Socialist Worker

Sweeping Lee Krasner retrospective

by Mary Brodbin
Issue No. 2659

A section of Shattered Colour, 1947

A section of Shattered Colour, 1947


This is an amazing and long-overdue opportunity to see the work of Lee Krasner, a formidable American artist whose importance has often been forgotten.

Krasner was a gutsy, feisty artist who was not afraid to follow her own path. Born in 1908 to a working class orthodox Jewish Russian family in Brooklyn she picked an unconventional path when she decided aged just 14 that she wanted to be an artist.

Living Colour is a major retrospective of nearly 100 pieces from the span of her 50-year career.

Early works include Little Images. In a state of “controlled chaos’, as she put it, Krasner painted tiny white-lined grids.

Some of these contained geometric symbols, some strangely reminiscent of liquorice allsorts—others a flurry of brightly coloured crescents.

In contrast, Krasner’s Prophecy is dominated by looping, raw-pink fleshy forms, resembling tumbling limbs.

She knew that something different was happening on that canvas and it alarmed her.

She told her husband Jackson Pollock to come and look at it. She recounted that “he said do this and that and I said no. That was my last communication with him before he died.”

His death that year in a car crash inspired Krasner to complete the painting and her creative confidence was unleashed.

During a spell of severe insomnia she began working at night using only umber and white, since she hated working with colour under artificial light.

And the first picture that hits you as you enter the exhibition is the 14-foot Polar Stampede.

Pulsating

To see it in the flesh is transfixing—a huge pulsating cushion, painted in swooping feathery strokes.

I would go to the exhibition for this painting alone.

From the mid 1960s Krasner allowed colour to burst back into her painting.

She shifted to more hard-edged abstract forms, using reds and her favourite pink fuchsia.

Krasner acknowledged that, in some respects, the lack of attention paid to her own work had been a “blessing”.

Free from so much critical pressure, she produced work she felt compelled to make without a coterie of controlling dealers or collectors trying to influence her.

Her freewheeling works are a joy to see.


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