Lee Krasner (1908-1984) spent her life fighting for the right to be herself. She couldn’t be Lena Krasner, she had to become the androgynous Lee. She couldn’t be a realist or a cubist, she had to rip her work to shreds and collage it into new, unique forms. And she could never just be her, she always had to be the wife of Jackson Pollock.
That’s part of the deal with mid-century modern art, it’s a sausage party; and abstract expressionism was the blokiest movement of all. So what you see in this exhibition is an artist clawing a space for herself among the fellas and nudging her way to the front of the twentieth century art class photo.
Early works here deal with life drawing and cubism before diving into small canvases made of billions of marks and colours. These ‘Little Paintings’ are like explosions in a garden, thrumming with manic intensity and precision. Works from the late 1940s are more restrained, built of endless layers of geometric shapes, like feverish sheets of automatic writing.
They’re all nice enough, but not the work of a fully developed artist. It took two major events for that to happen. The first was an exhibition where none of Krasner’s works sold. In anger and despondence, she tore up drawings and glued them to the canvases from the show. The result is art of anger and frustration, all tightly and aggressively composed. These blackened, vicious works look like nothing else from the period, full of clashing shapes and forms that fight and jostle, that slap the viewer about a bit.
Then, in 1957, tragedy. Jackson Pollock dies in a car crash. Krasner turns immediately to painting. Four works brought together here react to that loss. They’re filled with wild eyes, dripping with pink fleshy paint and smeared with red. They’re works of pain and heartbreak: awful, heart-wrenching, brilliant paintings. And more than anything, this is Lee Krasner finding her voice.
A series of brown and white paintings follows, like big abstract expressionist dirty protests. Then colour creeps back into huge, sweeping canvases, made of enormous rolling forms that look like bodies dancing, like light flickering.
This is Lee Krasner in full flight. The paintings are up there with any of the abstract expressionist greats. It’s as if Pollock’s death finally set her free, finally let her become Lee Krasner. This whole exhibition proves, beyond any doubt, that she deserves to be front and centre of that class photo, because Lee Krasner was one of the best.
|Venue name:||Barbican Centre|
|Transport:||Tube: Barbican; Rail/Tube: Moorgate|
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