LEE KRASNER, ROSE STONE, BLUE STONE, AND GOLD STONE (FROM PRIMARY SERIES), 1969
SYDNEY FRANCIS, WESTERN HIGH SCHOOL, CLASS ‘18
Abstract Expressionism allowed many artists such as Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and Willem De Kooning to establish their reputations in the art world. The movement enabled artists to express themselves freely through the use of vibrant colors, drips of paint, and gestural brushstrokes. While many museums and galleries, such as Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York, promoted this radical style of art, none played as crucial a role in establishing Abstract Expressionism as the dominant artistic movement of post-war America as
the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Founded in 1929 by Abigail Rockefeller, the mother of Nelson Rockefeller, the MoMA was a “Rockefeller dominated institution,” so much so that it became inextricably linked to the Rockefellers’ business interests, and political goals. In her essay, “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War,” art historian Eva Cockcroft argues that throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the MoMA, under the leadership of the Rockefellers, organized major exhibitions both in the United States and abroad in an effort to promote capitalist ideology in the face of what many saw as the growing threat of communism.
In her efforts to show the relationship between institutions like the MoMA, American foreign policy, and the development of movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, Cockcroft presents these artists as a homogenous group—ignoring the differences within this generation of artists, specifically regarding questions of gender and race. While most of the central figures associated with Abstract Expressionism, such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still were white and male, there were female members of this group, and at least one person of color. Both Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife, and Norman Lewis, an African-American artist, were both members of the Abstract Expressionists. However, whereas their white male counterparts were able to obtain success and fame through the promotion of their works by leading artistic patrons and institutions, women and people of color were consistently overlooked. No where is this more true than in the case of Lee Krasner (1908-1984).
When she began her artistic career, Lena Krasner was a confident, independent
young woman from Brooklyn, New York. Knowing that she wanted to be an artist at an early age, Krasner enrolled first at the Women’s Art School at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science, and later at the prestigious National Academy of Design. While studying for her teaching certificate in the early 1930s, Krasner began studying with the German painter Hans Hoffman, whose use of bold, expressive color, and all-over technique would revolutionize Krasner’s style. During this time, in order to support herself, Krasner joined the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project, where she eventually rose to the level of supervisor. It was during this period in her life that she met her future husband Jackson Pollock.
When Krasner met Pollock in the early 1940s, he was a struggling artist, who had recently arrived in New York from the American West. While Pollock had had little formal artistic training, Krasner had studied at the best art schools in the country, and it was through her wide knowledge of artistic techniques and practices that Pollock became acquainted with current trends in the art world. Although Pollock was certainly an artistic innovator, and some would say genius, he could not have done so without the help and support of Krasner, who helped shape him into the artist that he would eventually become. Throughout Pollock’s life, Krasner would be his most trusted critic and greatest support.
Following Pollock’s death in 1956 in an alcohol-related car crash, Krasner, whose career had been overshadowed by her husband’s during the eleven years of their difficult marriage, began to establish a name for herself as an artist in her own right. During the 1960s, as the feminist movement gained momentum, Krasner’s reputation grew, and people began to recognize her as a significant artist in her own right. It was at this time that Krasner began her Primary Series, a set of lithographic prints in which she explores the three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. In Rose Stone, Blue Stone, and Gold Stone (1969), Krasner uses an all-over technique with blotches of bold color. The series shows Krasner’s life-long fascination with color, and her ability to constantly reinvent herself as an artist.