Fig­u­ra­tive Pioneers

David Park and Mil­ton Avery are the sub­ject of a new exhibition at Hackett Mill

American Fine Art Magazine - - My View -

David Park and Mil­ton Avery are the sub­ject of a new exhibition at Hackett Mill

David Park and Mil­ton Avery, the first exhibition to pair two of the 20th cen­tury’s most in­flu­en­tial fig­u­ra­tive pain­ters, is a thought-pro­vok­ing and re­veal­ing ex­po­si­tion of two mid­cen­tury artists who re­sisted the ob­jec­tive ab­strac­tion of their time yet re­fined it for their own ends. It con­tains their paint­ings from the 1930s to the 1960s. Fran­cis Mill of Hackett Mill in San Fran­cisco ex­plains, “Break­ing con­ven­tions of his­tor­i­cal cat­e­gories, we jux­ta­pose David Park and Mil­ton Avery for the first time. Park pi­o­neered fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing in 1950 when it was very un­pop­u­lar, ul­ti­mately giv­ing birth to the Bay Area Fig­u­ra­tive move­ment. Avery in­tro­duced color as the true sub­ject when ges­ture was para­mount,

which gave birth to the Amer­i­can color field move­ment. Con­ven­tional think­ing has kept each of these artist’s di­a­logues sep­a­­gether, we see why an artist’s per­sonal search for iden­tity is of uni­ver­sal rel­e­vance.”

The exhibition continues through May 31.

Both artists had the tenets of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism in their view and were con­cerned with the sur­face of the pic­ture plane; Park (1910-1960) build­ing up thick im­pas­tos of paint with scenes of do­mes­tic­ity and Avery (18851965) re­duc­ing detail to a min­i­mum in

his still lifes and fig­ure paint­ings. Roberta Smith wrote of Parks in a 1987 ar­ti­cle,“his paint­ings are not of­ten big but their brush­work al­ways is. He walked the line be­tween ab­strac­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion with con­sum­mate skill, mak­ing ex­trav­a­gant use of paint and color, while keep­ing a close eye on the sub­ject at hand.”

Por­trait of Ly­dia Sewing, 1955, is Park at his best, painted only five years be­fore his death from can­cer at 49.

Avery’s Reader with Plant, 1963, is a sim­i­lar do­mes­tic scene paired down to its ba­sic shapes and what he con­sid­ered the real sub­ject: color. Mark Rothko de­scribed Avery’s sub­jects as “a do­mes­tic, un­heroic cast…that of­ten achieves the mon­u­men­tal­ity of Egypt.” Rothko and Avery had worked to­gether in Province­town, and Rothko de­liv­ered the eu­logy at Avery’s fu­neral. Work­ing on the West Coast where he had moved from Bos­ton when he was 17, Park at­tended the Otis Art Institute briefly be­fore he grav­i­tated to­ward the lively art scene in Berke­ley that, at that time, was a hot­bed of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism. Af­ter WWII he re­al­ized how un­ful­fill­ing his ab­stract paint­ings were and took nearly all of them to the Berke­ley dump. He­len Park Bigelow, in her book David Park, Painter: Noth­ing Held Back, quotes her fa­ther,“i was con­cerned with big ab­stract ideals like vi­tal­ity, en­ergy, pro­fun­dity, warmth.they be­came my gods.they still are…but I re­al­ize that those paint­ings prac­ti­cally never, even vaguely, ap­prox­i­mated any achieve­ment of my aims.”

Park, with his teacher Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Brown, Manuel

Neri, Nathan Oliveira, Paul Won­ner, Elmer Bischoff,wayne Thiebaud and oth­ers made up the Bay Area Fig­u­ra­tive Move­ment in the 1950s and 1960s.

For the early years of his life,avery was obliged to work in blue-col­lar jobs to sup­port his ex­tended fam­ily. It wasn’t un­til 1925 when he went to Newyork that he could con­cen­trate on art. Even then, he worked nights to be able to paint dur­ing the day.

At the time of his ret­ro­spec­tive exhibition at the Whitney Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in 1982, Bar­bara Haskell wrote,“avery com­bined an en­gage­ment with purely aes­thetic is­sues with a loy­alty to the ob­served mo­tif. In do­ing so, he bridged the gap be­tween re­al­ist and ab­stract art.that he ini­tially did this in the twen­ties and thir­ties, when sub­ject mat­ter and ‘re­al­ist’ paint­ing were para­mount and, later, in the for­ties and fifties, when they were sus­pect, at­tests to the in­de­pen­dence of the vi­sion which he sus­tained through­out his life.”

The par­al­lels be­tween Park and Avery are an in­ter­est­ing sub­ject to ex­plore.

Mil­ton Avery (1885-1965), Reader with Plant, 1963. Oil on can­vas board, 22 x 28 in. (AVE-021-OC).

David Park (1910-1960), Por­trait of Ly­dia Sewing, 1955. Oil on can­vas, 24 x 20 in. (PAR-066-OC).

Mil­ton Avery (1885-1965), March Sketch­ing (The Artist’s Daugh­ter), ca.1940-45. Oil on panel, 20 x 16 in. (AVE-059-OM).

Mil­ton Avery (1885-1965), Still Life with Man­dolin, 1948. Oil on can­vas, 24 x 30 in. (AVE-071-OC).

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