The Umber Paintings Revisits the Brilliance of Lee Krasner

Lee Krasner Exhibition
Installation View. Photo by Diego Flores/Paul Kasmin Gallery.

The Umber Paintings: 1959-62 is the latest exhibition on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery featuring the work of the prolific artist Lee Krasner. Made between 1959-62, the show explores some of the most important paintings Krasner would produce during her celebrated career. The paintings created during this period were heavily influenced by the loss of her husband, Jackson Pollock and other events occurring in the Krasner’s life at the time.

Following Pollock’s death, Krasner moved into his studio in East Hampton, Long Island. This transition was significant because it was the first time Krasner had the space to experiment with large canvases. This new-found freedom allowed Krasner to start working in more gestural, and formative ways that would come to define her work. The paintings made during this period were done in a muted umber, cream and white palette. Through her minimal use of color, this allowed for more emphasis to be put on the brushwork. Creating biomorphic, abstract strokes, which at times seem to leap from the canvas marked a new stage within her artistic practice.

Lee Krasner Exhibition
Installation View. Photo by Diego Flores/Paul Kasmin Gallery.

The three-year period in which Krasner was working marks some of the most significant paintings that would come out of her career. The works featured in The Umber Paintings showcase the personal growth of Krasner as an artist and are emblematic of the kind of mark she would have on the Abstract Expressionist movement. The canvases seem to come alive through her explosive brushwork and minimal use of color. Krasner’s sense of composition also comes through in how she works the canvas with color gradations and brushstrokes that seem to leap out of the edges of the paintings.

Lee Krasner Exhibition
Installation View. Photo by Diego Flores/Paul Kasmin Gallery.

The Umber Paintings helped to channel the raw emotion the artist was experience during this time but also marked a new path in Krasner’s career. Within the 1960 painting, Fecundity, there is an intensity that radiates from the canvas. There is a cluster of circular images that starts in the top right of the painting that is congested and becomes more fluid as it spreads out. The gestural strokes seem to create forms that are reminiscent of bodies. There is a vibrancy that comes from the work despite the muted natural tones that are being used.

In another painting titled, Assault on Solar Plexus, from 1961, there is a similar complexity that is captured. Circular brushstrokes take over the canvas and cascade throughout its borders. The same browns, earth tones and whites create a reserved sense of chaos. The bottom of the piece opens up which is apparent from the color scheme and the use of white. The lines, circular motions, arches and dips created in the limited colors makes the viewer’s eye move throughout the painting. Krasner’s signature brushstrokes and color patterns have made her work recognizable and distinct from other painter’s over the years as well.

Lee Krasner Exhibition
Installation View. Photo by Diego Flores/Paul Kasmin Gallery.

There is a bigger sense of the complexities of Krasner’s approach through the way she attacks the canvas. There is a dizzying sense of her brushwork as well as the vibrancy and differentiates in color she is able to accomplish through various methods she is employing within the application of color.

Krasner is arguably one of the most important female painters to emerge in the 20th century. Her influence on the Abstract Expressionist Movement is undeniable and she helped to pave the way for herself and other female artists of the time within painting and beyond. This topic was also the subject of the 2017 MoMA exhibit, Making Space, that featured the work of various prominent female artists spanning from the end of WWII up the late 1960s and explored their contributions to the art world.

This year resulted in several exhibitions of the artist’s work at several galleries and museums, including the Brooklyn Museum and MoMA. Due to the increased interest in the artist’s work, there will also be a retrospective of the Krasner’s work in London in 2019. Following the retrospective in London, the show will then travel on to various cities in Europe. Krasner’s influence within the art world is undeniable, and the show at Paul Kasmin Gallery is evident of both her talent and the deeply complex nature of her work.

The exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery will be on view until January 18, 2018.

 

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About the Author:

Anni Irish has been a contributing writer to several online publications including Boston based publication, The Dig, New York Arts Magazine, and ArteFuse among others. She holds a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, an MA in Gender and Cultural Studies from Simmons College, and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University.