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Modern Artist: Lee Krasner
Synopsis
Lee Krasner pioneered the all-over painting technique utilized by the likes of Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly. Krasner worked at a time when women artists were excluded from most circles and dealt with her art work often being eclipsed by that of her husband, Jackson Pollock. Her "Little Image" series, however, earned her critical renown and an undeniable place in the art historical canon.

Key Ideas / Information
  • By shifting stylistically multiple times in her career, Krasner garnered the suspicion of her contemporaries. These shifts were intentional, however, as Krasner sought to distance herself from artists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman whom she saw as too "rigid" and repetitive in their work.
  • One of the few women to work in the Abstract Expressionist style, Krasner constantly challenged her own approach to painting, at times even cutting up her older paintings and reassembling them using a collage technique inspired by Henri Matisse.
  • Unlike her husband, Jackson Pollock, Krasner's focus was not so much on the "primitive" as based in ancient forms of writing, an interest perhaps stemming from the Hebrew writing she learned during childhood.
  • The "all-over" technique that Krasner derived from artist Piet Mondrian's "grid", influenced Jackson Pollock's famous drip paintings, placing her work as a major transitional force in the course of Abstract Expressionism.

Childhood
Lee Krasner was the sixth of seven children born to her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents on October 27, 1908. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Krasner was born Lena Krassner but would change her name several times throughout her life, eventually settling on Lee Krasner by the late 1940s.

Krasner decided to become an artist at thirteen years of age, leading to her application and acceptance at Washington Irving High School, the only New York public high school at the time to allow women in their art program.

Early Training
As an adult, Krasner remained in New York City, continuing her schooling first at the Women's Art School of Cooper Union and then at the Art Students League. It was during her years at the National Academy of Design, where she studied from 1928-1932, that Krasner earned her reputation as having a prickly, independent streak, often at odds with her traditionalist professors. Krasner's work at that time ranged from realistic self-portraiture to attempts at surrealism, which resembled the work of Giorgio de Chirico.

During the years following, Krasner made her way as a waitress and model while also working on her teaching certification, until, in 1932, she obtained full time work as an artist through the Federal Art Project. The FAP was the visual arts branch of the New Deal's WPA program. Created by Franklin D. Roosevelt, this program sponsored many artists during and after the Great Depression. Krasner's first employment with the WPA found her assisting in the creation of large-scale public murals, and she was delighted to finally be working full time as an artist.

Unsatisfied with the conservative approach to art that she learned at the Academy, Krasner fell into more bohemian art circles, adopting Trotskyist politics and deciding to study with Abstract-Expressionist painter, Hans Hofmann. Hofmann exposed her to the work of Cubist painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso, as well as Modernist, Henri Matisse. Under the tutelage of Hofmann, Krasner began to work in an "all-over" style, covering the surfaces of her paintings with abstract, repetitive designs informed by floral motifs. It was this "all-over" technique that later inspired her husband, Jackson Pollock, to give up cubism completely and begin his famous drip paintings.

Mature Period
In the late 1930s, she began to associate with the American Abstract Artists, a group formed in New York City in 1936 to promote and help the public understand abstract art. It was during this period that she met Pollock, moving in with him in 1941. They married in 1945, and the duties of promoting and managing the practical aspects of Pollock's career fell to his new wife. Krasner generously embraced her new responsibilities, even if it meant her own career took a back seat to her husband's.
Krasner did not, however, stop making her own artwork during her eleven-year marriage to Pollock. When the couple moved to a farm in Springs, Long Island in the late 1940s, Krasner began her "Little Image" series, a body of work defined by the small size of the paintings and their repetitive, linear designs which often took on the look of hieroglyphics. Krasner possessed a lifelong admiration of Matisse's work, and in the early 1950's began to experiment with collage, a technique that Matisse used late in his career. It was after a particularly frustrating day in the studio that Krasner tore all of her paintings to pieces, which led to her reassemble the shredded works weeks later into constructions reminiscent of cubism. Krasner's 1955 exhibition of these works was positively received, leading well-known critic, Clement Greenberg, to declare it one of the most important shows of the decade.

After her husband's death in a fatal car accident the following year, Krasner began a large-scale Abstract Expressionist series called "Earth Green." She received negative feedback for these works, which combined nature-inspired forms with a rhythmic, splattered technique, because of the believe that the work was derivative of Pollock's. In 1962, Krasner suffered an aneurism, which sidelined her artistic development for several years afterward due to ill health. In the years that followed, Krasner continued to work with her nature-forms in variety of ways combining them with large areas of more solid color on her canvases (a choice inspired by Color Field painting and Minimalism), and in the late 1960's and '70s her work experienced a revival due to the women's movement.

Late Period and Death
Throughout her career, Krasner's style underwent many shifts. Her experiments with color, scale, and technique were finally recognized in her first retrospective exhibition in October of 1983 at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in Texas. Despite ill health, Krasner was able to make it to the exhibition, which traveled on to San Francisco, Phoenix, and Norfolk, Virginia. Unfortunately, Krasner died in June of 1984 from internal bleeding due to diverticulitis, never able to see her retrospective make its final stop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Legacy
Though never reaching the level of fame achieved by her husband, Krasner remains one of the few examples of women artists who was able to keep pace with her male contemporaries in the Abstract Expressionist movement. After her death, as a result of Krasner's generosity, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation was established with the goal of assisting the development of fine artists. Since its creation in 1985, the foundation has awarded over 46 million dollars in grants to working artists around the world. Now affiliated with Stoneybrook University, the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, Long Island has been kept as it was when the artistic couple lived there, and currently remains open to the public.

ARTISTIC INFLUENCES

Below are Lee Krasner's major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.

ARTISTS
Pablo Picasso
Henri Matisse
Piet Mondrian
Hans Hofmann
Willem De Kooning
CRITICS/FRIENDS
Barbara Rose
Clement Greenberg
Jackson Pollock
Harold Rosenberg
MOVEMENTS
Realism
Surrealism
Cubism
Lee Krasner
Years Worked: 1930 - 1981
ARTISTS
Jackson Pollock
Jasper Johns
CRITICS/FRIENDS
Jackson Pollock
Barbara Rose
MOVEMENTS
Minimalism
Abstract Expressionism

Quotes
"I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point. And, as the limitations are something called pigment and canvas, let's see if I can do it."

"All my work keeps going like a pendulum.. it seems to swing back to something I was involved with earlier, or it moves between horizontality and verticality, circularlity, or a composite of them. For me, I suppose, that change is the only constant."

"I have never been able to understand the artist whose image never changes."


Content written by:
  Jessica Shaffer



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