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There was a time, a time when sufferance and shock ruled the post-war scenario. A period characterized by the attempt to give voice to the psychosis caused by World War II, that led to a more abstract and psychological approach to the artistic subject. In a time of that sort, a group of painters fled the city to return to the countryside, to recollect in tranquillity and paint those American landscapes and amenities that had lost of artistic interest. 

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When we look at the American art history of the 1950s, we find a scenario characterized mainly by a tendency towards abstraction. The vast majority of the art world was leaning into those forms of expression that had rejected figurativeness and mimesis. These were times when the psychological patterns, produced by the end of World War II, were being exploited at their best through Abstract Expressionism; times when being a figurative painter was considered anathema. In this particular setting artist like Lois Dodd, Alex Katz and Fairfield Porter, and many others, gathered into what looked like a movement that did not accept the common trend of abstraction, that chose to give space to the narration of the American countryside; to be figurative and give voice to what was left after those long years of sufferance brought by the War. Whether we call this movement “East Coast Figurative Painters” or we just refer to it as a form of New Realism, it's important we take a deeper look into it, in order to understand how great art is not necessarily produced only by following a trend, but also by taking a step back and recollecting with nature and the infinite beauty that relies in it. 

Lois Dodd

Despite her involvement in New York City’s Tenth Street-avant-garde during the 1950s, Lois Dodd was a crucial artistic personality in the migration towards the countryside. She has become popular due to her observational paintings of landscapes, still, lives and nudes, in which the representation of the everyday life creates a pattern of quietness and emotional depth and rejects most of the popular American references such as excess and mass media pop-culture. Both a calm and easy atmosphere surround her paintings, which stand as an implicit critique to her peers’ belief that possession and leisure are fundamental in the pursuit of happiness. 

 

Lois Dodd, “Millbrook Village, Fall” (2014), oil on masonite, 15 3/4 x 15 7/8 inches

 

Alex Katz

As well as Lois Dodd, Katz’s artistic personality was initially formed at The Cooper Union in New York, before being influenced by the countryside in Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Maine, where he was introduced to the power of life painting. Out of the personalities involved in the “Maine Painters” movement, he is the most influential towards other forms of expression, due to his anticipation of the colour palettes of the pop-art scene, and the simple and expressive patterns coexisting in his compositions. Alex Katz’s paintings are defined by the flatness both of colour and form, and a cool and seductive sentimental detachment, which creates a powerful figurative representation of the subject and its intrinsic emotional state. Read more about Alex Katz in our article: Meet the Top 30 Pop Art Artists!

 

Alex Katz, "Slab City Road" (1959), oil on linen 61 1/2 × 49 in. (156.2 × 124.5 cm)

 

Fairfield Porter

Although he majored in Fine Arts at Harvard and continued his artistic studies after he moved to New York in 1928, Fairfield Porter was strongly attached to the moments he spent with his family and close friends in his summer house in Great Spruce Head Island, in Maine. Out of all the “East Coast Figurative Painters, he had one of the strongest painterly like visions, with strong connections to the European naturalistic representation embodied by painters like Bonnard and Vuillard. His subjects were mainly landscapes, family portraits and domestic interiors, in which he was able to satisfy his vision of what Renoir told Bonnard regarding “making everything more beautiful”. Porter had a fascination with nature’s beauty and the ability to reveal extraordinariness in an ordinary representation of everyday life, making him one of the most interesting personalities in the 20th century’s figurative painting panorama. 

In times like the ones we live in today, where everything in the art scene is leaning towards an even more psychological, philosophical and conceptual way of expressing art and its forms, it remains of crucial importance to understand the concrete reality that surrounds us painters and artistic minds. We find ourselves once again facing the fact that it is imperative to give importance to what is tangible and constantly put before us in our everyday life because nature’s simplicity and its beauty still allow us nowadays to “make everything more beautiful”.

 

Fairfield Porter, "Clothesline" (1958), oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 41 1/2 in. (90.2 x 105.4 cm)

 

Cover image: Fairfield Porter, "The Horse in the Meadow" (1968), oil on canvas, 24 c 41 in. (61 x 104.1 cm)

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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