Rose Barbara (ed.), Lee Krasner : a retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York (20 December 1984 – 12 February 1985), New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1983→
Landau Ellen G., Lee Krasner : a catalogue raisonné, New York, Abrams, 1995→
Levin Gail, Lee Krasner : a biography, New York, William Morrow, 2011
Lee Krasner : a retrospective, MoMA, New York, 20 December 1984 – 12 February 1985
Lee Krasner was born in Brooklyn to a family of Russian immigrants. She studied at the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union, then later at the National Academy of Design. In 1934, she was hired as an independent artist by the Public Works of Art Project and took part in the mural division of the Federal Art Project. From 1937 to 1940, she studied at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, where her teacher, H. Hofmann, encouraged her choice of a form of lyrical abstraction based on the use of colour, despite her early interest in realist and surrealist painting. She was also inspired by John Graham and his System and Dialectics of Art (1937), particularly by his reflections on primitive art, the subconscious and automatic writing. L. Krasner met Jackson Pollock in 1941. At the time, they belonged to the first generation of abstract expressionist painters. They married in 1945. L. Krasner is often described as an unconventional and independent personality. She started out earning a living as a hat and porcelain decorator. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, and the Whitney Museum presented a retrospective of her work in 1973. The Metropolitan Museum of Art now owns a large collection of her paintings and collages. L. Krasner always refused to be defined as a painter of series. Her works are easily identifiable by their style, rhythmical quality and movement, use of colour, and both floral and organic imagery. They share a kinship with ornamentation, yet cannot be described as decorative, and are characterised by gestural brushwork and a very rich texturing of surfaces. With Little Image Paintings (1946-1950), an intimate series painted at her worktable and in which she develops a style of improvised all-over painting, she began to steer away from classic easel painting methods.
From 1949 onward, her painting became increasingly structured around the use of multiple coloured squares and imbricated symbols. In 1947, the art critic Clement Greenberg introduced L. Krasner and J. Pollock to Miró’s work. The surrealist painter did not become a conscious point of reference for her, but her use of varied materials such as wood and Masonite, as well as the unconventional mediums of her series of painted collages from 1954-1955, show clear signs of Miró’s influence. L. Krasner also made use of the intrinsic properties of surfaces and supports: a spatial tension emanates from all her works, several of which from 1946 onward are evocative of Mondrian’s “less is more”. Her 1950s paintings fluctuate between expressionist tendencies and a form of geometric abstraction. At the end of the decade, she reverted to using the collage elements she had in the late 1930s, and developed an expressionist style akin to that of Matisse’s ornamental works. She painted two of her masterpieces during this period: Blue and Black (oil on canvas, 1951-1953) and Bird Talk (1955), the red and orange tones of which are a direct evocation of the painter. During the same period, she regularly returned to structures suggestive of cubist paintings. In 1960, she painted the large-scale canvases Celebration and Polar Stampede, in which she worked with looped shapes and rhythmic patterns of dancing lines. By the mid-60s, her art had reached maturity: profusions of semicircles and diagonals structuring the canvas became recurring elements of her painting (Portrait in Green, 1966; Gaea, 1966), and the rhythmic quality of the paintings was further highlighted by the use of no more than one or two colours. The relationship between her production and Pollock’s was almost always emphasised, and she even founded the Pollock-Krasner grant programme. However, her painting, far from being a mere by-product of her husband’s, developed a form of abstraction inspired by nature and the manifestations of the subconscious, and must be viewed as a powerful body of modernist art with a unique style that boldly combines an extremely varied number of sources, from Attic friezes to Celtic illuminated manuscripts, and from Islamic calligraphy to the tradition of European painting.
Lee Krasner, Milkweed, 1955, collage of oil, paper, and canvas on canvas, 209.2 x 146.7 cm, © ADAGP, Paris
Lee Krasner, Gold Stone, 1969, lithograph printed in yellow ink on cream wove paper, 58.1 x 76.2 cm, © ADAGP, Paris
Lee Krasner, Blue Stone, 1969, lithograph printed in blue ink on cream wove paper, 57.3 x 76.7 cm, © ADAGP, Paris
Lee Krasner, Pink Stone, 1969, lithograph printed in rose ink on cream wove paper, 55.2 x 73.8 cm, © ADAGP, Paris
Lee Krasner, Night Creatures, 1965, acrylic on paper, 76.2 x 108 cm, © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, © ADAGP, Paris