New York/Maryland, Modern Figure and Abstract Expressionist Painting

Called a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Grace Hartigan has created work that strikes a balance between abstract and figurative. Typically her figures are boldly outlined in black, and she fills them in with blocks of coloration.  Of her painting she said: “I do not wish to describe my subject matter, or to reflect upon it—I want to distill it until I have its essence.  Then the rawness must be resolved into form and unity; with the ‘rage for order’ how can there be art?”

Along with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko and others, Grace Hartigan is internationally recognized for carrying figurative painting into abstraction.  Conscious of the lesser regard for women artists and the male-dominated abstract painting group with which she was associated, she signed her early work ‘George Hartigan’.

A breakthrough for her career was in 1950 when art critics Meyer Shapiro and Clement Greenberg selected her for the “New Talent” exhibition at Kootz Gallery. The following year, she had her first solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Conscious of needing to have a style that was her own and not overly influenced by the artists with whom she was associating, Grace Hartigan decided to ‘paint her way through history’ and study the Old Masters, copy their work and utilize what she learned from those processes in her own painting.  Pollock, Kline and Mark Rothko saw this as a defection from their commitment to pure abstraction, but she persisted in the face of their criticism and concluded that her paintings that truly expressed her leanings had to have “fragmentary elements from the real world”.  Titles of her work from that period include Shop Window (1955) and City Life (1956). 

Primarily working with oil on canvas, or watercolor and collage, Hartigan uses bright colors, sometimes outlined in thick black paint reminiscent of stained-glass windows. 

For more information about Grace Hartigan and to see samples of her work visit the Maryland Art Source website at URL: http://www.marylandartsource.org/artists/detail_000000124.html.

Source: Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists; Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art; Marika Herskovic (Editor), American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s; and Peter Falk (Editor), Who Was Who in American Art

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