Milton Avery's work on view at St. John's

Howard Live

Review

January 09, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The paintings of Milton Avery are a must-see for anyone who figures that America's full-fledged entry into art's modern age came via the abstract expressionists of the 1940s and 1950s. The process actually began a generation or so earlier with Avery's works.

"His paintings were psychologically riveting in the way they left realism behind," explains Hydee Schaller, director of the Mitchell Gallery on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis, where 28 of the artist's portraits, landscapes and still lifes are on display through Feb. 22. "He was a precursor to abstract expressionism, and a very important influence on 20th- century American art."

Avery (1885-1965) moved to New York from northern Connecticut in 1925, and it was there that he encountered for the first time works by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. It was through Matisse, especially, that he breathed in Fauvism, the style of painting based on strong, vivid, strikingly non-naturalistic colors.

Before long, Avery's adventuresome hues would prove inspirational to younger artists such as Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler and other Color Field painters, as well as to Adolph Gottlieb, one of the leading American abstract expressionists.

The Mitchell exhibit, Milton Avery Revisited: Works from the Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection, is dominated by figurative works.

Self Portrait with Red Tam and Scarf (1938) shows the artist with raised eyebrows, a rakishly assertive air, and a neck and torso draped by a carefully modeled red scarf. Strong, stylized shadows on the left side of the face lend striking volume to the image.

Portrait of Chaim Gross demonstrates Avery's affection for full-length poses and colorful faces suffused in equally colorful clothing.

Still lifes also figure prominently in the exhibit.

Mitchell Gallery events are free to the public.

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