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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lee Krasner

For some years, my wife was burdened with the fact that she was best known as "Jim Lane's wife" or "Jonathan's mom."  In more recent years, since I've retired and chosen a more low keyed approach to life as an artist, I've come to know a little how she felt.  Since my wife has continued to work part time for a leading tax preparation service, I've come to be known as "Sharon's husband."  Really, though, I can't say that I mind all that much.

One of the more interesting painters of the so-called "New York School" had the same problem. Lee Krasner was born in 1908. A number of features make this exceptional artist of the Abstract Expressionist era stand out, not the least of which is the fact she was a woman. By mid-century, of course, women like Georgia O'Keefe, Helen Rosenthaler, and later Agnes Martin, had managed to crack the male-dominated world that was the New York art scene, but none with the gusto or free-wheeling style exhibited by this painter.
Cool White, 1959,
Lee Krasner

Her work, such as Cool White, painted in 1959, displays the exuberant brushwork of a Willem de Kooning or Arschile Gorky with a certain degree of cubist influence, not so much of Picasso, but of Marcel Duchamp. There is a robust, angular movement to her modest sized (by Abstract Expressionist standards) canvases, usually in the range of four to five feet square. The paint is heavy, the colors subdued, with strong, linear blacks that threaten to burst the bounds of her dynamic, yet surprisingly stable compositions.

If you're not familiar with the work of Lee Krasner, the reason may be that she labored in the critical shadow of her much more prominent husband who was also a painter. In many respects, her work was similar to his, though not as large-scale nor lacking in constraints. In spite of her own strength and originality as an artist, she pointed out: "I was not the average woman married to the average painter. I was married to Jackson Pollock. The context is bigger, and even if I was not personally dominated by Pollock, the whole art world was."

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