Unreal Nature

May 5, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… his … influence has … always carried with it an aura of self-selection and initiation into mysteries.

This is from Albert Pinkham Ryder by Elizabeth Broun (1989):

… In 1944 Pollock said, “The only American master who interests me is Ryder.” Like so much of Pollock’s aesthetic, this debt was seeded by Thomas Hart Benton, his teacher at the Art Students League, whose own art is liberally sprinkled with quotations from Ryder’s paintings.

Ryder was a legitimizing authority for Pollock’s romantic response to nature, his restless overall rhythms, and even perhaps for certain innovations in palette. But his greatest debt to Ryder is found in his elevation of the act of painting to supreme significance. [ … ] Both artists went further than their contemporaries to assert the primacy of process and medium, making the very act of the painting supreme.

… artists of many styles and media have cited him as important for their work. A partial list of those recent and contemporary artists who have felt a serious affinity of spirit includes John D’Agostino, Milton Avery, Rudolf Baranik, Ronald Bladen, Carmen Cicero, Robert De Niro, Hans Hofmann, Basil King, Franz Kline, Rebecca Purdum, John Roloff , Clyfford Still, Jane Teller, and Ann Wilson as well as the English artists Hughie O’Donoghue and Paul Smith.*

And then there is another tradition or if not a tradition in the classic sense, then a lineage that stems from Ryder and from the other forces for naïveté current at the turn of the century. This is the “outsider” who will not adhere to instruction, preferring to carve his own channel along the margin of mainstream art. These artists are often reclusive, showing their work rarely but maintaining a reputation through the artists’ underground. Myron Stout, pupil of Hans Hofmann, lived in Cape Cod and after 1952 in Provincetown, producing a modest body of small paintings that give the feeling of irrevocable reality. He has been described as “endlessly turning the pebble of nature around in his hand … always concerned with the discovery and expressive weight of forms on our consciousness.”

Albert York, Twin Trees

Another such artist is Albert York, whose tiny pastoral landscapes distill Ryder’s already reduced romanticism to an ever more refined essence, as in Twin Trees, reminiscent of Ryder’s Landscape. York’s paintings seem at first the simple utterance of a recluse, out of the habit of converse with society. But as with Ryder, the simplicity deceives … York uses symbol and allegory with familiar ease, offering in still lifes and imaginative works alike an avowal of what Fairfield Porter has called “the mystery of the world that our civilization tries to keep us from being aware of.”

Albert Pinkham Ryder, Landscape

Forrest Bess, who died in 1977, carried some aspects of the equation to a painful point, following the example of Ryder, whom he revered, and of his own dangerously rigorous conscience. A fisherman in Texas, he lived in an overturned barge, accessible only by boat — the distance from society emphasizing his disregard of any audience. Conceding nothing to the art world, he refused to “lift vision up to aesthetics,” disavowing all stylistic flourishes. His paintings were small so that he could keep them the same size as the image in his head, he said. Most were made of symbol-shapes, reduced to hieroglyphics, except when he made the painted image itself into a symbol, as in his small 1951 Homage to Ryder, with its dark brooding land mass and yellow-to-black color bands signifying emotions from hope to despair.

Forrest Bess, Homage to Ryder

… Perhaps Ryder would be as little known today as York or Bess were it not for the fact that his closest friends, de Kay and Weir, were the New York Times art critic and the president of the National Academy, while his later champions, Davies and Miller, became proselytizers for modernism and tradition. Each of the four undertook in his way to prescribe the future of American art, including Ryder as a standard-bearer, just as the founders of the Society of American Artists had decided that his clumsy drawing and lack of finish distinguished their aims from those of the academy.

Ryder’s work was the object of a cult during his lifetime, and his posthumous influence has similarly always carried with it an aura of self-selection and initiation into mysteries. He is an emblem of art as it has been conceived in the twentieth century — as a transcendent world of the most intimate expression of the imagination, made visible through a personal language, asserting a higher reality.

[*I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that Gerhard Richter has found Ryder’s work interesting and admirable.]

Last week’s post about Ryder is here.




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