With no formal artistic training, Richard Pousette-Dart borrowed from the early efforts of the Abstract Expressionists during the 1940s and soon developed a painting technique that focused on the artist’s direct experience with materials and discouraged the use of preparatory sketches. The artist incorporated substances, such as sand, razor blades, and sandpaper, to alter the surface texture of his works and create visual radiance. A focus on the complexities of paint surfaces and a highly developed sense of color harmonies are hallmarks of his style. In Blue Presence the artist uses a Pointillist method of applying small dabs of color to interplay textures and light-generating color fields. The dominant circular image appears to be radiating outward as if it were a cosmic event while particles of paint decrease slightly in size toward the center of the canvas.
Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles, the son of a Japanese poet, Yonejiro Noguchi, and American writer, Leonie Gilmour. He spent his childhood in Japan returning to the United States after World War I. He studied art at Columbia University and the Leonardo da Vinci School. A Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to become an assistant to Constantin Brancusi in Paris. He traveled widely and was influenced by the artistic heritages of East and West. The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, New York, is a tribute to his sculptural talents.
The Balance Stone was carved in Mure, Japan, from basalt, a volcanic rock, which forms the geologic foundation of Japan itself, and highly polished granite. The timbers were originally part of a Japanese temple. This sculpture balances a tension of opposites: the organic and the geometric, the ancient and the modern, and the hand and the machine.
California painter and printmaker Sam Francis earned degrees in art and art history, from the University of California at Berkeley, B.A. (1949) and M.A. (1950). While influenced by Abstract Expressionists Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock, he remained wary of being closely tied to any art movement. However, like the Abstract Expressionists, Francis found expression through the use of color and form in non-objective paintings. While Yielding’s dripping, corpuscular shapes painted in a fluid, free-form style are typical of his work; they contradict the artist’s systematic painting methods and concern with the problem of reconciling structure and spontaneity in painting.
Born in Aberdeen, Washington, painter and writer Robert Motherwell studied at Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia Universities. He was strongly influenced by French Symbolist poetry and Spanish culture. The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) had a profound effect on the artist, and he spent many years on the series of more than one hundred Elegies to the Spanish Republic. An “elegy” is an expression of sorrow for the dead. A later abstract work, Elegy with Opening—an expression of the conflict and tension between life and death—was painted in the last decade of the artist’s life.
Photographic portraits, even simple family snapshots, normally capture their subjects at a specific point in time. In Laneisha II, Dawoud Bey offers us a more complicated view of his teenage subject by combining six large-scale photo prints taken at different moments in time and from slightly different vantage points. The resulting portrait, composed of imperfectly matched, fragmented views, underscores that Laneisha, the person, is a complex, evolving individual. She truly is more than the sum of her image’s parts.
Bey photographed Laneisha in 1996 while he was an artist-in-residence at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. It has been suggested that the young woman had just been told she was pregnant shortly before she was photographed.
“I am mindful that portraiture has been a way for a select group of people—the gentrified class—to perpetuate their images. …I like to bring the same attention to ordinary people, and people of color.” – Dawoud Bey
What do you think of these different artists’ approaches? Do you have a favorite among them? Or do you prefer different artworks in the NBMAA’s collection? All of the above were created within 30 years of each other. Can you see any connections? Who is your favorite artist from this time period?