This well-researched exhibition at Paul Kasmin gallery in Chelsea presents the early works by an American abstract expressionist artist Robert Motherwell . The show includes 18 works from 1941 to 1951 when the artist was actively searching for his style and its meaning. In 1941 he started studying studio art at Columbia University after pursuing a PhD degree in philosophy at Harvard. Building up on his interest in modernist writings and poetry, he turned to the visual arts while traveling to Europe in the late 1930s. His other influences were from the exiled surrealists leaving in New York City at that time such as Max Ernst, Duchamp, Masson. In particular, an idea of letting out the unconscious through the process of “automatic” drawing made a considerable effect on Motherwell and was further developed in his later works alternating between figurative and abstract images.
His travels to Mexico City in 1941 brought him in contact with a Chilean painter Roberto Matta, another promoter of abstract expressionism. The works made at the time of that trip, La Belle Mexicane (Maria) and Three Figures are included in the exhibition and are on public view for the first time.
Another strong influence apparent in the selection of works on view is by Piet Mondrian, the founder of De Stijl movement who had his first exhibition in New York in 1942. The minimalism of De Stijl style adapted to convey the sorrows from the Spanish Civil War can be seen in The Sentinel (1942), Recuerdo de Coyoacán (1942) and The Spanish Prison (Window) (1943-1944). It is well documented that the Spanish Civil War made a huge impact on Motherwell. His cycle of paintings Elegy to the Spanish Republic is now at the Guggenheim museum. Robert Motherwell’s book with the same title gives more ground to the subject of the cycle.
The works from the later years in the current show are turning more to abstract with an idea of automatic painting getting into action. At that time the artist also started experimenting with collages on paper and became known for his innovative style in the medium. An expose Robert Motherwell: Early Collages covers 60 works from that period.
The gallery is open Tue – Sat, 10am – 6pm