Friday, April 26, 2013


Joan Mitchell(1958), oil on canvas, 190 x180 cm

I was looking at the work of Joan Mitchell and wondering just what it was that made her more celebrated than a painter like Milton Resnick, who remains comparatively and relatively obscure, a painter's painter for the most part, despite the best efforts of his New York dealers Robert Miller, and later Cheim&Read, both of whom represented Mitchell as well. These two painters were both the fiercest, most individualistic, most "felt" abstractionists of the 1950s. Hard to think of many artists who packed more into every single stroke than them. Twombly, Guston, de Kooning, Pollock? Sure. Maybe. But mark for mark I'd put my money on Resnick and Mitchell. It is something you can't teach or fake. Like people who can't lie to save their lives.

Milton Resnick EAST IS THE PLACE(1959), Oil on Canvas

The interesting thing is that Resnick changed. That may be the difference. Mitchell never did. Not really. She never abandoned the mark. It was always the mark. It defined her as much as she defined it.

Milton Resnick(2010), Cheim and Read Catalogue, "The Elephant in the Room"  

Resnick went somewhere else as a painter in the 60s. He sought to redefine painting, for himself, and finally, for the rest of us. I remember when I was trying to go out with an art writer in New York in the very early 80s, probably 1980. She kept me guessing and instead steered me toward writing about the Resnick painters, him and his followers. I was willing to do that because it gave me a chance to court her. I wasn't buying Resnick's redefinition of painting and I made her keep explaining it. I was never truly convinced but I went along with it because the frustration it was causing her put my courtship in jeopardy.

Late Resnick, Cheim&Read

Just for the record, she never even let me in the batter's box, let alone to first base. She had a mission, and she was willing to lead me on to a point to get some print for the cause. I couldn't help feeling like some Jean-Paul Belmondo was smoking a cigarette waiting for her around a corner so she could be done with this stupid American boy. I did visit some of the cool-aid drinking Resnickites with her, who all painted pretty much like him. I even wrote about one of them. I still remember that art writer carefully and painfully explaining the whole Resnick thesis in her bare little lower East Side apartment. Showing me step by step how the idea was that Resnick and his followers brought the experience of the painting into the space in front of the picture plane. So instead of depth of field and then flat painting, we now had this new dimension, that like some hologram existed in between the viewer and the painting.

Milton Resnick, (1982) Straw Series, oil on board, 40 x 30

Of course this was where I had a problem, the relative space between the viewer and the painting surface. How far did these 3d paintings extend? Five feet? Thirty feet? I wonder how she felt when Resnick abandoned all of that? And the other Resnickites? What happened when he turned back? I get no pleasure from that. I was cheering them on, even if skeptical. Not happy to see them get hung out there. When confronted about his followers Resnick dismissed them. Said they weren't artists and it didn't matter. Like puppies in a bag tossed over a bridge, according to his friend and one time assistant Larry Deyab. That no real artist would be a follower. True. Still pretty harsh stuff if its true that that was how he felt about his disciples.

Mitchell 1956

Of course Mitchell might have been even harsher if that's possible. Foul mouthed, she once apparently asked an artist loudly at that artist's opening "whose blank she had to blank" to get the show. Strong stuff. But she found a way to stay true to her work to the end. Did she end up just imitating herself, at least part of the time, is that what happened? Is that what made her self-destruct in alcohol and cigarettes? Or was the painting the genuine thing in her life, the happy thing in an otherwise miserable life, like a modern day female Van Gogh. The comparisons stop there of course. She was never exactly poor. Quite the contrary. And she was very well connected and art world successful.

Milton Resnick, (1959) AS.2,  oil on canvas,  82 x 80

I liked Resnick's paintings from the 50s, what he rather dismissively called his "pretty" paintings. The individualism went out of his marks and paintings as a whole by the early 60's. They became collective. The marks became more and more subservient to the whole. The paintings became slabs. Almost colorless, unless you got up close. Even then there was some larger entity burying them.

 Joan Mitchell, 1980,  Cypress 

Mitchell just kept finding inspiration. Monet, van Gogh. Living in France. The same inspiration Resnick had long since moved on from, or discarded, or sublimated, or outright rejected.

Joan Mitchell, (1982) Buckwheat, oil on canvas, 87 x 78.8

Mitchell and her collectors have been rewarded for either staying behind or staying the course. Resnick is still waiting for the light to shine on him. Apparently he felt that Pop Art had ruined everything, especially for him. Resnick might have gladly shot Andy Warhol for that. He outlived both Warhol and Mitchell and never found justice. He might still be alive today but chose to end it all on his own terms in 2004.

Early Resnick, Cheim&Read

I always loved de Kooning. My theory is you follow your gush. What makes you gush? Is that your life? It is not a question of luck. More a question of conviction. What are you willing to sacrifice for your gush? Family, friends, money, security, comfort, children? De Kooning had the gush. Love and art. The gush of paint. The gush of form. The gush of life. Resnick had that in the 50s. Undeniable. Came and went after that in my opinion. Mitchell had it to the end. But who's keeping score?
Addison Parks, Spring Hill

Resnick, 1979 

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