Yesterday I had the most delightful experience. A UPS truck pulled up to my house and delivered a heavy package. It was addressed from Wyoming and I realized that it was a surprise from a wonderful student of mine.
I opened up the package to see this gorgeous catalog from the Women Of Abstract Expressionism exhibit at the Denver Art Museum!
My heart quickened as I discovered wondrously alive paintings over the pages. Wow!
My favorites were there: Helen Frankenthaler, Elaine de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell as well as others: Lee Krasner, Jay DeFeo, Grace Hartigan, and Joan Brown.
Yet the astonishing thing was discovering artists I wasn’t previously aware of: Perle Fine (her paintings are shown above in the photograph and you can see the underlying grid substructure in her work), Mary Abbott, Emiko Nakano, Deborah Remington, Ethel Schwabacher, and many more. Of note is the artist using the professional moniker Michael West who sometimes dressed in male attire and whose name was Corinne Michelle West.
These women poured their hearts and souls into their paintings. The work is raw, visceral, and immediate. It’s alive and personal. Some of the paintings are voluptuous and lush while others are dark and penetrating. For me it’s a window into each artists life.
One of the things I noticed throughout the catalog is that there’s an underlying substructure to most of the paintings and I believe this structure acts as a counterpoint to the exuberant expressive energy.
One chapter that particularly captures my imagination is titled: “The Advantages Of Obscurity: Women Abstract Expressionists in San Francisco”. Because the art scene was nascent in San Francisco in the 1940’s and 50’s the artists were liberated to create works that were noncommercial, experimental, and utterly personal.
There’s a radical freedom in obscurity. You’re free to paint for yourself rather than constantly looking over your shoulder comparing your work with others…or continually second guessing your paintings because you fear that your audience (clients, galleries, museums, curators, critics…even yourself) won’t approve of it.
The question is: will you grab hold of this freedom and give yourself permission to paint whatever wants to come out of you? Will you allow yourself to not know what’s going to happen when you approach the canvas? Will you let yourself be surprised? Will you remain open and vulnerable? Will you finally trust yourself?
P.S. If you’d like to explore these kinds of questions more deeply, REGISTER for my FREE 7 Day Email Course: Creating Your Deepest Work. You can sign up HERE.
Also published on Medium.