The Woman Series
I’ve never been a big fan of these iconic paintings, too unresolved in my opinion. I don’t mind the figuration, in that way I am not a hard abstractionist in thinking that is all you can paint. I’d love to see someone paint the figure in a meaningful way, Alice Neel did it but not Lucian Freud, but this is all a horse of a different color.
Speaking of “Freud”, it is interesting that the space around the figure in Woman One is painted with one and two inch brushes, maybe stabbed is more appropriate. The brushwork has a violence about it in the application particularly on the right side of the painting. There is no eros here but only some stone age goddess or Medusa. What is of interest is the right foot of the woman, this motif appears later in so many paintings of the 70’s, which I will get to. The drawings of woman in this time period though are amazing.
It is all too easy to see why the label of “Abstract Expressionist” arrives on the scene.
Boy do I love this work from this time. Gotham News along with January 1st and others is a kick ass painting, the scraping and erasure with juicy paint sliding across the surface in a hodge podge melee of lines and color blocks, no delicate swoops or brushwork, the beginnings of the scraper pulling paint across the surface, the brush in swaths pulling quickly across the surface and this interplay between all these elements, the physicality of the paint against the dryness and remnants of what was, just a tour de force.
Having grown up in New York in the 60’s it captures for me the jostling of the street with people, noise, cars, dust, heat, sweat and tension. I remember as a child walking with my mother in mid-town when I was around 5 years old being pushed by the crowd, being dragged along by my mother, passing by a construction site for a large building hidden behind a wooden façade, the sound of the jack hammers, the hound whistle of the workers wearing the old fashioned dough boy helmets carrying black lunchboxes, the screech of the subway below and the hot air coming up through the grates, the woman all wearing dresses with flowers and Jackie O sunglasses, that is what the painting does for me.
This may not “refer to what can be seen” in a literal manner but sure does catch the visceral glimpse abstractly.
Franz Kline wished he could paint like this. Despite the drips, splatters and “aggressive brushwork” these works are pastoral.