Watusi (Hard Edge)

 Alma Thomas, Watusi (Hard Edge), 1963

Watusi, a popularized dance move during the 1960s, became an artistic inspiration for a late bloomer painter Alma Thomas. Thomas, an African-American, sees her world in a simpler form and any distraction is removed during the process of creating her work. Her colors are bold, and bright and resembles the nature in most of her works. Although her debut as an artist was delayed, she received numerous recognitions for her delicate but bold works in the world of modern art.

In order to understand her paintings deeper, the viewers must look at it in a bird's-eye view for most of her works. In Watusi (Hard Edge), she uses vivid and hard edges of shapes to portray the wild movement of the dancers in the center. The blues that surrounds the dancers in the center can be seen as the crowds. The color pallete of her choice for this painting is subtle, calm and pleasing to the eyes, and the use of her negative space gives the painting chances to breathe.

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Untitled (PH-950)

Clyfford Still, Untitled (PH-950), 1950

Clyfford Still described art as "an unqualified act." Although Still endured many years of school at the undergraduate and graduate levels, he felt that art simply was an act of individualism and required no schooling or formal training. Therefore, he felt his pieces needed no explanation and were purely meant to be enjoyed by the observer. This rings true by his transition from representational painting to abstract works in the 1940s. The public knows Still for his jagged lines and expressive brushstrokes. Still used such tactics as the palate knife technique, an approach where the artist uses a sharp knife to scrap off excess paint. This ensures that the piece looks two dimensional in nature rather than appearing realistic.

Clyfford Still captures the picturesque views of a sunrise atop Mount Spokane. The jagged lines and mixture of snowy whites and the dark hues of the mountains are meant to encapsulate the views Still saw daily during his childhood in Spokane, Washington. The various colors that make up the mountain, illustrate the various shades seen in mountain itself. Though Still spoke little about how to interpret his art, he did mention showcases the void in his other works such as No. 2, also known as Red Flash on a Black Field. It can be viewed that Still captured the feeling of being lost in the metaphorical void in the navy and black mixtures in the foreground of the painting. Still's expressive brush strokes and tranquil colors help to illustrate the fond memories he had living in Washington state.The views along side a mountain during sunrise are nothing short of awe inspiring and are a true representation of the ingenious works of Clyfford Still.
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The Golden Wall

Hans Hofmann, The Golden Wall, 1961

Hans Hofmann's most famous work is an abstraction of vibrant colors and shapes that distorts the viewer's idea of dimension. His work takes bold gestures, and Hofmann often uses his past pieces to inspire and perfect his new ones. He says that "a strong picture constantly suggests new ideas; shows up the weakness of others." This idea of constant reconstruction suggests years of trial and error, and his development into a dedicated artist. He was devoted to  teaching and moved his life from Germany to the United States, where he taught at universities and studios. His students learned about Hofmann's opinion on the elasticity of art, and how you shouldn't strive to be known as a naturalist or an expressionist because concepts and techniques change. Instead, he said, simply be known for memorable artwork. 

Derive inspiration from nature. Don't be minimized by an objective. Work directly from life. Hofmann paints with feeling, and not with knowing. In The Golden Wall, he uses the simplicity of shapes to create a collage of emotion. He often expresses the beauty of joining color and structure, playing with dimension. There is a purity in his use of aesthetic elements like color, luminosity, composition, and balance. His theory of push and pull creates this illusion of space, depth, and movement with abstractly using color and shape. I appreciate his opinion on how art shouldn't be created from simply an objective, but rather be created from individual inspiration.

I like The Golden Wall, along with most of Hofmann's later abstract work, because of its challenge for the eye. As a viewer, I appreciate being able to recognize the shapes within the painting, but also have my own interpretation of the undefined strokes of the orange and red. I don't feel overwhelmed by his work, but rather calmed by the combination of color and shape.
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Madame Butterfly

Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly, 2000

Helen Frankenthaler exposes emotions of vulnerability, calmness, and femininity in her Madame Butterfly painting. Frankenthaler used 102 colors, all off which compliment each other. The multiple assortment of colors encourages the mind to intentionally look closer at the thin lines. Frankenthaler, born in 1928, contributed to both 1950s abstract expressionism and 1960s color-field painters. Madame Butterfly displays abstract techniques by using misty colors, leaving the butterfly not completely exposed. During the cold war, structure and order assimilated in United States ideology, and abstract painters were often frowned upon. During the 1960s, Frankenthaler changed her style by using bigger blots of paint, in which she encourages views to focus on the colors. Randomness and color defined Frankenthaler’s paintings.

Frankenthaler used the Japanese technique of separating Madame Butterfly in three separate canvases. The two outside sections compliment each other with a lighter shades, which gives the butterfly a glowing effect. Towards the end of Frankenthaler’s career, her work transformed into acalming sensations. Her stokes display less tension and feel like a connected symphony of thin lines. The darker shade of purple creates mystery and adds layers of drama to the butterfly. 

Besides visual pleasure, Madame Butterfly advocates for femininity. Within its name “Madame” encourages viewers to create a female image. The openness of the butterfly’s wings display outside elegance while exposing the beauty inside the butterfly. Madame butterfly’s wings makes the viewer feel free, while the focus is drawn to the assortment of color inside the butterfly. Overall, the culture, elegance, beauty, and freedom painted in Madame Butterfly gives the viewer a weightless feeling. Almost as if the viewers were the butterfly.
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Stenographic Figure

Jackson Pollock, Stenographic Figure, 1942
Jackson Pollock's most recognized paintings, the "poured paintings," feature deliberately thrown and dripped paint. However, Pollock, like many abstract expressionists, began with representational painting and evolved to works of complete abstraction. Stenographic Figure marks a milestone in Pollock's career. Made five years before Pollock began his "poured paintings," this piece strikes a balance between representational and abstract painting. 

The painting features two figures, though its title suggests just one. Both, while identifiable as humans, are highly distorted and drawn as stick figures. The calligraphic markings that overlay the painting are reminiscent of a stenographer's hurried yet intentional shorthand. The cryptic markings appear to be the forerunners to the choreographed splashes that covered Pollock's later canvasses. 

Pollock gravitated towards dark and somber tones throughout his career. However, Stenographic Figure, painted by Pollock in 1942, features an uncharacteristically bright palette. Many attribute this airiness to the beginning of Pollock's relationship with painter Lee Krasner and a newfound contentment with life. Additionally, this piece lacks the sense of chaos reflected in much of Pollock's work. Though the calligraphic marks clutter the surface, Stenographic Figure's relatively simple composition brings a heightened feeling of serenity in comparison to much of Pollock's other work.

This painting earned Pollock some of his first recognition. New York art patron Peggy Guggenheim displayed it in her gallery Art of this Century, where painter Piet Mondrian saw it and praised Pollock's work: "I have the feeling that this may be the most exciting painting I have seen in a long, long time, here or in Europe." Indeed, many would soon praise Pollock's "exciting" paintings, many of which evolved from the techniques and style seen in Stenographic Figure.
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The Artist and His Mother

Arshile Gorky, The Artist and His Mother, 1926-1936

When Arshile Gorky began painting, many defined him as a flagrant plagiarist. He spent the beginning of his career trying on and disposing of painting styles as casually as one would with assorted pairs of shoes. Even in his personal letters, Gorky was notorious for plagiarizing various authors and artists. However, this piece represents the most painstaking expression of his unique artistic style. The personal subject matter lends itself to such a presentation.

Gorky spent ten years perfecting this portrait of himself with his mother. He was inspired to recreate this childhood photo after his mother died in his arms following the Armenian genocide in 1919. The intention behind Gorky's work is most apparent when the painting is place next to the photo which inspired it.

Gorky's portrait represented his first experiment with flatness and incompleteness. After each layer of paint was added, he used a straight edged razor to scrape off any semblance of texture on the canvas. Gorky did not wish to accurately recreate a memory with this portrait. Instead he intended to immortalize his mother as a work of art with this venture into flatness and abstract expressionism. This style is highly reminiscent of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period.

The painfully negative space and the intentional angling of the artist's feet away from his mother highlights the separation in their relationship. The stark emphasis on the eyes also accentuates the emotional turmoil of this painting. The extension of the rectangle behind his mother's head serves as a sort of cloth of honor that presents her as a Madonna figure.

Though Gorky would later depart from this pseudo-realistic style, he would continue to push his early abstract tendencies that reveal themselves in this painting.  His abstract approach would soon evolve into a self-described combination of nature and reality filtered through memory and feeling.
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Bacchus #3

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978

Bacchus #3 is a painting of Roman wine god Bacchus created by Elaine de Kooning. It is the third painting of de Kooning's Bacchus series. Elaine de Kooning, wife of Willem de Kooning, got inspiration from the sculpture of Bacchus and painted it in her later career.

Elaine de Kooning uses Abstract Expressionism to show energy in the drunk god. Bacchus, a god of wine, is also the god of grape harvest. In this painting, to show Bacchus is related to nature, de Kooning smears blue, green, and yellow in the background. In addition, Bacchus represents the indulgent side of human nature. As seen, there are multiple blue-grey human figures overlapping each other which conveys the sense of carnival, chaos and sex. De Kooning's use of black outlines depicts the body figures and makes it easier for audience to differ the characters. The faceless figures express that the drunk humans are plunged to their dreamland.

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Afro Emblems

Hale Woodruff, Afro Emblems, 1950

Hale Woodruff's life as an African-American painter during a time of racial tension prevented his works from receiving instant appreciation. The elements of African American culture in his pieces all serve to empower and make viewers embrace their heritage. The fluid strokes and fauvist colors promote the beauty of one's culture. The square shapes and symbols within Afro Emblems are a tribute to African gold weights.

The gold weights are a flashback to Ashanti tribes prospering in a world filled with rich culture and art. Prior to slavery, Africa was filled with beauty and Woodruff's style serves to remind viewers of that golden era.
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Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950

Willem de Kooning often painted just on the edge of a style, making it easy to shift to a new look and experiment with his works. Excavation is a prime example of his experimentation of style. He contrasts the ideas of abstraction and figuration through the use of short jumbled lines and recognizable shapes. While Excavation is more on the abstract side of the spectrum, many objects can be found such as mouths, human noses, and other body parts. 

Excavation takes a turn from the abstract figure painting he was doing at the time. In fact, Excavation was painted the same he started one of his most famous paintings, Woman I.  De Kooning used a technique that many other painters used at the time. The process includes building up layers of paint and then scraping them off to achieve a flat, monotone texture. This technique is an intense and time-consuming process that shows De Kooning's attention to detail even in a painting that can seem hectic. 
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Lee Krasner, Shellflower, 1947


Sadly, Lenore "Lee" Krasner is one of many forgotten female artists of  the 1900s. When Lee Krasner began her career as an artist, many people referred to her solely as Mrs. Jackson Pollock. In the early years of her career, she chose to use oil pastels and charcoal instead of oil paint. Additionally, most of her works were categorized into series' that she painted. However, she did not jump right into abstract expressionism, but instead started off with realism and self-portraits,  and thengradually moving into abstract expressionism. 

This particular piece is part of her "Little Image" series, where she took pieces of her earlier works and combined them into one. Often times when people look at this painting, the first thing that comes to their mind is chaos. The reasoning for this is because there are a plethora of colors and brush strokes going in all directions. 

When I look at this painting, I not only see chaos, but also a reflection of her life. During her time as a young adult, she knew that it would be hard for a woman to become an artist because this is in the midst of The Great Depression, in which wanting becoming an artist presented a surplus of difficulties. Because of this, before her full emersion as an artist, Krasner took jobs as a waitress and model in order to make money. As she got older and time went on, it was not until 1984, the year she died, for her to become truly known as an artist. 

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