Page 21 - Studio International - January 1966
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individual increasingly obsolete, they felt the need to
                                                                                   assert their uniqueness and humanity quite strongly. It
                                                                                   is no wonder, then, that they found it hard to resist
                                                                                   the liberating impulses provided by the Surrealists
                                                                                   exiled in New York during the 1940's. The Americans
                                                                                   received psychological cues as well as stylistic
                                                                                   ones. They developed an attitude of mind that sought
                                                                                   refuge within the individual psyche rather than in the
                                                                                   physical world. Their works revealed their desperate
                                                                                   attempts to call forth a new world of their own invention
                                                                                   —pre-logical, pre-mythic, non-rational. Their individual
                                                                                   gesture and decision were invested with sacrosanct
                                                                                   value. They wanted to be regarded as creators, not
                                                                                   ciphers, in a world that had gone mad about them.
                                                                                   Motherwell summed up the attitude of a generation
                                                                                   when he said : 'I feel most real to myself in the studio.'
                                                                                     By the 1950's, the avant-garde was profoundly
                                                                                   engaged in mining its thoughts and feelings for
                                                                                   translation into physical energy that would ripple
                                                                                   through arms and finger tips before being caught by the
                                                                                   welcoming canvas. Art-making, with better artists never
                                                                                   a mindless gesture nor merely the mark of an operation,
                                                                                   was, as the sculptor Ibram Lassaw said succinctly,
                                                                                     . . a process started by the artist.' Or, as William
                                                                                    Baziotes explained : 'Whereas certain people start with
                                                                                   a recollection of an experience and paint that experi-
                                                                                   ence, to some of us the act of doing it becomes the
                                                                                   experience.' Both men would certainly have agreed
                                                                                   with Willem de Kooning when he said : 'I'm always
                                                                                   in the picture somewhere.'
                                                                                    To be the picture's maker as well as its subject
                                                                                   demanded great strength (perhaps desperation is a
                                                                                   better word) of purpose. The artist had to rely entirely
                                                                                   on himself, operating durationally and simultaneously
                                                                                   within a time continuum outside history. Clyfford Still
                                                                                   got to the very heart of the matter when he noted :
                                                                                   'We are now committed to an unqualified act, not
         Above                   Below                                              illustrating out-worn myths or contemporary alibis. One
         Richard Diebenkorn      Clyfford Still                                     must accept total responsibility for what one executes.'
         Woman in a Window 1957   1957-D No. 1 1957
         59 x 56 in.             113 x 159 in.                                      The 'one' to whom Still referred was both a person
         Albright-Knox Art Gallery   Albright-Knox Art Gallery                     and an artist. If the source of a painting was '. . . the
         Buffalo, New York       Buffalo, New York
         Gift of Seymour H. Knox   Gift of Seymour H. Knox                          Unconscious,' as Pollock 'the person' would say, there
                                                                                    invariably arrived the moment when, as Guston 'the
                                                                                    artist' would say, '. . . the air of the arbitrary vanished
                                                                                    and the paint fell into positions that felt destined.' If a
                                                                                    number of paintings might look similar, it was not
                                                                                    necessarily because the artist wanted to repeat himself
                                                                                    or paint by formula. Rather, he probably believed with
                                                                                    Clyfford Still that 'no painting stops with itself, is
                                                                                    complete of itself. It is a continuation of previous paint-
                                                                                    ings and is renewed in successive ones.'
                                                                                     Although it is true that, when compared to Surrealism,
                                                                                    American Abstract Expressionism revealed the artist's
                                                                                    physical gesture more often than his psychical state,
                                                                                    the gesture and motivating impetus were entirely
                                                                                    personal. This left the artist naked before the world.
                                                                                    'There is no more forthright declaration, and no shorter
                                                                                    path to man's richness, nakedness and poverty than
                                                                                    the painting he does,' James Brooks said. 'Nothing
                                                                                    can be hidden on its flat surface—the least private as
                                                                                    well as the most personal of worlds.'
                                                                                     What does the artist feel, then, when his painting goes
                                                                                    out into the world ? Mark Rothko perhaps best summed
                                                                                    up the profound feelings the Abstract Expressionist
                                                                                    would have: 'A picture lives by companionship,
                                                                                    expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive
                                                                                    observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a
                                                                                    risky act to send it out into the world. How often it
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