American painter whose reach was truly international. Throughout a long and prolific career, Francis created thousands of paintings as well as works on paper, prints, and monotypes. His work holds references to New York Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, Chinese and Japanese art, French impressionism, and his own Bay Area roots.
(1915 - 1996)
Edward Dugmore began his formal schooling in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut before studying at the Kansas City Art Institute under Thomas Hart Benton. In 1948, Dugmore took advantage of the G.I. Bill and moved out west to San Francisco to further his studies in art at the California School of Fine Arts. There he studied with Clyfford Still, who was influential on his development, both as an artist and a close friend. Dugmore also became a lifelong friend of fellow student and artist Ernest Briggs.

In 1952 Mr. Dugmore moved to New York, and during the decades that followed his work enjoyed an active exhibition schedule across a range of venues. Dugmore exhibited with along other Abstract Expressionists at the Stable Gallery there. His paintings have been in exhibitions in important museums, institutions and art galleries over the course of eight decades beginning in the 1940s.
(1924 - 2017)
Masatoyo Kishi's formal education was in physics and mathematics. "As a Japanese artist in the 1950s in Tokyo, I didn't go to art school," says Kishi. "Japanese artists studied literature, economics, science; then you explored art." After his education at Tokyo University of Science, Kishi turned to abstract expressionist painting. In the 1970s, he moved to sculpture. Kishi's elemental colors are also present in his paintings, but on canvas he interjects cool touches of pale blue and green. He says he works with the canvas on the floor using a wooden stick to drop paint onto the surface.

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