The route of this exhibition is slightly disorienting, tiny signs show you the way, and the stewards, who are usually quite pro-active in directing the visitors, this time only tell you if you ask. The show starts upstairs, clockwise, and continues downstairs, anti-clockwise. The first room seems to begin the tour in ‘mid-sentence’, and makes you ask once more if you are in the right place. But you are. ‘Little Images’ is really the first room. And there is a reason for it.
We land into Lee Krasner’s world in 1945, when she had married Jackson Pollock, and they moved to a run-down farmhouse in Springs, Long Island, borrowing a sum of money from collector and dealer Peggy Guggenheim. Krasner worked in make-shift studio spaces – an upstairs bedroom and the living room – while her husband built his studio in a converted barn outside. The exhibition designer of Living Colour, David Chipperfield Architects, wanted to mirror the small domestic spaces of Krasner’s early work in the upstairs gallery, and, following Krasner’s life iter, we descend into the larger downstairs spaces after Pollock’s death, when she made the brave decision to face the trauma, take over his barn, and experiment with bigger scale works and a different range of emotions.
We learn about Krasner’s early life, family and studies only later, in the room Becoming Lee, but it is an interesting exercise to see how much we can evince from room one. Following her father’s death, Krasner had an artistic impasse in which she could only paint ‘grey slabs’, as she called them. But in Springs, surrounded by nature, she began work on her ‘Little Images’, vibrant abstractions, gestural yet structured, in which our eyes can see jewels, or miniatures, or even a language, an alphabet. A sense of collage, layers, geometry and freedom, interpretation of subconscious messages, ripped and rebuilt, is clearly present in these works, and the mosaic table, made with an old wagon wheel, broken tesserae, custom jewellery, keys, coins, etc. We form a picture of a free-spirit, a wise poet or a flooring philosopher. Most of these works are untitled, or have a vague title, like Abstract No 2, giving them both a sense of impermanence and respect for their own independence.
Every room, upstairs and downstairs, has its own magic, but some of the works are particularly powerful, for instance the life drawings influenced by Cubism, the collages formed with ripped up, discarded, work by her and Pollock, the disturbing room with Prophecy and other paintings of fleshy forms, that seemed to foresee Pollock’s violent death, and the series ‘Night Journeys’, her first very large works, created in the barn at night, during a long spell of insomnia – in white and umber, because she hated using colour under artificial light.
Spend some time watching the video interview in the last room, to learn more about this ebullient artist and strong character, facing the male-dominated world of art, as wife and then widow of an internationally famous painter, yet a ground breaking and powerful artist in her own right, whose importance has often been overshadowed by her husband’s.
Living Colour features nearly 100 works – many on show in the UK for the first time, and is the first retrospective in Europe for over 50 years of Lee Krasner (Brooklyn 1908 – New York 1984), one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. The works are loans from more than 50 international collections, including museums and private collections. The free gallery guide is particularly extensive and informative.
First published in the East Finchley Open Artists June 2019 Newsletter - Click HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.