"Greenwich Sculpture", acrylic
"Medusa", ink, acrylic on rag
"Untitled", oil on paper,
With an economy of style that resonates with passion, his work is to visual imagery what haiku is to lyrical poetry. Quiet, mysterious, dramatic and universal, it speaks collectively of life, death, love, loss and primal longing.
Motherwell's enduring series "Elegy to the Spanish Republic" is as much a contemplation on today's brutal conflicts in the Middle East and Bosnia, in Africa and Asia, as it was on the Spanish Civil War. Black, unyielding shapes invade white defenseless areas; quivering calligraphic lines give way to strong, slashing brushstrokes. Undefined forms impinge upon each other: black, white and gray, with streaks of bloody red.
This compliation of Motherwell's work on paper, the first gallery show here since his death in 1991, consists of prints, drawings, and paintings that reach back to 1950. In addition to Elegy..., his single most reknowned series, they include examples from the Beside the Sea and Open series, plus 20 works from 1965's Lyric Suite. The latter exposes the light-hearted side of Motherwell's nature, as his calligraphic brush trails black ink lines that skip and swoop across rectangles of rice paper.
In Beside the Sea (1962) he takes just a few fleeting brushstrokes of green, black and blue to capture the tide as it hugs the shore in rhythmic embrace. In the Drunk with Turpentine series (1979) heavy abstract forms are depicted with such wild abandon that they achieve a delicate balance between firm control and joyous spontaneity. In one of his final drawings, Je t'Aime in Black and Pink (1991), we see a poetic expression of love from an artist whose rich, prolific life enabled him to experience it all.
Painter, poet, printmaker, teacher, writer and philosopher, Motherwell was born in 1915, received a scholarship to Otis Art Institute when he was only 11, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Philosophy. He did graduate work at Harvard, studying art history there with Meyer Schapiro before going on to enjoy a successful painting career that spanned five decades.
A legend in his own time, Motherwell received virtually everyhonor that could be bestowed upon a living artist. Viewing this exhibition, which is on loan from the Dedalus Foundation, helps substantiate why.
Motherwell's unique visual vocabulary--his terse symbolic style of American Abstract Expressionism--is imbued with human drama. His is a powerful pictorial language that plucks chords of deep-seated emotion resonating with joy and sorrow.