Marcia Hafif (1929 – 2018) made this painting in Italy, where she lived for nearly eight years in the 1960s between college and graduate school. Her works from this period feature certain abstract forms that elude to landscapes, music or the body. For example, she characterized the hill-like curve — which here appears twice and inverted — as “a compact shape, archetypal, referring to the cave, the house, the home, safety, endurance, intensity.” Hafif embraced an open-ended approach to abstraction that was grounded in observing the world, and the nature of painting itself.
In Triumph of Bacchus (1964), Bob Thompson borrowed compositional elements from Renaissance depictions of the Roman god of wine. He rejected descriptive clarity, however, substituting vividly-hued arrangement in which the figures’ identities are left open-ended. In reimagining these historical sources, Thompson painted in a manner akin to jazz musicians’ innovations, where improvisation was based on a thorough understanding of preexisting styles. Saxophonist Steve Lacy, a friend of Thompson’s, referred to the artist as “jazz himself,” explaining that “the way he painted was like jazz — taking liberties with colors.”
For more than sixty years, Alex Katz has created paintings distinguished by their bold colors, sharp outlines, and subjects taken from his daily life. By simplifying facial features and using flat, unmixed colors in works such as Edwin, Blue Series (1965), Katz emphasizes the form of the painting above its content. Here, he has cropped the left side of the body, asserting the figure as a subject of abstraction. The painting depicts Edwin Denby, a modernist poet and dance critic as well as a close friend of artists including Katz, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and Franz Kline. Katz credits Denby for his appreciation of abstraction. Refusing to reveal his subjects’ personalities or interior life, Katz’s paintings focus instead on technique and visual invention.
In Orange Mood (1966), Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011) thinned acrylic paint to the consistency of watercolor in order to create larger, curving expanses of color through which the weave of the canvas remains visible. Like Jackson Pollack, she placed her canvas directly on the floor and poured paint from above, largely without the aid of a brush. Frankenthaler used color as her painterly language, but she never entirely abandoned representation. Although the references can be subtle, her paintings consistently evoke nature. The undulating forms in Orange Mood relate to a simplified landscape, with zones of color recalling different emotional states. Hue and shape convey place and feeling. “I think of my pictures as explosive landscapes, worlds and distances, held on a flat surface,” Frankenthaler once stated.
Photographed as Part of The Exhibit Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, On View Through August 2019 at the Whitney Museum in NYC.
Alvin Loving (1935 – 2005) once described geometric shape as “a sort of mundane form that could be very, very dull unless a great deal was done with it.” For him, however, geometry ultimately became an arena in which to develop a dramatic color sensibility. Juxtaposing neon-bright pigments, in Septehedron 34 (1970) he created the illusion that the painting’s forms recede or advance relative to one another. At the same time, his use of geometric forms emphasized the flat surface of the canvas, from which a tension emerges between real and imagined space. Also notable for its visible brush stocks, Loving’s shaped canvas takes up the challenge of making all seven sides of a heptahedron visible at once.
In 1969, Alvin Loving became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, On View Through August 31st, 2019 at the Whitney Museum in NYC.