Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction

Lee Krasner. Gaea. 1966 4500

Oil on canvas, 69" x 10' 5 1/2" (175.3 x 318.8 cm). Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © 2019 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Starr Figura: This is Gaea by Lee Krasner, a monumental painting from 1966. Krasner was one of a number of women involved with the abstract expressionist movement from the '40s all the way through the '60s. And she was famously the wife of Jackson Pollock. Here's Lee Krasner:

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.

Starr Figura: There was this idea embedded in abstract expressionism that there was a masculine heroicism to these strong gestures. It basically trivialized or excluded women from even being able to be a part of it. Krasner struggled with that throughout her career, but after Pollock died, she was able to come more into her own. And you see that happening in this work, where she's using big gestures and floral colors in a very personal way.

Lee Krasner: —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.

Starr Figura: There was this sense of all-overness, of being enveloped by what's happening in the painting. She put her whole body into the brushstrokes that you see across the canvas. And abstract expressionism was all about personal expression through the gesture of painting.

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