June 07, 2006

In The Gallery

Spanierman Gallery, L.L.C.,

68 Newtown Lane, East Hampton

Charlotte Park: Abstract Expressionist Paintings, 1950-63

It's possible in the continuing reassessment of famous women artists literary, visual, performing, who were married to famous men — that Charlotte Park, as this surprising show suggests, will emerge even stronger as a New York School Abstract Expressionist of original, various and distinctive work.

Curated by Ronny Cohen, who writes of the "rediscovery of Park," the exhibit features "the most extensive survey" to date of Park's mid-century paintings and drawings, some pieces rarely if ever seen. A long-time resident of Springs, where she still lives, Park might be said to have enjoyed an enviable reputation since the early `50s when her nature-inspired gouache and oils began to elicit admiration in major galleries and publications — were it not for the fact that Charlotte Park was also Mrs. James Brooks.

Did his fame eclipse hers? Were women artists — not to mention women critics and art historians — not yet considered as seriously as men? Did life among the colorful bad-boy icons of the period — notably Pollock and de Kooning — mean less showcasing opportunity for the talented women who shared their intellectual and aesthetic passions? Such questions may explain why Park is not better known, but in no way should they prompt comparative appreciation with Brooks or anyone else.

Charlotte Park is an artist of first magnitude and in no one's shadow, as the 40 works on view here confirm. One untitled work, for example, an oil and gouache on muslin, exhibits red and white daub effects, but clearly distinguishes itself from a Pollock drip painting. Park also resists generalization. Evidencing reliance on brushwork that allows under layers to tease through, #25 1951 shows it was painted also with a palette knife. Though the interlocking black, white and ochre free-form shapes of the splendid large oil Gathering would suggest Park's distance from Cubism, she surprises with a smaller, similarly colored geometric abstract of clean straight lines and ovals, done around the same time.

Two overused words come to mind for Park's oeuvre: "pleasing" and "perfect," yet they suit. The large knockout titled works, many juxtapositions of bold reds, orange and black — Departure, Resurgence, with scratchboard-like black sections swelling out from the canvas, Hotspur, Peterboro, the totemic Aztec, Lament — all testify to Park's confidence in combining color and form. Montauk, its slightly luminous black areas so flawlessly combined with reds, greens and splashes of light blue, make it impossible to discern the chronology of the pigment layers or to locate starting points.

The untitled pieces, some of them (ink and) gouache on paper and done in two or three colors, particularly show off Park's design skills. Cohen has intelligently grouped six of these, all from the mid '50s, in a back room where they form a unit of swirls and curves massed against vertical and horizontal paint swaths. A mid-gallery wall of three gouache pieces, two with collage, also invites instructive comparison. Ironically, though nature may have inspired Charlotte Park, some of the more expressionistic black and whites have an almost industrial look, fit complements to the joyous, multicolored untitled works of the early '60s, two of which, included here, hint at yet another artistic turn.


Haley Lever (1876-1958), a Spanierman favorite, is represented in the gallery's lower level with 23 distinctive impressionist oils, including three still lifes and one watercolor not seen before. The oils contain surprises — more NYC seascapes, including the Lake Bridge in Central Park, a view of Manhattan from Queens, maroon and beige strokes along with blues and greens churning up the water, another view from City Island in the Bronx, and a slightly mannered late '40s work of Eastchester, dominated by a brilliantly lit yellow tree. These are interspersed with Lever's signature Van Gogh-like Gloucester, MA and Cornwall and Brittany coast compositions of boats, masts and fishing-village houses. Some scenes, absent aerial perspective and with foreground houses and boats angled slightly askew, evoke a folk art quality, others a moodier Lever of muted color and discernible brushwork, impressionistic technique serving the picturesque.

The exhibit runs through June 26.

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