Milton Avery’s circus and vaudeville paintings at David Zwirner Gallery.
We typically associate Milton Avery‘s style with fauvist seascapes, quiet domestic interior scenes where people with blue, red and green bodies dissolve into shapes and outlines, abstracted flat shapes that hold on to representational elements and beautiful color fields that will forever hold their importance in the history of art.
Ales Otruzar, Director at David Zwirner Gallery talked to galleryIntell about the exhibition at ADAA: The Art Show 2013 where they are presenting an interesting phase in the artist’s body of work. In the 1930s, when Avery was a struggling artist, together with his wife they would often go to various vaudeville and circus performances and Avery would use performers as free live models. However, today these paintings provide us the benefit of viewing a slice of life from the era!
Ales Otruzar: Known for his bold use of color and almost abstract compositions, Avery’s paintings typically do not focus on a specific subject or people, and stay away from the banalities of realistic details. His landscapes consist of swatches of expressionistic bright colors placed next to each other. Even when he includes figures in his compositions, they blend seamlessly into their surroundings and become a part of the larger narrative (see “Husband and Wife” image below).
The paintings at the booth are unlike Avery’s recognized style. Here, the figures are the focal point of the paintings, often extravagant and fanciful, as they are depictions of performers. These subjects do not blend in the background – they command the foreground! In Strongman, we see that figure takes up the almost the entire space on the canvas and the very active pose puts the viewer right in the seat next to Avery.
Trapeze Artist makes use of lines to convey the action. One sees the circus rink with animals, and a linear figure on a bicycle balancing on a tight rope. What captures attention as the eyes travel downwards on the painting is the massive face of a man looking up at this spectacle, presumably that of a person sitting in front of the artist. The angle, the scale and action in the painting make the overall composition vibrant. Other, more risqué themes in this collection include the depiction of strip shows and cabaret dancers, also adding to the active quality of this body of work which separates it from the rest of the artist’s paintings.
Video interview transcript on page 2
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