Verbal Descriptions

Lee Krasner. Gaea. 1966 70

Oil on canvas, 69" x 10' 5 1/2" (175.3 x 318.8 cm). Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © 2023 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Narrator: The artist Lee Krasner made Gaea in 1966, using oil paint on canvas. The work measures 5 feet, 9 inches high; and 10 feet, 6 inches wide. In metric units, it is about 175 centimeters high and 319 centimeters wide.

This canvas is covered from edge to edge with an abstract composition in lipstick-pink, dark purple, and creamy white, with hints of peach. It is one of several large, horizontal paintings that Krasner made in the 1960s—this one the size of a storefront window. We can imagine the physical gestures required for the artist to apply such forceful, sweeping strokes of paint to the canvas.

Several broad, roughly rendered forms define the composition. Though abstract, they might evoke eggs, flowers or flower petals, upside down teardrops, clouds, cells, or other forms from nature. The largest of these forms takes up the lower left quarter of the canvas and is nearly double the size of the others. It is mostly cream colored, with swooping pink streaks defining its bottom half.

Two forms hover above the largest oval. The one on the left is primarily cream colored with a curved pink stroke encircling most of it. To its right, a white kite-shaped form is marked by a pink almond shape at the center surrounded by curved pink brushstrokes that suggest looking at the inside of a rose.

As we move across the painting, more rounded forms jostle to fill the canvas, some less than a foot across. The shapes appear to move and dance—crowding, overlapping, and bumping into each other. Several of the somersaulting shapes are pink and marked with thick bands of cream that define their curved edges.

The space between the forms is a connective tissue of loosely applied purple paint ranging from plum to a deep wine color. Percussive splatters of dark purple and white paint pepper the painting, indicating places where the artist may have hit the brush against the canvas.

Krasner rejected the notion that her paintings were devoid of content. She said she “wouldn’t dream of” creating a painting from a fully abstract idea. Titled Gaea, after the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, the painting’s vivid colors, organic shapes, and fluid movement reflect the artist’s fascination with the natural world and its origins.

Let’s learn more about the work from the artist.

Curator, Starr Figura: Here's Lee Krasner.

Artist, Lee Krasner: I think my initial contact with the canvas—because some gesture occurs—some sweep across the canvas before I take off, so to speak. And in that initial contact may be a suggestion which dictates then—color.

Your second or third attack on the canvas may suggest, or even look, beautiful; but you feel a need to carry it further. Well, pretty soon you’re in this combat with the canvas.

I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point. And, as your limitations are something called pigment and canvas, let’s see if I can do it.