Artist of the Month

August 2020

LEE  KRASNER 

(1908-1984)

Palingenesis, 1971 Lee Krasner, ©Pollock-Krasner Foundation

Throughout her creative life Lee Krasner, like many women artists, was ignored by art critics, galleries, and most histories of abstract impressionism. 

 

Women artists of the 1940s and 50s were trapped in a sort of cultural apartheid; the ruling assumptions about the inherent weakness and ‘silly femininity’ of women painters was almost unbelievably phallocentric.

 

Lee Krasner's huge contribution to abstract expressionism was overshadowed for years by the work of her husband, Jackson Pollock. Her body of work is hard evidence of her imagination, abilities, and significance as an outstanding artist who never stood still in her approach to painting.

About Lee Krasner

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Krasner pursued formal art training at several New York City institutions and also studied with the influential German abstract painter Hans Hofmann. Like many of her generation, Krasner supported herself in the 1930s by working for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project - a public art project.  Her position with the Mural Division provided her with valuable experience working on a large scale. She was also an active member of the Artists Union and American Abstract Artists.

 

Krasner married Jackson Pollock in 1945. Krasner was actually an established abstract artist well before she met him. She introduced Pollock to the artist Willem de Kooning and critic Clement Greenberg.

 

When Pollock died in a car crash in 1956, Krasner devoted the rest of her life to promoting Pollock’s art and ensuring his legacy, while also continuing her own exploration of abstraction.

 

 In 1978 Krasner was finally accorded her place alongside Pollock, Rothko, and the others in the exhibition Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years. The last decade of her life also brought numerous honours, awards, and publications.

A major exhibition of her work was held in London in 2019.

The Springs, 1964, Lee Krasner. ©Pollock-Krasner Foundation

The title of The Springs refers to the town on Long Island where Krasner lived and worked. After Krasner’s death, the house became The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. 

In The Springs, she combined the vocabulary of circles, ovals, and chevron shapes that she first developed in her “Little Image” paintings of the 1940s with the daubs and splashes of paint that characterise her 1950s canvases. None were more than 3ft wide.  Thickly painted these works are today considered among her most significant contributions to Abstract Expressionism.

 

Signing much of her work as “LK” or not at all, Krasner attempted to escape presumptions about sexism in the work of “women artists” and her ties to Pollock. In attempting to avoid identity politics, Krasner navigated her roles as a woman, wife, and artist.

 

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism was born from the common experience of artists living in 1940s New York. Two World Wars, the Great Depression, atomic devastation and an ensuing Cold War prompted early works reflecting the darkness of these times, and fed into the movement’s concerns with contemplation, expression and freedom.

Mark Rothko, Jason Pollock,  Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner were among its leading exponents.

Often monumental in scale, their works are at times intense, spontaneous and deeply expressive. At others they are more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour that border on the sublime. These radical creations redefined the nature of painting, and were intended not simply to be admired from a distance but as two-way emotional encounters between artist and viewer.

For an introductory talk about Abstract Expressionism by Eleanor Nairne, Curator of Lee Krasner Exhibition at the Barbican, London hit the link. https://henitalks.com/talks/abstract-expressionism/

Milkweed, 1955 Lee Krasner. ©Pollock-Krasner Foundation

Between 1953 and 1955, Krasner moved toward a collage style, creating new works by cutting apart discarded canvas of her own and Pollock’s, pasting the pieces on large colour field paintings previously exhibited at a New York gallery. Influenced by Matisse, Milkweed (1955) -see above-  is a stunning example.

Online Gallery of Lee Krasner's Art

All images © Pollock - Krasner Foundation