Lee Krasner at the Barbican

This was the first major exhibition of Krasner’s work in 50 years. I was interested to see it and to consider the influences on her work and the context under which it was produced.

Some of her influences were shown in the very first exhibition room. It contained a few, very vibrant and colourful, quite small abstract paintings. But one wall of the room simply showed a series of very large scale photos of flowers. The gallery notes explained how, in 1945, Krasner moved to Springs (near East Hampton, NY). Her father’s death, the year before, had ‘left her unable to paint anything but what she affectionately called her grey slabs‘.

Now, surrounded by nature, a ‘new kind of imagery was coming through, she worked on her ‘Little Images – vibrant, jewel-like abstractions, pulsing with an even rhythm’.

The photos on the wall were taken by her friend, Ray Eames who ‘documented the wildlife in Springs that inspire this work’.

 

The curator had, very effectively, displayed the paintings and photos together to express the way  surroundings had influenced the images produced.

A couple of examples of the society in which Krasner operated, were shown later in the exhibition. At the age of 19 she was due to study at the National Academy of Design. She was obviously extremely talented and, in later interviews, would talk of how ‘the Academy had refused to believe her capable’ of a plein-air portrait she had submitted.

She protested about this and was promoted to the life-drawing class, but she did not like the traditional approach of the Academy, which she described as ‘a sterile atmosphere of …. congealed mediocrity’.

Another example of the times in which she was working came after the Wall Street Crash. The depression that followed forced her to leave the National Academy. In 1937 she was awarded a scholarship to attend classes at the Hans Hoffman School. The images in the ‘Life Drawing’ room showed how Krasner made her first venture into abstraction attracting the comment from Hoffman that her work was so good ‘you would not know it was done by a woman’.

Seeing the exhibition and the paintings themselves was a great opportunity, but the curator had also effectively introduced many descriptions of the  influences and contexts under which Krasner produced her work.