Lee Krasner: A Dynamic Figure

Lee Krasner (1908-1984)
The City, 1953
Oil and paper collage on Masonite, 48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm)
Private collection; Courtesy Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Image from Lee Krasner, published by Abbeville Press

Lee Krasner is not just Mrs. Jackson Pollock. In fact, Lee Krasner—the only female figure to play a major role as a first generation Abstract Expressionist, a movement characterized by its macho individuality and its ego—actively resisted the tendency toward isolation and the obsession with the male gaze in the art world around her. Krasner recognized the problem, and in an interview she explained:

As a painter, I never thought of myself as anything but LEE KRASNER. I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock—that’s a matter of fact—but I’ve never used the name in connection with my work. I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.

She certainly did paint before and after Pollock. Curator and art historian Robert Hobbs, in his comprehensive monograph Lee Krasner, published by Abbeville Press as part of the Modern Masters series, defines Krasner as a dynamic painter whose career began and flourished because of her skill, her determination, and her insistence on intellectual rigor in her work. Her work is characterized by experimentation, by a willingness to explore. Through her various stages and styles—which included realism, fauvism, cubism, abstract expressionism, her hieroglyphic Little Image series, collage, and even finally postmodernism—perhaps the unifying quality of her work is its ability to transcend subject and technique and to arrive at a composition that is at once natural and revelatory of her self. As Hobbs puts it: “She approached her work as a profoundly important forum for dealing with ideas about the self, nature, and modern life.”

In her statement for a retrospective exhibition in 1965, Lee Krasner wrote, “Painting, for me, when it really ‘happens’ is as miraculous as any natural phenomenon—as say, a lettuce leaf.” She went on to clarify, “By ‘happens,’ I mean the painting in which the inner aspect of man and his outer aspects interlock.” Comparing painting to a miracle of nature may sound fussy or, worse, sentimental, but Krasner’s lettuce leaf is vital: it’s simultaneously delicate and robust—much like many of her paintings.

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Click here for more information on Lee Krasner, published by Abbeville Press.

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