Courtesy of the Estate of Jules Olitski/VAGA
As the first American painter to hold a solo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jules Olitski and his work received widespread acclaim throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Today his breakthrough color field paintings provide an insight to his avant-garde approach to artwork.
On the third level of the Katzen Art Gallery, you can visit an exhibition by Olitski, one of the last classic modern painters, until Dec. 16. “Revelation” houses more than 30 enormous canvases from public and private collections.
The pieces on display consist of many themes, noticeably the use of outline or lack thereof. Several of Olitski’s paintings have very gradually blended colors achieve a cloud-like image.
In many of his stain paintings however, outlines are distinct, showing monochrome circles and other shapes. Other paintings have no room for outlines; they are a wash of creativity, hundreds of colors in swirls, with lumps of paint an inch or more high on the canvas. Olitski does not strive for the illusion of depth.
The paintings are striking in person, as the texture and nuance of the paint couldn’t be reproduced in any other medium. In the various displays, the texture of the canvas may resemble sandstone, tree bark, dark prismatic oil spills or sun-stained clouds.
The exhibition presents works from Olitski’s entire career through stain paintings, spray paintings, baroque and high baroque paintings and the last great series, “With Love and Disregard.”
“With Love and Disregard” points toward Olitski’s painting philosophy. According to a press release, he took great measures to ensure that he had nothing prepared as to what the painting would look like when he was finished with it. Early in his career, he would paint blindfolded or late at night using unconventional instruments like mops and hairdryers. These techniques were attempts to remove himself from the conception of the painting, aiming instead to paint from talent and intuition.
By understanding Olitski’s philosophy, one can understand the title of the exhibition. Through his methods, the paintings were revealed to him, almost as though he were not adding paint to the canvas. He is erasing or clearing away a white shroud of blankness, revealing the meaning of his work. It is this “Revelation” which inspires the exhibit’s title. It is an exhibit which must be seen to be understood.