Hassel Smith, Untitled (HS0063) 1959–60 Oil on canvas 20 ¼ x 22 inches (courtesy Weinstein Gallery)
John Seed blogs about the painter Hassel Smith (1915-2007) on the occasion of an exhibition of Smith's work at Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco and the publication of a new monograph on the artist edited by Petra Giloy-Hirtz.
Seed writes: "Smith first gained notice as a representational painter in the 1940s: his works from that period have an energy and graphic insistence that predicts some of the qualities of the Bay Area Figurative style that his friend David Park would pioneer a few years later. In the 50's Smith -- who was very close to Clyfford Still -- developed the feisty calligraphic abstract paintings that earned him his reputation as an 'underground legend.' ...The peripatetic life that followed after Smith left Los Angeles -- he was back and forth between California and England for many years -- combined with his constant stylistic tinkering, meant that the art world never quite managed to get a read on Smith during his lifetime."
"I went back to my own idioms, envisioned, created, and thought through. And the insight and the momentum established altered the character of the whole concept of the practice of painting." - Clyfford Still 1
The Clyfford Still Museum's inaugural exhibition provides new insight into the development of Clyfford Still's groundbreaking abstract paintings. In addition to rarely seen early landscapes and early figure paintings, a gallery of never before seen works on paper reveals the process behind Still's visionary work. Though only a small selection of Still's 1,500 drawings are on view, they reflect a practice of lifelong visual inquiry and show drawing to be an important, perhaps crucial, tool in Still's dramatic evolution from regional artist to icon of the New York School.
Still's transformation from a regional painter of the pacific northwest to a celebrated avant-garde artist has, until now, seemed uncanny. The shocking way Still's paintings fused figure and ground so completely left his 1940s contemporaries (as well as art historians) flummoxed and awe-struck. His 1946 show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery was, in Robert Motherwell's words, "the most original. A bolt out of the blue. Most of us were still working through images... Still had none." 2
Still's works on paper suggest the key to his originality lay in his willingness to explore, test, and reflect upon his vision. Still's drawings contain clues to his initial motivations and to what interested him within his own work. In them, we also see Still as an artist committed to direct observation and investigation. A traditional approach, it seems, provided the starting point for Still's innovation.
On the occasion of the exhibtion Frank Lobdell '1948-1949' on view at Hackett | Mill though April 1, 2011, John Seed muses on Lobdell's work and influence as a teacher. Seed writes: "It is energizing, and exhausting, to read between the brushstrokes of a man who meant every word and every brushstroke."
Seed writes: "A Painter's Life offers countless fascinating insights into Park and his development, including revelations about the artists who he was exposed to and influenced by early on. Who knew, for example, that 19-year-old Park had been present at a 1930 lunch given for the visiting French artist Henri Matisse?"
Seed also notes Boas' interesting idea that Park's figurative work was a "moral" reaction to the abstract paintings of Clyfford Still: "By committing himself to the depiction of the human figure, Park created a hybrid art that literally moved the abstract inventions of Clyfford Still, Park's antithesis, into the background where they provided a sense of tone and setting. [Boas suggests] that Still's romanticism and sense of 'nature ecstasy' forms the setting for Park's figure."
An essay on the achievements of Richard Diebenkorn, republished by Mario Naves on the occasion of the exhibition the exhibition Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. through September 23, 2012.
Naves writes: "Matisse is the crucial source for the Ocean Park pictures. Not a few observers, after visiting the Matisse in Morocco exhibition at MOMA in 1990, remarked upon the similarity of the backdrop for Zorah on the Terrace (1912) to Diebenkorn's paintings. It is a not adventitious historical rhyme, as Diebenkorn would have been the first to admit. Yet to claim that he did little more than finesse (and fret over) Matisse for almost thirty years is to mistake a profound engagement with tradition for accomplished hackwork. With their pensive harmonies and stoic elegance, the Ocean Park paintings divulge their antecedents without reiterating them... Diebenkorn knew that the hurdle of tradition is not to recapitulate history, but to make tradition speak in a form that is as individual as it is contemporary. He also knew when it needed prodding. By transmuting his forebears into something personal and fresh, Diebenkorn claimed his status as an unapologetic modernist."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.