Leslie Olitski Analysis

Submitted By brosettastone
Words: 1354
Pages: 6

Martin Aucoin
Art Since 1945
S. Ashbrook

Leslie & Olitski

In the aftermath of WWII many artists sought to tap into their creativity in new and unexplored ways. The abstract expressionists felt that the unconscious was the great source of creativity in all people and in order to truly succeed one must pull from the ether of the mind, the unseen, instead of the things that one can see with their eyes. Through their dissatisfaction with the normal means of representation, many new styles and ways of expressing oneself came into play. Two artists who are not necessarily associated with the big names of abstract expressionism, Alfred Leslie and Jules Olitski, are painters important in their own right for their contributions to the art world. Alfred Leslie is an American born artist who ultimately found success outside of the abstract expressionist movement but his roots are deeply ingrained in many of the styles that came about during the crucial decade after WWII. His piece Olive Mark from 1959 came towards the end of his abstract expressionist phase; this was what many believed was the culmination of Leslie’s abstract styles. Initially you look and see its foundation, broad horizontal and thick vertical bars dividing the painting into multiple panels of color and expression. Olive Mark was one of Leslie’s paintings that were inspired by an old American flag that Leslie discovered in a yard sale in the 1950s, but he reimagined the flag as a blanket of color. Looking at Olive Mark, one can see many styles related to the abstract but none of the terms can necessarily pin it down. On one hand you see the upper half of the painting, with its divisive two-tone color scheme accompanied by incredibly dense and winding brushstrokes. The upper half feels more evocative of the color field painters like Rothko and Olitski. There is no way for the eye to penetrate past the illusion of a scene (possibly landscape) that Leslie has shown. The bottom half is where this mash of abstract styles starts becomes more apparent. The initial layer is much like the top half, thick brushstrokes with heavy-handed color schemes, a sickly green and yellow accompanied by a strong black. What separates this half is the presence of kind of proto-drip, a splatter element of gray and green that evokes Pollock and Mitchell more than most. The splatter adds another dimension to the bottom, giving it a more vivacious sense accompanied by a feel that the artist wasn’t necessarily nitpicking about how the splatter came to rest on the canvas (unlike Pollock). We can see this frustration in the canvas and it gives us a sign of why Leslie moved past the abstract to the more literal realism movement. Leslie finds his context by being one of the few artists to start off as completely abstract, only using color and strokes to evoke and express, and then moving forward into hyper-real style of painting. Leslie stated this “figurative ideas could not be ignored…” even if it meant “…that I would be turning my back on the twentieth century, turning my back on my abstract achievement”. Leslie was one of the expressionists that did not find a comfort zone within the abstract, instead he sought new ways to put his ideas on the canvas, even if it meant going backwards in time to utilize the realist style of the mid 19th century. He also did not stop at just painting Leslie was also an avid photographer, videographer, and sometimes sculptor. In the field of abstract expressionists there was a movement known as “Color Field”. Many of these painters saw abstraction as the end to the means, a purer form of representation, removing any kind of recognizable imagery from their paintings in order to allow the color and brushstrokes to do all the speaking for them. Olitski wasn’t as prominent as Gottlieb or the self-denied originator of this style, Rothko, but Olitski was an innovator in his own right. While many color field painters laid