Olitski: The Landscape of His Dreams

Greek Princess 8, 1976, Courtesy of Estate of Jules Olitski/Licensed by VAGA, New York, Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Revelation: Major Paintings by Jules Olitski, is currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. (The show originated at the Kemper Art Museum in Kansas City, travels next to Toledo before opening within reach of my viewing radius—at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington DC in mid-September.)

Some moments in the video below about Jules Olitski are worth calling out. Art historian Karen Wilken is clear and articulate in putting his large scale (“public scale”) works in perspective. There is also a heartwarming clip of Olitski himself speaking in Hartford. Frustrated by the search for meaning some viewers apply to abstraction, he dismisses that line of approach with an analogy to sex—when you are making love, who is asking what does that this mean? I was particularly caught by Olitski’s friend and sculptor Willard Boepple describing how his friend approached art making: How the desperation and the awfulness of a work of art in progress is essential because that desperation leads to discovery and that is where the adventure happens.

Another Olitski confrere reads this insightful quote by G. K. Chesterton word for word:

There is at the back of every artist’s mind something like a pattern and a type of architecture. The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would like to wander, the strange flora and fauna, his own secret planet, the sort of thing he likes to think about. This general atmosphere, and pattern or a structure of growth, governs all his creations, however varied.

I love that.

Some of Olitski’s work send me high, like Greek Princess 8 shown above. Others are not as redolent to my eye and spirit. But his descriptions of his approach, his concerns, his way of working—I feel a commonality with those concerns every day in my studio.

3 Replies to “Olitski: The Landscape of His Dreams”

  1. marcia goodwin says:

    Thanks Deborah:
    Missed your blogs while you were away Food for my soul!

  2. “Desperate measures lead to discovery and this is where the adventure happens” the ability to sit in the desperation instead of running from it is an act of facing your fears.

  3. Thanks Marcia and Di. I know about that desperation Boepple described, in the studio and otherwise. And I know how it can open unexpectedly. Good reminder…

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