New YorkLyrical Abstraction - A Group Exhibition
Findlay Galleries presents the group exhibition, Lyrical Abstraction, showcasing works by Mary Abbott, Norman Bluhm, James Brooks, John Ferren, Gordon Onslow Ford, Paul Jenkins, Ronnie Landfield, Frank Lobdell, Emily Mason, Irene Rice Pereira, Robert Richenburg, and Vivian Springford.
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The Lyrical Abstraction movement emerged in America during the 1960s and 1970s in response to the growth of Minimalism and Conceptual art. Larry Aldrich, founder of the Aldrich Museum, first coined the term Lyrical Abstraction and staged its first exhibition in 1971 at The Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibition featured works by artists such as Dan Christensen, Ronnie Landfield, and William Pettet. David Shirey, a New York Times critic who reviewed the exhibition, said, “[Lyrical Abstraction] is not interested in fundamentals and forces. It takes them as a means to an end. That end is beauty…”
Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Mark Rothko’s stained color forms provided important precedence for the movement in which artists adopted a more painterly approach with rich colors and fluid composition. Ronnie Landfield, an artist at the forefront of Lyrical Abstraction calls it “a new sensibility,” stating:
…[Lyrical Abstraction] was painterly, additive, combined different styles, was spiritual, and expressed deep human values. Artists in their studios knew that reduction was no longer necessary for advanced art and that style did not necessarily determine quality or meaning. Lyrical Abstraction was painterly, loose, expressive, ambiguous, landscape-oriented, and generally everything that Minimal Art and Greenbergian Formalism of the mid-sixties were not.
Building on Aldrich’s concept of Lyrical Abstractions, Findlay Galleries’ exhibition expands the definition to include artists such as John Ferren, Robert Richenburg and Frank Lobdell. These artists are included because certain aspects of their work evince qualities associated with Lyrical Abstraction.
In the decades since Aldrich’s exhibition, Lyrical Abstraction has often been overlooked. It is our hope that this exhibition will bring further recognition to the movement while providing an opportunity to understand each artist’s unique contribution and interpretation of the new aesthetic.
(1921 – 2019)
Mary Abbott was born in New York City. Among the early exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Abbott created powerful oil paintings in which she combined spontaneous, gestural brushwork with a highly creative use of color. Lauded for her energy and vital feeling of immediacy, Abbott’s work reflects her desire to translate sensations into paint.
In New York in the early 1940s Mary’s early interest in art led her to courses at the Art Students League where she worked with painters such as George Grosz. She lived mainly in New York but spent time in Washington where she studied with Eugene Weiss from the Corcoran Museum School. In the early 1940s Mary also worked as a model and appeared on the covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1948, she met the sculptor David Hare, who introduced her to an experimental school called The Subject of the Artist. Through these associations Abbott moved into the heart of the New York avant-garde. In the early 1950’s Mary spent time with her second husband Tom Clyde in the Virgin Islands, where she produced a great deal of work. The two then moved to Southampton, New York.
Back in New York City, Mary became a member of the Artist’s Club, where she was one of three female members along with Perle Fine and Elaine de Kooning. she was deeply inspired by Newman and Rothko who, as she recalled, “taught us to draw imagination.” She subsequently abandoned her interest in recognizable subject matter and the art of the School of Paris in favor of abstraction. Her concern for intuitive painting was further enhanced in 1948 or 1949, when Abbott met the Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning, with whom she enjoyed a lengthy personal and professional relationship. In the early 1950s Mary began to exhibit extensively with shows at Kootz, Tibor de Nagy and Tanager. She was also in three of the famous Stable Gallery Annuals.
In the 1970s Abbott taught at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis but eventually returned to New York. Still enjoying painting, Abbott said, “I like the process of painting. The intensity of Living Nature through myself-using the medium, paint, color and line defining the poetry of living space; that is my aim, life and work.”
(1921 – 1999)
Norman Bluhm embraced abstraction and propelled it forward, blending figurative elements, eroticism and calligraphic agility to arrive at a sensibility all his own. Bluhm’s work was informed less by movements and orthodoxies than by his own exceptional biography and his rich knowledge of, and respect for, the history of art. He was able to move his art forward while being a stalwart steward of its past. Bluhm was justifiably secure enough in his talent and training to honor Europe and the history of art without compromising his identity as an American painter.
Born in Chicago’s South Side Bluhm initially studied the Bauhaus approach to architecture while also spending his spare time learning to fly. After the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, Bluhm became a B-Pilot and flew 44 missions over North Africa and Europe before getting wounded and sent home. After the war he decided to discard his career as an architect and moved to Paris where he attended art classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére and Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1956, he returned to New York and began a lifelong successful career as an Abstract Expressionist painter. He was part of a vibrant and glamorous “movement”, socializing with a handful of art-world titans and collaborating with the curator and poet Frank O’Hara to create a legendary collection of “Poem Paintings.” An important figure in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, Bluhm enjoyed substantial critical success during his lifetime. His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art. However, he found greater solace in painting than in fame or academic theorizing about art. Gradually he moved farther and farther from New York, eventually settling in a still corner of rural Vermont. Bluhm was enthralled with painting itself not fame or public relations. For him the studio was the center of the art universe and whether in Paris, New York, or Vermont he allowed himself to be led by its constant demands.
(1906 – 1992)
James Brooks was a leading member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, working with artists such as Pollock, Lee Krasner, Philip Guston and Bradley Walker Tomlin.
Born in St. Louis Missouri in 1906, Brooks moved around frequently as a child, settling in New York City in 1926. There, he worked as a commercial artist to fund his night classes with Boardman Robinson and Kimon Nicolaides at the Art Students League. Brooks began exhibiting paintings and prints in a social realist style in various group shows around New York in the early 1930s. He executed three murals for the WPA Federal Art Project between 1936 and 1942, during which time he met the painters Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston. His best-known mural, Flight, runs 235 feet around the rotunda of the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport in Queens.
In the summer of 1948, his style shifted, after being inspired by the backs of canvases, and the random happenings and shapes that occurred when he glued paintings on with black paste. His first solo exhibition at Peridot Gallery in New York, featured this type of work – with drips and stains and a more fluid abstract sensibility than his earlier Braque and Picasso inspired pieces. These expansive pieces seem to defy gravity, evoking a sense of bodies floating in space or fluid. His use of black creates a ground upon which these forms move and surge and speak to one another.
Because of his service in the armed forces, he was unable to participate in Peggy Gugggnheim’s ‘Art of This Century Gallery’ exhibitions, but nevertheless, he was considered by all to be a member of the first generation Abstract Expressionists. He was a part of the infamous, artist-organized Ninth Street Exhibition in 1951, which included work from Pollock, Motherwell, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning.
Although he distanced himself from the Abstract Expressionist movement in the latter half of his career, Brooks remained tied to its understanding of painting as a process of self-discovery. He explained that
“[a painting] has a life of its own…it also is an invigorating thing in the life of the painter, for when it supersedes him or his thought, it leads him to new places that he attaches to the painting but actually is himself that he never knew before.”
(1905 – 1970)
John Ferren was born in Pendleton, Oregon, 1905. At the age of twenty, he apprenticed with an Italian stonecutter in San Francisco. Ferren’s early experiences with stonecutting influenced his style, particularly evident in the sculptural quality of his paintings, achieved through flat backgrounds and curving planes. Though Ferren was known later in his career as an intellectual among his peers, he avoided academe and formal art institutions, preferring to develop his own artistic style and theories that were nourished by his adventurous lifestyle and curious mind. Going to Europe in 1929, he attended the Sorbonne in Paris and also studied briefly at the Universita degli Studi in Florence and the Universidad de Salamanca. His travels in Europe exposed him to the modern art movements of the early 20th century, such as cubism, surrealism, and expressionism. In 1930 Ferren returned to San Francisco for his debut solo exhibition at the Art Center; however, the lack of energy and artistic stimulation on the west coast at that time led Ferren to return to Paris in 1931
In Paris Ferren was introduced to William Stanley Hayter’s Parisian Atelier 17, where some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, such as Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and Marcel Duchamp participated in experimental workshops. Like them, Ferren explored Hayter’s revolutionary theories on “the nature of space in a linear world,” inquiries that transformed Ferren’s style. He rediscovered sculpture and developed a new technique for creating relief sculptures, through pouring plaster into lines etched in a metal etching plate. The graceful lines he had etched were revealed on the plaster surface, creating a rhythmic composition. These reliefs were among Ferren’s most successful works.
Ferren returned to the United States in 1938, settling in New York. He established himself in New York’s art community by becoming a member (and later president) of The Club, an informal group of artists who represented the social and intellectual center of abstract expressionism in New York. Always exploring new forms of art, in the late 1950s Ferren collaborated with film director Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he served as artistic consultant for the films The Trouble with Harry (1955) and Vertigo (1958). Ferren remained active in the art world until his death in 1970.
Findlay Galleries has been the exclusive representative of the Ferren estate since 2011.
(1912 – 2003)
Gordon Onslow Ford was born on December 26, 1912, in Wendover, England. While the artist did not receive formal training, his grandfather Edward Onslow Ford was a well-known sculptor and his uncle Rudolph Onslow Ford served as his first painting teacher. Onslow Ford’s oeuvre spans more than sixty years, during which he explored an interest in automatism in both Surrealist and completely abstract compositions, often using elements of the cosmos and natural world as metaphors for the life of the mind.
As a young man, Onslow Ford attended the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (1922). He served in the navy in the early 1930s, leaving in 1937 to pursue a career as an artist. He traveled first to Paris, where he briefly studied with Fernand Léger and met the Surrealist artist Matta. In the summer of 1938, Onslow Ford and Matta developed an artistic partnership in Brittany, painting together and refining their automatic processes. As part of his ongoing search for methods of making spontaneous imagery, in 1939 Onslow Ford invented coulage (the term based on couler, meaning “to flow” in French), a technique that anticipated the work of Hans Hofmann and Jackson Pollock. In works such as Without Bounds, (1939), Onslow Ford poured enamel directly onto the canvas, moving it around so that dried deposits made forms on a grid superimposed onto the canvas support. He also joined the Parisian Surrealist group in 1939, and through his influence and that of Matta, the Surrealist circle became increasingly interested in an abstract visual lexicon linked to metaphysics and mystical philosophy.
In 1947 Onslow Ford moved to San Francisco; he formed the Dynaton artists’ group with Matta, Sybil Moholy-Nagy, and Paalen, and they exhibited together at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The Dynaton artists described their artworks as objects for meditation. In Onslow Ford’s paintings of this period, he eradicated the landscape but retained elements of the natural world and dynamism suggestive of flora, fecundity, and weather. Onslow Ford’s interest in spontaneous painting processes increased, and by 1958 he was using a quick-drying paint to develop a form of action painting: he dotted the canvas with a brush and made loose, calligraphic circles, replacing his earlier grids with fluid composition. He continued to paint through 2002, often making outer space-themed pictures that demonstrate his interest in abstract forms and lines.
Onslow Ford’s work was featured world renowned art institutions such as the San Francisco Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Grand Palais, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Guggenheim Museum, New York and many more
(1923 – 2012)
Paul Jenkins was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923. As a teenager he worked in a ceramics factory which inspired him to explore his studies in drawing and painting at the city Art Institute. An artist of the Abstract Expressionism. Paul Jenkins, an artist originally associated with abstract expressionism, which exhibits in his works redefining color, light and space. He later moved to New York City, to pursue his passion for art and studied at the Art Students Lounge. Morris Kantor & Yasuo Kuniyoshi became his influential instructors. A year later after moving to Paris, he had his first solo show.
Jenkins explored with different techniques with flowing paints, pigments and thicknesses and linear overlays. In 1958, Jenkins titled each canvas Phenomena, with additional identifying words. He believed the work should be descriptive of the process in each painting. His works also underwent subtle but definite changes. In the 1960’s a shift of color saturation and exposure of the white areas gave Jenkins’s canvases an enhanced feeling of illumination.
Jenkins’ work can be found in international museums and collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Gallery in London. Thousands of items from the artist’s archives are now at the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
As a young boy, growing up in New York City, Landfield would visit the avant-garde galleries of the time, taking in the Abstract Expressionist works of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, and others.
Landfield studied at many schools and institutions; the Kansas City Art Institute, the San Francisco Art Institute, The Art Students League in New York, the University of California, and the San Francisco Art Institute. Landfield was constantly learning and refining his artist style and quickly gained recognition at a young age. During 1966 and 1968 he began to exhibit his paintings and works on paper in important galleries and museums; one being at the 1967 Whitney Museum of American Art Annual where, at 20 years old, he was one of the youngest artists ever included in the Whitney Museum annuals. In 1966 and 1967, Landfield’s minimal works including The painting The Howl of Terror was included in the 1967 Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annual represented Landfield’s “public break” with Minimal Art, and his move toward Lyrical Abstraction.
During 1968 and 1969, after having created his first abstract landscape painting Heaven and Earth, Landfield exhibited in the inaugural exhibition of the Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as, several group exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Stanford University Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1969 Annual Exhibition amongst other places.
During these years, he found himself experimenting with rollers, staining, hard-edge borders, and painting unstretched on the floor for the first time in which he initially moved away from Minimalism and Hard-edge painting to Lyrical Abstraction. In a reaction to the all-over, process-oriented abstraction of the period, Landfield painted his abstractions from nature, incorporating the horizon as he used random effects of pouring and staining. These abstract landscapes of 1968 and 1969, and what followed, are Landfield’s most original and most important contributions to the history of contemporary painting. In 1969, Landfield held his first one-man exhibition at the David Whitney Gallery in New York City and was awarded a Copley Foundation (Cassandra) Grant for Painting. During the late 1960s through the early 1970s, he was included in important exhibitions all over the country including at the Museum of Modern Art and the first Whitney Biennial in 1973.
Today, Landfield’s work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and other important public institutions. Findlay Galleries proudly represents Ronnie Landfield and his lyrical abstractions of which have become icons of the modernist Color field movement.
(1921 – 2013)
Born on August 23, 1921 in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in Minnesota, Frank Lobdell attended the St. Paul School of Fine Arts in Saint Paul Minnesota from 1939 – 1940. He painted independently in Minneapolis and from 1940 to 1942 and on the brink of war he enlisted in the US Army and served in Europe during World War II from 1942 – 1946. In April of 1945, years after enlisting in the Army, Lieutenant Frank Lobdell confronted the harsh realities of war. The horrific scenes he endured were indelibly seared into Lobdell’s visual memory.
Following the war, he moved to Sausalito, California and experienced a rebirth of his passion for painting. When Frank Lobdell arrived in the San Francisco he soon found himself in the company of a small group of artists fervent in their pursuit of the New American Abstraction. Their center of gravity was the California School of Fine Art now the San Francisco Art Institute. He attended the California School of Fine Arts (1946 – 1949) and in 1950 he left the U.S. for Paris, where he painted and studied at L’Academie de la Grande Chaumière until 1951. After returning to the Bay Area, he taught at CSFA from 1957 to 1964. He was a Visiting Artist at Stanford University and taught as a Professor of Art from 1966 until his retirement in 1991.
But his career rightly begins in the late 1940s with his embrace of Abstract Expressionism, in which he recognized that painting might provide a lifelong arena of individualized inquiry, a place where he could, indeed, be entirely himself. Later phases of his career, particularly the complex body of works that began during the mid 1970s, may be more far-reaching in their significance, but Lobdell was occupied from the start with the ideas that have engaged him throughout his career.
Lobdell’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Petit Palais, the Third Biennial of São Paulo, the Osaka International Festival, Japan, as well as venues in London, Turin, and Eindhoven, including early solo exhibitions in Paris and Geneva. He showed regularly in solo and group exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco throughout the 1950s and 1960s, including at the Walker Art Center, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Pasadena Art Museum and Stanford University Art Museum, and others.
(1932 – 2019)
Emily Mason was born in New York City in 1932. She graduated from New York City’s High School of Music and Art and studied at Bennington College for two years before attending and graduating from the Cooper Union. She spent 1956-58 in Italy on a Fulbright grant for painting, where she studied at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Venice.
During Mason’s two-year stay in Italy she married the painter Wolf Kahn, whom she had met earlier in New York. Mason and Kahn’s daughter, Cecily Kahn, is also an abstract painter, as was Emily Mason’s mother, Alice Trumbull Mason, a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group in New York.
Mason spent more than six decades exploring her distinctive vein of lyrical, luminous abstraction. Her paintings executed in oil are distinguished by a sense of intriguing intimacy combined with uncompromising, though gentle, intensity. They evince a sense of structure within open, luminous space and juxtapose robust color harmonies with vivid contrasts that create an engaging optical vibration. Robert Berlind said of her in Art in America, “Mason works within the improvisational model of Abstract Expressionism, though notably without angst or bravado.”
Mason exhibited steadily throughout her career since she emerged on the Tenth Street gallery scene with multiple exhibitions at the Area Gallery in New York City in the 1960s. In 1979, she was awarded the Ranger Fund Purchase Prize by the National Academy. She taught painting at Hunter College for more than thirty years. Her work has been included in numerous public and private collections.
Emily Mason: The Fifth Element, a comprehensive treatment of her work by Art in America associate managing editor David Ebony, was published in 2006 by George Braziller publishers. A second monograph, Emily Mason: The Light in Spring, was published in 2015 by University Press of New England.
(1902 – 1971)
Born Irene Rice, she took the name of her first husband, the commercial artist Umberto Pereira. By the time war broke out Irene had divorced Pereira and married George Wellington Brown, a marine engineer from a prominent Boston family. Brown was an ingenious experimenter with materials, and he encouraged his petite new wife in their mutual passion for experimentation. Pereira in the 1930s was drawn to ships, not only because of George Brown, but because of their intricate machinery, their functional beauty. The inside-out infrastructure of the Pompidou museum in Paris amused Pereira, although she thought it art-historically tardy.
Pereira visited Morocco briefly in the mid-1930s. The desert changed her life, filling her mind with pure light and purer forms, and had a crucial impact on her work when she returned to the United States to help found the Works Progress Administration Design Laboratory. The interactions of light and shadow among the dunes, playing in and around the intrinsically Cubist architecture of the Magreb, instilled in her a lifelong concern with optics, the way the mind perceives light and interacts with paintings.
Irene Rice Pereira was a lovely, fragile being. Her presence was hushed. She spoke almost in a whisper and listened far more than she spoke. She was a prodigious autodidact and a spellbinding lecturer. The main body of her metaphysical library today resides in the Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Her papers and the manuscript for her still unpublished book, Eastward Journey, are available to scholars in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard.
Pereira won recognition for her abstract geometric work, particularly her jewel-like works on fluted and coruscated layers of glass, throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. In 1953 the Whitney Museum, then in Greenwich Village, gave her a retrospective exhibition with Loren MacIver, and that same year Life magazine published a centerfold photo examination of her work.
(1917 – 2006)
Robert Richenburg (July 14, 1917 – October 10, 2006 in East Hampton, New York) was an abstract expressionist artist based in New York City, whose paintings were widely acclaimed in the 1950s and 1960s. While a student of Hans Hofmann, Richenburg exhibited at the Museum of Non- Objective Painting (later the Guggenheim) in 1950. The following year, he participated in the historic Ninth Street Art Exhibition, and subsequently taught at Pratt Institute along with Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, Jack Tworkov, Philip Guston, Milton Resnick and Tony Smith. By 1961, critic Irving Sandler declared that “Richenburg emerges as one of the most forceful painters on the New York Art Scene.” The Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others, purchased his work.
Richenburg’s work as a painter followed training in his teens at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, art history studies at George Washington University (without graduating), courses at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and at the Art Students’ League in New York, and service in World War II as a combat engineer dealing with explosives, mines and booby traps. Within five years of his return to the States, Richenburg had studied with Amédée Ozenfant and Hans Hofmann, lived for a year in Provincetown, Massachusetts—where he then began spending summers—joined the Artists’ Club in New York, and exhibited at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting and the Provincetown Art Association. In 1951 he began a long-term teaching position at the Pratt Institute, and Leo Castelli selected one of his works for the historic Ninth Street Show. Thus began a career in which Richenburg’s paintings were widely exhibited and reviewed, and purchased by major collectors (Walter Chrysler, Joseph Hirshhorn) and museums (the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art)
Findlay Galleries has been the exclusive representative of the Richenburg estate since 2001.
(1914 – 2003)
Vivian Springford, an artist best known for her vivid stained color field paintings, is having a resurgence. The reclusive painter began as a portraitist, but then evolved under the influence of the New York School. She was a close friend and studio-mate to Asian artist Walasse Ting. Through Ting, Springford became close friends with artists such as Pierre Alechinsky, Sam Francis, and Karel Appel. The confluence of these various inspirations is apparent in her work. Ting introduced her to Asian art and philosophy, which had an enormous influence on Springford. Springford’s early “black paintings” have a strong calligraphic influence. Visually different but philosophically similar, Springford’s gesture and flow matured into her later colorful work.
Springford’s stain paintings are expansive, and often seem to blossom out from one central point on the canvas, radiating into translucence. Their scale is ambiguous; they feel both cosmic and microscopic. The varying densities of color make them feel as if they are pushing outward and evolving even as you stand in front of them. Springford’s layers and structures are light and ethereal, but are also grounded in the physical patterns of the universe or the human body. Her technique and color create depth without weight. There is a quiet dynamism in Springford’s work that is undeniable.
Springford was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended the Spence School in New York City. Her artistic education came predominantly from the Art Students League. The infamous art critic Harold Rosenberg helped Springford get her first show in 1960 at the Great Jones Gallery in New York.
After the 1960s, Springford became quite private with her work, and only participated in a few group exhibitions, despite her prior success. Living in a small New York midtown hotel, she was rediscovered when a social worker introduced her body of work to a New York art gallery owner, who began exhibiting her paintings in 1998.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)