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"Nell Blaine: The Abstract Work".

"Nell Blaine: The Abstract Work" at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York. January 27-March 10, 2001

Like Walker, the American artist Nell Blaine (1922-1996) was also concerned with the interplay of abstraction and representation, although she eschewed pure abstraction for most of her painting life, preferring instead landscape, still life, and portraiture --the work upon which her reputation rests. Encountering Blaine's abstractions from the Forties caused a jolt of delighted surprise. Completed before she turned thirty, Blaine's abstract phase began while she was studying with Hans Hoffman and continued through her inclusion in Peggy Guggenheim's important "The Women" show at Art of this Century (when Blaine was only twenty-one) and her first solo exhibition at the Jane Street Gallery, ending around the time the Jane Street Group dispersed at the end of the decade.

Despite her obvious indebtedness to Leger and Mondrian, Blaine's abstract work--hard-edged, favoring pure colors, black outlines, and biomorphic forms--shows both remarkable plastic ability and far more individuality than other followers of Mondrian. In 1946, Blaine wrote "of giving the effect of a decorative pattern even though my main effort has been to bring the picture to life with the most plastic and rhythmic means available. I enjoy hinting at repeats without making them." The evidence of her canvases proves the perfect accuracy of her statement. Rhythm, created by feinting patterns, breathes life into the work. In fact, she memorialized her debt to jazz in Lester Leaps (1944-45), the title referring to the saxophonist Lester Young. Red and Black (1945) deploys red, gray, and black biomorphic forms, which look almost like cut-out shapes, across a white ground. Also on a white ground, The Blue Triangle (1945) uses strokes of alternately circular and straight-edged black paint to outline rounded forms, wedges, and two triangles, some of which are filled in with blue or gray paint, and some of which are left white. The only partially representational work on view, Composition ("The Duck"), from 1943, apparently inaugurated Blaine's move into pure abstraction. With its pleasingly expressive, if chaotic, brushwork, and discernible red duck floating over a lit cigarette, Composition ("The Duck") resembles a de Kooning rather than the hard-edged abstractionists who soon won her over. Oddly, it is in this early painting that one finds the seeds of her later style, which owes much not only to de Kooning but also to Vuillard and Bonnard. Why, after considerable success in abstraction, Blaine chose to abandon it entirely is a story too involved to rehearse here. By doing so, she made her lasting reputation, but lost something of the jauntiness and urban verve that made this show such an unqualified success.

Daniel Kunitz writes about art regularly for The New Criterion.
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Author:Kunitz, Daniel
Publication:New Criterion
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
Words:451
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