East of eden: most likely to secede

the recent death of Jack Levine, at 95 years old, serves as a reminder that the artistic currents and social issues that confronted him and his contemporaries are illuminating in their reflection of  our present condition. It was an  era of painting that transitioned two wars and the total letdown of the much promised “peace dividend” which was bundled into a grab bag of freedom as material consumption. The notion being that a society that consumes, and is relatively sated by it, will be pacified enough not to pose too many questions. Willem de Kooning, Jack Levine and Andrew Wyeth are three examples of contrasting visions that exemplified the range of inspiration during the post-war era. Each one represented a major school or movement in which its painter is a leading figure….

"This is Wyeth’s most famous painting. Christina’s World was done in 1945 and depicts Christina Olson, the painter’s neighbor in Cushing, Maine. Christina was crippled by an illness and couldn’t walk, and she spent much of her time lying in the grassy fields of the farm that surrounded the family’s home. The Olson’s house can be seen in the background of the painting. It’s been restored and is now part of the FarnsworthArt Museum." read more: http://hubpages.com/hub/Andrew-Wyeth

De Kooning was the radical abstract expressionist; Levine the the vein of social realism; Wyeth from an older tradition of meticulous thoughtful representation as a form of magic realism. The labels of emotional, humanistic and reflective/poetic do not really satisfy, but they were marked as such by the art buyers of the time.

Born in Rotterdam in 1904, De Kooning came to America in the 1920′s influenced by the turbulent Vincent van Gogh and the early calm abstractionist Piet Mondrian. Eventually, turbulence won out and immediate emotional responses on canvas aroused reaction that ranged from intense admiration to outright rage, though most critics credited him with great sincerity and earnestness of purpose. For the sheer violence he transmitted to canvas, he knew no peer.. De Kooning described art and the process of art with the following quote: “Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped up in the melodrama of vulgarity”.

Jack Levine, Inauguration. 1958. "In 1959 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. President Eisenhower called his Welcome Home a lampoon. It was the hit of the Moscow Exhibition of American Art. His painting Cain and Abel hangs in the Vatican. The pope said his work will always be welcome. He was the subject of a 1979 retrospective at New York City's Jewish Museum and continued to work through the 1990s. Levine is survived by his daughter, Susanna Fisher, his son-in-law and two grandchildren. "I am primarily concerned with the condition of man," he said in 1952. "The satirical direction I have chosen is an indication of my disappointment in man, which is the opposite of saying that I have high expectations for the human race." Levine will be remembered for his beautifully rendered depictions of life in 20th century America." Read More: http://www.artlyst.com/articles/jack-levine-social-realist-painter-dies

Paintings like Levine’s “Inauguration” on the other hand, represented something the viewer could identify with, though only obliquely. It might be said to represent the general spirit and mood of American political life at a typical ceremonial moment. Levine, born in South Boston in 1915, was raised with early memories of slum life and then was swept up in the wave of social protest that marked the 1930′s. As an aspiring painter he was first influenced by the modern Frenchmen Soutine and Rouault. As a critic, Levine turned to satire and sermon.

---Kooning. Untitled, 1947 Oil on paper 20 x 16 inches Private collection. read more: http://www.starr-art.com/exhibits/deKooning_Women/index.html

In his critical approach and his concern with the ways of human society, Levine was rooted from a broad tradition that first flowered with the so-called Ashcan School of American realists soon after the turn of the century. In the 1930′s, a second generation that brought forth new lights such as Ben Shahn and Philip Evergood added political fervor and sometimes even revolutionary dynamite to the mixture- as well as a sharper, harsher, more personal style of painting.

Wyeth. Winter. 1945. ---One mark of Mr. Wyeth's special status is how often he was summoned to the White House. He was the first artist to receive the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1963. President Nixon held an exhibition of his paintings and dinner in his honor in 1970. In 1990, he was the first artist to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. President George H.W. Bush, presenting the award, said that Mr. Wyeth's work "caught the heart of America." Yet Mr. Wyeth's popularity never translated into critical acclaim. Although rarely dismissed outright, Mr. Wyeth was seen as a peripheral figure, at best, and an artistic anachronism. -- Mr. Wyeth once described his approach to art as "seeing a lot in nothing." There is a sense of almost palpable restraint to his work, of a sought-after narrowing of visual possibility. --- read more: http://www.estatevaults.com/lm/archives/2009/01/17/andrew_wyeth_ri.html

With Andrew Wyeth, we go back to an even older tradition and one that many at the time pronounced dead. Born in 1917, the son of illustrator N.C. Wyeth, he was trained by his father in the craft of meticulous representation that had made the Wyeth name famous. But something more went into the homegrown young student than just that. Before his fathers time, American painters like Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer had painted from nature in a way that combines precision with depth of portrayal and a sense of brooding atmosphere. Much of this somber poetry reappears in the work of the second Wyeth, who painted homely and familiar scenes that had undertones that brought intimations of wider meanings.

---De Kooning famously said, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented,” and although he often worked in an abstract style he continually returned to the figure. Woman, I took an un

lly long time to complete. De Kooning made numerous preliminary studies then repainted the canvas repeatedly, eventually arriving at this hulking, wild-eyed figure of a woman. An amalgam of female archetypes, from a Paleolithic fertility goddess to a 1950s pinup girl, her threatening gaze and ferocious grin are heightened by de Kooning’s aggressive brushwork and intensely colored palette.---Read More:http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79810






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