During the 1930’s and 40’s and the outbreak of World War II, surrealists fled from Europe and eventually settled in New York. Soon, their interest in unmediated expression influenced a younger generation of painters to find a voice for American art, one of these painters being abstract expressionist, Karen Davie. The European pioneers of abstraction heavily influenced the new movement, which later became known as Abstract Expressionism. The movement “abstract” gets its name because it incorporates emotion and is a rebellion from the norm. Unlike the “hands off” approach that Jackson Pollock used with drip paint, Karen’s technique uses thick blocks of color and light to create the “busy” feeling. As opposed to the style of Jackson Pollock, Davie’s stoke of her brush tip never leaves the canvas. With abstract expressionism being somewhat of an emotion, many have their opinions as to whether Davie’s creations are considered art when trying to interpret her work. While Deven Golden praises Davie for the original aesthetics, tools and techniques that intensify her work, Roberta Smith claims that her work is a joke resembling that of a fun house as opposed to a piece of work.
Creating art as pure emotion and creativity, the idea of expressionism itself said, “what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event". This all-over approach used every aspect of the canvas and treated the entire space the same so that the eye can make its own meaning. According to Deven Golden, the way that the lines veer from the canvas symbolizes a losing control as both the viewer and the artist. Using darker colors mixed in with a host of bright sunny ones, Golden credits Davie’s clever use of dark colors to liven up the brighter ones. The longer one looks at the paintings, the more interpretations and ideas a person draws. In no way however, she adds, that even though the lines appear sad and droopy, Davies works are not depressing because her brush strokes are too erratic and difficult to consider depressing. Because Davie’s paintings require all of her body, she has to concentrate heavily on her task, as she performs her “dance” she worked so hard to choreograph.
At the time, few scholarly art critics could interpret the ideas and meanings in works such as Jackson’s and Karen’s because they lacked literary knowledge. Some could not and did not understand the political references and the beauty behind the rebellious attitudes of the era. Roberta Smith of the New York Times presents her thoughts addressing Karen’s works. Unable to make connections to the strokes that was ineptly explained by Deven Golden, Roberta only seems to mock the works of Davie. One of Davie’s works entitled “Pushed, Pulled, Depleted, & Duplicate looks like several of her other paintings.
However, the color and strokes of the brush in each suggest a different emotion. Smith incoherently adds that her works are similar to the stripes in a fun-house mirror. She further goes on insulting Davie’s usage of tools as being “inextricably fused” making her work seem more and more a blob of nothing, concluding that her works resembles toothpaste from a tube. Sarcastically, Smith mocks the mixed colors that Davie blends saying that the colors make nothing but curves that look like candy-stripes. Understandably, there clearly must have been something else going through the artist’s mind. Its art for crying out loud, a chance to express feelings, emotions and freeness.
At the most, I am able to say that I understand how the colors and forms of the paintings created by Davie are abstract. I believe that Roberta needs to find a little more research on what exactly abstract expressionism is because she clearly is confused. Who are we to say that someone’s work is not abstract when we were obviously not in their minds while they were painting? It is not modernism in clown makeup Smith mocked, but rather a choreographed movement to relay her emotions. We don’t know if those white and red, and blue colors show her pride in her country, or if the landscape of the portrait shows Davie’s anger and discontent with the politics in the country. This may be her way of showing her dissatisfaction with the way things are rather than using picket signs like normal people. As complicated as art may be, Davie’s simplistic yet complex style, has so much to say, if only we knew where it began.
Golden, Deven. “Notes on…Karin Davie.” http://www.artcritical.com/golden/DGDavie.htm
Smith, Roberta. “Art in Review”. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D00E0DD103AF930A15757C0A96F958260