Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fairfield Porter Drawings

"Fairfield Porter's background is exceptional in the world of twentieth-century American visual art, for he came from a family that had participated for more than a hundred years in the intellectual and political life of the country; many of his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, by comparison, were first- or second-generation immigrants or European refugees. 

The intellectual and artistic inhibition that Porter felt during the first forty years of his life (and to some extent thereafter) was due at least in part to his awareness that he came from a brilliant and historically distinguished family and that his family's intellectual standards and expectations for him were high, even if he chose to practice fine art. Through the influence of his learned and socially engaged parents, he grew up in possession of an exceptional "gentleman's education," with a comprehensive awareness of politics, literature, art history, and the pressing social problems of the day. 

His development into an artist was therefore slow, because he grappled for nearly twenty years with questions about the nature and relevance of contemporary art before creating any significant work, and even in the midst of his career, while creating his best paintings, he was constantly pondering the intellectual importance of what he was doing and why he was doing it. This rigorous questioning lasted to the end of his life.

Finally, Porter grew up in an intellectual rather than a sensual household, to be more a scholar and critic than a man who takes his chief inspiration and delight in the color, light, and textures of the physical world, so, in a sense, he needed to disregard his education in order to free himself to paint. 

His struggle was not so much the struggle of a rich young man trying to shake off the burdens of background and class as it was a struggle between systems of belief, in which painting itself (in conjunction with art criticism) stood for Porter as a kind of credo. 

Porter's painterly sensuality -- an incredibly particular and American sensuality, one so relaxed and all-embracing that his work is sometimes misconstrued as a thoughtless recording of the commonplace -- eventually triumphed in a body of paintings which are among the most significant of twentieth-century realism. But painting was not at all the sort of thing he was ever expected to do." -- Justin Spring

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