Summer Street, 1956
oil on canvas
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Image from The New Yorker slideshow
A significant artist of the 20th century died this past November. She was part of a group of prominent women abstractionists in New York, though often pushed aside for members of the boy's club of the time, such as Pollock and de Kooning. Hartigan works, while for awhile wholly abstract began to incorporate representational imagery which threw her at one time supporter, Clement Greenberg, off her support. I need to spend some more time with Hartigan's work but I am very attracted to her use of shape and color and am interested in the representational imagery (reminiscent of Kandinksy but with more all over approach to filling the canvas). Richard Lacayo (who wrote a blog entry for time about Hartigan after her death) comments that he feels this painting is "crossing a line into kitsch" (pointing out the green striped melon). While I agree the melon stands out and doesn't add anything to the painting (it stands out as wholly identifiable unlike the more ambiguous nature of the rest of the painting) I would go so far as to applying kitsch to it. The comment is fascinating in that it falls straight into the argument Greenberg and many others had about the high level of purely abstract art. Work which provides instantly understandable and approachable subject matter and aims to please would fall into kitsch. I think that this greatly detracts from Hartigan's approach to paint and color.
I may come back with another Hartigan as comparison between her works will give me a greater understanding of her style but until then I'll say that I am particularly attracted to the lower half of the painting and will be seeing one of her works soon when I visit Buffalo as it is part of the exhibition I've been looking forward to that started out at the Jewish Museum in nyc, Action/Abstraction . Check the site out as it has a great collection of work from the period.
Also a great addition to the world of resources, the Smithsonian's online collection of oral histories, many which are transcribed.