Every now and then I get a little obsessed with Lee Krasner’s work.
There’s been a renewed (maybe never lost) interest in her work since the 2017 publication of “Ninth Street Women,” by Mary Gabriel, a study of mid-century American artists Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. lt’s almost redundant to say that although each of these artists had significant careers, they never weren’t struggling to emerge from the shadows of their male counterparts, especially in the New York art world of the 1940s and ‘50s.
If you love to look at painting, Twentieth Century American painting in particular, you can’t not fall into Abstract Expressionism: how it emerged and where it has taken us since reminds me of how I feel about reading Charles Dickens, whose work seems to have influenced everything written in the Western world from that moment forward.
Is that a stretch? I don’t know; as an analogy It makes perfect sense to me.
Lee Krasner (1908-1984) had her first European retrospective in 2019, at the Barbican Gallery in London. I believe the show also traveled. I encouraged my mother to go up to London to see the show at the Barbican. My mom has lived in England since the 1970s, so not so big a stretch. Pretty much a couple of hours on a train with the promise of good art just off the Circle Line.
Come with me, she cried! Oh no, I said. I can’t afford it, I said…I don’t have the time …work can’t spare me. I’m saving money, I said, for the millionth time.
So off she went to see the show for both of us and reported that it was the most “astonishing” work she’d seen in years (her word, reserved for the best life has to offer). I was thrilled when the catalogue for the Lee Krasner Retrospective arrived on my doorstep in Virginia –without a doubt the best piece of mail I received in 2019.
Just this month, the Paris Review published an article about another artist who stopped me in my tracks. Frank Walter (1926-2009), whom I’ve never heard of, is described as a multi-talented, under-appreciated artist from Antigua, a polymath. What I see is a startling hybrid of Jean Michel Basquiat and, say, Arthur Dove. What I read is that Frank Walter also has an upcoming show in London.
And while it may seem that I’m writing about two artists that I admire, in fact, this post is about seizing the day, or something close.
Poised on the brink of summer 2021, I can’t go to visit my mother. Or at least, I can, but I’m not going to travel overseas until we have this pandemic firmly in hand. My mom and I are both lucky to have been vaccinated, but while I can travel, she still cannot. All of England remains under a severe lockdown, and arguably, the United States should be.
I’ll mention Frank Walter to my mom, but mostly what I’ll do is think about a perfect day in a perfect world, where I wouldn’t make excuses and I’d get on a plane to see my English family.
We’ll take the train to London to see Frank Walter’s work, and afterwards, we’ll have a late lunch somewhere really nice. My fantasy restaurant is flooded with sunlight, every table full, and we’ll have as much fun reading the menu as ordering any food. We’ll have a glass of champagne, and we’ll splurge on a desert that we’ll share. We’ll marvel at how lucky I was to come across an article about Frank Walter and agree that his paintings are even more exciting in person, astonishing, even. We’ll be glad to have this window of perfect weather. After lunch, we’ll walk for an hour or so in the city before we barely make the 5:34 back to Norwich. We may or may not fall asleep on the train.
I’m looking forward to the day that my mother can suggest something extravagant like a trip across the ocean to see a collection of paintings, and without fear, or closed borders, or any excuse that shoots down joy, I will simply say yes.