Lee Krasner Survey Exhibition

[From The Gallery Insider Series]

Lee Krasner is an exhibition of paintings spanning five decades of the artist's work on view at the Robert Miller Gallery from April 21 - June 4, 2016. The gallery is located at 524 West 26th Street in New York City. Scroll down for more ...


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This installation view in the gallery features Lee Krasner's painting The Eye Is the First Circle, from 1960. It measures 92 3/4 x 191 7/8 inches and is an oil on canvas.

an installation view of Lee Krasner's exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery

I find the precise measurements listed via the gallery to be interesting. Think about it, when you have a painting that measures 16 feet long (which equals 192 inches), what might cause an art historian or archivist to stop and say, "hey, it's actually 191 and 7/8 inches, not 192." Essential Question #1: How aware of the exact measurements do you think Krasner was when she was painting this or other large-scale works? (Scroll down to the bottom to find our answers and additional information related to the essential questions throughout this feature)

Self Portrait by Lee Krasner from 1933

This Self Portrait by Lee Krasner dates from 1933, and is an oil on linen piece measuring 18 x 16 inches. Her given name at birth was Lenore Krassner, although she was known professionally as Lee Krasner. She was born in Brooklyn on October 27, 1908, and lived until June 19, 1984, so she would have been 25 years old when she made this painting. Krasner first started making art as a teenager, and she enrolled at the Washington Irving High School for Girls in New York City in order to participate in their art program. After graduating from high school, Krasner continued her art studies at the Women's Art School of Cooper Union. She then pursued yet more art education at the National Academy of Design (also in New York City on 5th Avenue), completing her course work there in 1932.

Essential Question #2: What do you think made Lee Krasner go from painting realistically via her Academy training to her pure abstraction which we see later on?

Speaking of abstraction, let's see a few more paintings from the exhibition. Below left is "Bird Image," 1963, an oil on canvas painting measuring 56 x 46 inches. Below right is "Lava" from 1949, which is an oil on board painting measuring 40 x 30 inches.

two abstract paintings by Lee Krasner

Essential Question #3: How did Krasner differ from many of the other Abstract Expressionist painters of her era?

In asking this question, we're talking about her approach to art, when looking at an overview of her art over her career, as this exhibition provides, with its span of 50 years.



Explanations and Answers to the Essential Questions:

Essential Question #1: How aware of the exact measurements do you think Krasner was when she was painting this or other large-scale works?

When Krasner made paintings this large, she would tack the unstretched canvas to a wall. So while she may have had an idea of the approximate measurement of the painting as she was working on it, it may have been slightly revised when it came time to mount it to the wooden stretcher. You can be sure, however, that she wasn't tracking 1/8th of an inch at any time when working this big.

The first painting in the installation view at the top of the page is titled "The Eye Is the First Circle," 1960, and is from a series of paintings from 1959-1961 often referred to as the "Umber Series." At the time, Krasner was dealing with the death of her husband, Jackson Pollock, as well as the recent death of her mother, and she was suffering from insomnia. So she often painted at night, using artificial light, and her color palette shifted from her more-typical bright colors to dull, monochrome colors, such as black, brown, white and gray. The "Umber" of the series name refers to the predominant color - in this case, "umber" is a natural pigment normally dark yellowish-brown in color ("raw umber") or dark brown when roasted ("burnt umber").

Below are two more paintings in the exhibition from the Umber Series: at left, "Seeded," 1960, oil on canvas measuring 70 3/4 x 109 inches. At right, "Vigil," 1960, oil on canvas measuring 88 3/4 x 70 inches.

two paintings from the Umber Series circa 1960 by Lee Krasner

Essential Question #2: What do you think made Lee Krasner go from painting realistically via her Academy training to her pure abstraction which we see later on?

Krasner was highly influenced by the opening of the Museum of Modern Art in 1929. She grew critical of the academic style which she had learned at the National Academy, and began studying modern art. In 1937, she began taking classes from Hans Hofmann, who modernized her approach and emphasized the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane and helped her move away from realistic representation in her art.

Essential Question #3: How did Krasner differ from many of the other Abstract Expressionist painters of her era?

Throughout her career, Krasner embraced stylistic change and refused to adopt a singular, recognizable "look" for her art. By changing her work style often, she differed from other abstract expressionists who became known for more-specific styles. Think about it: you hear the name Jackson Pollock, and you think "drip paintings" (although he clearly had a varied number of styles as well). Franz Kline? Black and white paintings. Mark Rothko? Floating rectangles of color. Barnett Newman? "Zip" paintings. While all of these artists truly had variations in their work, those are the first thoughts that come to mind. Let's take a look at a few more paintings from the exhibition to see Krasner's other styles. Below left we have "Imperfect Indicative," a 78 x 72 inch collage on canvas from 1976. Below right we have "Equilibrium," a 46 x 58 inch oil on canvas from 1950.

two abstract paintings by abstract expressionist Lee Krasner



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