LEE KRASNER

Born in New York, New York 1908

Died in New York, New York 1984

Lee Krasner is considered one of the most critical figures in the evolution of American art in the second half of the 20th century. Emerging from the first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, Krasner committed to a six-decade persistent exploration of novel approaches to painting and collage.

Born in New York, to a Russian Orthodox Jewish family, Krasner pursued a formal art education at several institutions in New York, including the Women's Art School of Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. In 1937, Krasner began taking classes with Hans Hofmann, who would radically influence her mature, abstract style. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, Krasner became fully engaged in the New York art scene and integrated herself into contemporary circles that included Jackson Pollock, whom she married in 1945. Though an established artist already before she met Pollock, Krasner’s relationship with the talented, yet troubled painter long overshadowed her own artistic vocation.

Arguably the most crucial proponent of Pollock, Krasner was instrumental in propelling his career and cementing his reputation as the most influential living American artist, having introduced him to Willem de Kooning, Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim, as well as other key figures. Living with Pollock at their home near The Springs, Long Island, Krasner developed some of her most compelling series, including her Little Image paintings. Defined by thick impasto and repetitive abstract symbols, these works are recognized as among her most noteworthy contributions to Abstract Expressionism.

Following Pollock’s death from an automobile accident in 1956, Krasner dedicated the remainder of her life to solidifying Pollock’s legacy, while continuing her own artistic endeavors. During this time of newfound solitude, Krasner realized her iconic Umber Paintings, which convey a distinctive rawness and intensity that was unprecedented in her oeuvre until this point. Fiercely composed of abstract forms through explosive brushwork in a parsed-down palette of primarily umber, cream and white, this series is considered among Krasner’s most psychoanalytically evocative work.

With paintings from the 1960s, Krasner embraced Pollock’s artistic achievements in size, all-over composition, gestural method and engagement with Jungian psychology, which emphasized the importance of the individual psyche and personal quest for wholeness. From time to time, Krasner incorporated staring eyes, a motif that harkened back to her own earlier work. Other repeated marks suggest foliage, wind, feathers and wings. It is with these works that Krasner further delved into ideas about self-knowledge.

Reflecting on work from this period, in 1973, Krasner remarked: “My painting is so biographical, if anyone can take the trouble to read it.” This assertion is evident especially in works from the 1960s, which stand as vehicles by which the artist confronted her turbulent 11-year relationship with Pollock and the effects of his death in a particularly poignant and personal mode of expression. At once unruly and lyrical, each canvas becomes animated by Krasner’s individual and newly powerful backhand gesture, advancing in a rhythmic motion from right to left in vast, curvilinear sweeps. Vigorously thrusting and stabbing with her brush and body, these works present Krasner’s sophisticated integration of sprays and arcs with nodules of paint. Accordingly, Krasner’s works from the 1960s signal her emergence from behind her husband’s shadow and the beginning of Krasner’s critical recognition of her own unique and noteworthy artistic impulses. 

In 1978, the exhibition Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years positioned Krasner in her rightful place alongside Pollock, de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb. Shortly after Krasner’s death, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of her work. Today, Krasner’s work has been exhibited worldwide and is included in the permanent collections of major institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; toish Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Hishhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Tate, London; Cleveland Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne; National Gallery of Australia, Sydney; among many others.

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