I am an artist, a child of the Depression and WWII. I arrived in New York City fifty-plus years ago just when Abstract Expressionism peaked at the end of the 50’s. I didn’t know it then, but I was a little like a friend of mine who was drawn to Ghandi’s movement and went to India; the day he landed, Ghandi died.
As a movement Abstract Expressionism did little to propagate what most engaged me and my small pod of fellow painters in Hoboken in the 60’s—its looser and more eloquent side. On our own, the Hoboken School, as we dubbed ourselves, chose to mine the the artistic promises of several huge universes. The short list: historically unparalleled access of treasuries of world art from Chinese to Bushman, thanks to global information and reproductions; the astounding Western tradition; the vital origins of Modernism and overwhelming successes of the School of Paris (leaving in their wake an increasingly bogus avantgardism); randomness to be recovered as a significant element of visual thought and feeling; the legacies of Albers, Hofmann, Klee, Kandinsky and the modern empire of color, including the hope that someday we might reconcile color with what we learned from Rubens and his century about drawing.
We wanted to extend the momentum of Abstract Expressionism into acts bolder than illustrating the theories of dominant art critics; or art that serviced society’s celebrations of itself (Warhol); art that reacted to vastness of choice by eliminating choice, e.g. Minimalism, whose stringent limitations sometimes seemed dictated mostly by fear of Pleasure and Plenty; or art that, unaware of its own roots, skittered after the future; or work that, often after a good start, collapsed into the repetition of career art. Pursuing change and confusion may have been career-complicating and isolating, but gave us extraordinary freedom.
On the painterly side, certain overformulated and theory-burdened templates of AE used up the air through the ’60s and after, insisting on surfaces whose simplifications deliberately left little room for confusions, even though that’s what America seemed rife with—radically underexamined, rich confusion. Whatever else its focus, our abstraction was also devoted to exploring a challenge of S. Dali’s: “If we could organize confusion, we could do away with reality.” Did this mean we would create a different reality? Or several of them?
Having by now organized as much confusion as I am likely to, I would say that while reality, pace Dali, remains essentially untouched, its pursuit shows us more and different faces than we ever imagined