An interesting perspective
“American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning, and Their Circle, 1927-1942” gathers some 60 works by the artists of the title and others, including Adolph Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock and David Smith.
|Graham - Portrait of a Woman|
|Levy - Figure in Yellow Window|
The start of the exhibit has a series of portraits, some of Graham by his colleagues, and some of them by Graham. The only Calder in the exhibit is a single wire sculpture portrait of Graham that is hung from the ceiling and the light upon it casts a shadow that illuminates the form. David Smith’s Amusement Park sculpture seemed to be a particular favorite of the guests at the exhibit – it was one of mine.
What I find most interesting about this exhibit is, Graham and his colleague’s works are displayed side by side according to the subject matter. Such as each artist’s depiction of eggs and/or an eggbeater, a cityscape, to the later works when Graham was returning to realism with women as the subject matter. I especially liked de Kooning’s Seated Woman.
With each section you can see Graham’s progress and experimentation with the different styles prevalent in that day’s modern art. I find it intriguing that they took up mixing sand with their oil paint. Mixing the oil color with sand gives the painting a rough texture, and a three-dimensional appearance. I wonder how difficult it was to work with, and did it shorten or lengthen the drying time?
Graham traveled frequently between Europe and the U.S., and he assimilated the styles he observed in Europe into his work the Cubist constructions of Picasso and Braque, and of Surrealists like Ernst and de Chirico - Graham became a central figure in the development of the New York School. I think Graham reverted to realism later on because he had come full circle, and fed up with the dog and pony show surrounding the modernist movement. No one seems to know why he blasted his former friend Picasso in his paper The Case of Mr. Picasso saying, “His fame is a great international, money-making intrigue. His art is a hoax. His artists-followers will defend him to the last not because they believe in him but because without him they have not got commercially a leg to stand on.” but I think it was just for that reason.
|Graham - Table-Top-Still-Life-with-Bird|
|de Kooning - Still Life|
In 1942, Graham organized the exhibition "French and American Painters" at McMillen Gallery (New York) which showed Modigliani, Picasso, Braque, Rouault, and Matisse, alongside the Americans Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Stuart Davis, David Burliuk, and Walt Kuhn, among others, which was well received.
It was Jackson Pollock's first public exhibition and Willem de Kooning's second. "Graham was very important and he discovered Pollock. I make that very clear. It wasn't anybody else, you know." (Willem de Kooning on Graham; De Kooning on Pollock, An Interview). The Pollocks in appears to be of his earliest work – resembling Picasso’s style.
Though Graham was an accomplished artist himself, his real influence was in bringing attention to the current day’s French and American painters. Seeing the similarity of the friend's work, as well as the differences in interpreting the same subject matter is very interesting. It's a real treat to see so many of the cubist and surrealist works together.
Pictured at top: Arshile Gorky (1904–1948)
Oil on canvas
© 2011 The Arshile Gorky Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1979.13.3
To see the article from Fort Worth, Texas magazine on American Vanguards CLICK HERE.