Progression of Art
In the early work Cubist Abstraction, Fine used the gestures and techniques of Cubist painting to create an interior scene. A large, sweeping curve in blue and beige fills the center of the ovoid composition, and various blocks of brown and black fill the rest of the space, while mall patches of green and red suggest foliage. As with many Cubist scenes, it is as if the viewer is seeing multiple perspectives of the space at the same time. The juxtaposition of suggested objects, flat areas of color, and collaged newspaper create a disorienting effect.
Fine would spend hours in New York's museums, copying works by modern masters, including Picasso, and then return to her studio to create her own versions of the paintings. Eventually, through her study of Cubism and abstraction, Fine learned that "for a thing to be abstract meant to me that you had to feel strongly enough about it to turn your back on realism and do everything necessary in an abstract way to put across a feeling which meant being totally abstract or non-objective." In this work, Fine was not only expanding her academic painting skills but was also developing her own attitude toward abstraction and geometry that would lead her into more radical directions.
Oil and collage on canvas - Private Collection
In 1943, writing about a group show at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, art critic Edward Alden Jewell described Fine's work "as more original than other artists influenced by Wassily Kandinsky." While Polyphonic was not included in the exhibition, it is clearly indebted to the lyrical works of Kandinsky and the abstract Surrealist Joan Miró, although Fine was unhappy with such comparisons, especially to the Surrealists. Here, shapes in primary colors and white float on a black background and are tenuously connected by thin lines, creating playful juxtapositions and relationships. The title refers to the simultaneity of sounds, and in fact, many of her paintings from the mid-1940s were influenced by music and dance, as well as forms found in outer space and nature.
While not so blatantly grid-like, one can also sense her friend Mondrian's influence as well; Fine uses line and color to represent the tempo and movement of music. One critic reviewed her first solo exhibition by describing Polyphonic as an "immobilized" Alexander Calder, and in fact the bulbous, organic forms connected by thin, wiry lines do recall Calder's famous mobiles. With all of these invocations of modern masters, here we see Fine developing her own geometric style that evoked feelings and moods rather Surrealistic fantasies.
Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Wide to the Wind
During the early 1950s, when she was socializing with and exhibiting along side other prominent Abstract Expressionists, Fine created a series of abstract collages that would serve as inspiration for a later series of prints. In Wide to the Wind, a dark mass moves left to right across the center of the composition and recalls her previous works' play with movement, space, and nature. The earth colors combined with reds, roses, yellows, and white are evocative of a landscape but do not coalesce into recognizable forms, perhaps suggesting the invisible forces of the wind alluded to in the title. Many of these collages took on darker tones, and over time grew larger in scale, incorporating a more gestural application of paint and other materials including scraps of paper, gold leaf, and foils,.
While Abstract Expressionism is dominated by painting, artists including Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Anne Ryan, and Esteban Vicente along with Perle Fine explored the aesthetic possibilities of collage, a medium that had largely languished in the United States in the middle of the 20th century. Eschewing the more overt appropriations of mass culture imagery as practiced by earlier Dadaists and more contemporary artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Fine recycled bits of paper to emphasize the materiality and tactility of her surfaces. Her early studies of Cubist collage and Mondrian's working process of using bits of colored tape surely allowed her the freedom to pursue collage in its own right and not just as a peripheral undertaking, secondary to her painting.
Gouache and collage on paper - Collection of Thomas and Darlene Furst
Cool Series, No. 7, Square Shooter
After several years of living in Springs, East Hampton, Fine embarked on a new series of paintings she called the Cool Series; here, she pared down her gestural, abstract practice of her early career and reduced her palette to just a couple of colors. In No. 7 Square Shooter vivid blue and red hard-edged rectangles make the canvas surface vibrate. Fine did not necessarily see these works as a departure from her earlier work but rather a development. She said, "Out of revelation, which came about through endless probing came revolution....The economy of means somehow seemed necessary to secure the sensation of the expression of the existentialist in art." In reducing the forms and means of her painting, Fine aimed to find an "infinite variety of expressions."
Coming in the midst of a rhetorical shift against the heady, existentialist rhetoric of the Abstract Expressionists, many Post Painterly and Color Field painters like Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, championed by the critic Clement Greenberg, moved away from psychological symbolism but still explored, according to art historian Karen Wilkin, how "a painting, no matter how apparently restrained, could address the viewer's whole being - emotions, intellect, and all - through the eye, just as music did through the ear." Fine's forays into Color Field painting explore how color tensions and lines interact in expressive ways. As art critic and photographer John Gruen explained, "There is a vibrant light that emanates from these works, not blinding or jarring or dizzying. It is an arresting light that remains constant, lending purity - even dignity, to essentially emotional statements." In many ways, Fine's minimalist compositions were ahead of the times, as it wasn't until the mid- and late-1960s that cool, hard-edged abstract painting became more acceptable.
Oil on canvas - Berry Campbell Gallery
In Unequivocably Blue, one of a series of collages employing wood and paint, Fine continues to explore geometry, space, and form. Fine arranges wooden shapes, painted in blue and black stripes or white and black stripes, on top of each other to form intricate patterns that traffic both in actual and illusionistic depth. These works could be said to harken back to her lessons in three-dimensional painting during her studies with Kimon Nicolaides at the Art Students League. New York Times art critic Benjamin Genocchio suggests that the works in this series stand out from her Abstract Expressionist peers because they "seem to capture a fragmentary meshing of shadows and light."
After a bout of illness, Fine was unable to paint and instead started arranging curvilinear bits of wood into compositions. Fine said that the "color had a kind of shocking feel," especially as the light caught the edges of the wood. Like most of the Abstract Expressionists, Fine never regarded herself a landscape painter; however, when Willem de Kooning visited Fine's new studio in 1955, he suggested that she was painting what she saw out of her windows. At the time, Fine disagreed with her friend, but it is interesting to think of the ways in which her work does intersect with nature. In this case, the play of shadow and light and illusion and depth are at the forefront, but by the same token, nature itself - the light streaming in from her studio windows - effected how Fine thought of these works and how they worked best.
Wood collage with acrylic and poster paint on plywood, mounted on hardboard - Johnson Musuem of Art, Cornell University
A Timelessness #2
A Timelessness #2, painted in 1974, was a part of Fine's Accordments series, which she began in the early 1970s. Using vertical and horizontal lines, Fine creates a mesmerizing grid in subtle shades of yellow and white. Certainly evoking Mondrian's influence, the paintings in the Accordments series are light-filled and emanate a certain quietness. Fine's abiding interest in nature, movement, and repetition, creates a presence of sublime awe in these works. Fine described the paintings, "Compelling, mysterious, they are yet very tranquil; they are evocations of being in tune with nature and the Universe."
Further describing the Accordments series as "a whisper in reply to a shout," one senses that Fine has finely come to terms with the macho bravado that had become associated with Abstract Expressionism by the late 1960s; the work speaks for itself without the myth and lifestyle of the artist interfering in the vision. In many ways, A Timelessness #2 recalls the Zen-inspired grids of Agnes Martin. While Martin is often associated with Minimalist art trends, she felt more akin to the Abstract Expressionists in their desire to communicate something deeply human, and while Fine may have given up the rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism, like Martin, she never lost site of her profound subject matter.
Oil on canvas