The female abstractionists tend to fly under the radar, to put it nicely. They have never been given the same level of respect and credit their male counterparts (i.e. de Kooning, Pollock, Matisse) receive. Luckily, they are getting more and more recognition as the years pass. I was lucky enough to stumble upon the book Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel several years ago and it has stuck with me. These women were instrumental in opening some of the first galleries dedicated to abstractionists. They were also critiquing, working alongside, and inspiring the men we have all heard of. This book was dedicated to the lives of Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler; these women are the reason I can do what I do today. There are several more I have come across in my research that I absolutely love as well. These are a few of those women and my favorite paintings of theirs: Lee Krasner - Combat, 1965
I love that this painting is as relevant today as it was when she painted it in 1965. This has inspired so many of my paintings and shows an excellence in balancing color and form that I am still working toward every day. This is edited perfectly. The placement of the orange makes the pink shine. Then, within that pink there's an entire world of movement. I love that her strokes are loose, but also very confident and intentional. She also knew the effect of leaving some of the canvas blank. I love that she made such an interesting and balanced piece with only two colors.
Elaine De Kooning - Spring, 1965
I love this painting because it is listed as "figurative" but it would have been beautiful even if it wasn't based on flowering plants. Elaine really inspires to me to take risks like she does in this piece. It's not perfectly placed on the canvas, and that intentional choice made it so much more interesting than if it had been completely centered. I also like that she knew when to call this piece finished and didn't overwork it. Elaine de Kooning - Bullfight, 1959
Compared to the previous piece, Bullfight is filled with such strong colors and movement. This is a testament to her range as an artist; she can do both quiet pieces and loud pieces so successfully. I also envy Elaine's mark-making and how she doesn't get stuck to one shape or form.
Alma Thomas - Unknown, 1966
Alma Thomas is a newer discovery of mine. I love that she was doing something different from the other abstractionists of the time and using primarily one form, this small square, to make her pieces. She used this form to create work that is interesting by choosing bright colors that feel so alive. By using familiar colors and forms in her work, She created a very specific voice for herself. Her work is easily identifiable and loved by many.
Joan Mitchell - Weeds, 1976
I think I would count Joan Mitchell as my favorite artist. She continuously made work that I am drawn to. She uses such interesting colors, many of which I believe she mixed herself. This gave her access to colors and color combinations that aren't always seen. She was so fearless in her creating. It seems like she entered the studio and painted the same way I do, without a complete plan, but with a goal to let what she felt shine through her work. I love her use of bold primary colors with the pastel accents. She had such a great eye for color and wasn't precious with her layers; she clearly painted over and through different sections with no reservations and it always lead to such a beautiful result. This piece would be entirely different and not nearly as captivating without that dark olive green and that is what makes her a master.
Mary Abbot - Darker Than Amber, Unknown
Mary is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. The more I see of her work the more I love how free and experimental she is. The colors she chose for this specific painting stick out to me because although some of them are so close on the color wheel, they still serve a specific purpose in the piece and (somehow) they don't clash. The hints of neon greens and teal in this really offset the burnt orange and red. She created such an interesting conversation on this canvas and I can't stop looking at it. I also think this is a great example of the expressionism that rose in the 40's and 50's. Although this has aspects of the still life paintings that came before it, it feels so much more alive. She pulled the beauty that she felt looking at these things and made that feeling the star.
If you're ever able to go see work by these artists in person, I would highly recommend making the trip. Photos don't do them justice. When you're there, you can see each brush stroke and layer individually. You can almost see the choices each painter made and how quickly or slowly the layers came together. It really feels like they could have been painted yesterday.
I owe so much to these women and I'm so happy to be able to share some of their work with you.
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