Spanierman Modern is pleased to announce the opening on October 21, 2010 of Charlotte Park, an exhibition and sale of works in oil, mixed media, and gouache by a leading figure in the abstract expressionist movement. Park, who was married to the artist James Brooks and a close friend of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, launched her own version of abstract expressionism in the early 1950s, developing a dynamic, vibrant approach to express a wide emotional range. Her work, and that of other women artists who contributed to this movement, remained overlooked while waves of critical acclaim accrued to their male counterparts, partly due to the belief that the art in this idiom was necessarily masculine. This attitude has been dispelled in recent years, as the art by women such as Park has been given recognition and acknowledged for the important dimension it provided to the movement.
Generating considerable attention in several recent shows, Park's art has played a significant role in this revisionism. She was among the artists represented in Around Jackson Pollock, East Hampton, 1946-55: 15 Abstract Expressionists, held at the American Cultural Center in Paris in the fall of 1979. In the following year, she was featured in The Pollock Year, held at the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York. Of the artists included, such as Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Brooks, David Shirey focused on Park in a New York Times review, noting that her work provided a "splendid showing" and that her "runic strokes of light colors and light are full of interesting pictorial tensions."
A solo exhibition of Park's art at The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York, in 2002, was the first to give it scholarly scrutiny. This was followed in 2006 by a show at Spanierman Gallery, East Hampton, New York, of Park's oils from the 1950s, which the New York Times critic Benjamin Genocchio described as "a revelation," noting that her "all-over compositions with . . . blocky shapes coving the entire paper have a tremendous vitality and energy." Genocchio concluded: "she is a great colorist." In the following year, Park was included in Picturing Long Island: Abstract, Figurative, and Historical, held at the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, Long Island. Another show of Park's work from the 1950s took place at Spanierman Modern in 2008, of which critic Eric Ernst observed that "Park's understanding of compositional structure . . . is extremely refined and thoughtfully constructed" and observed that her "works are never absent the spark of spontaneity and simplicity." Last January Park's paintings, on view at FADA in Los Angeles, caught the attention of Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight, who wrote in a blog post that Park's art, which " has been enjoying a resurgence of interest in her works of the 1940s, '50s and '60s " rose above the general level of the rest of the show, featuring " muscular, often chromatically brilliant paintings on canvas and paper."
Born in 1918 in Concord, Massachusetts, Park graduated from the Yale School of Fine Art in 1939. During World War II, she worked as a volunteer at the Department of Federal Public Housing in Washington, D.C., and then for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which produced information supporting overseas Allied military operations. In 1947 she married James Brooks, whom she had known at the OSS. After moving to New York, the two were drawn into the burgeoning abstract expressionist movement, becoming part of the avant-garde artists' group that included Pollock and Krasner. Through their friendship with Pollock, the two rented the front space of the studio at 46 East 8 th Street that had previously been home to Pollock and Krasner; Jackson's brother Jay, then lithography foreman of a printing plant in New Jersey, rented the back of the space. Park and Brooks also joined Pollock, Krasner, and other artists in establishing studios on Long Island, first in Montauk and then in The Springs, East Hampton. Pollock and Krasner assisted Park and Brooks in moving their house to its new location in The Springs.
Park developed her own abstract expressionist idiom in the early 1950s. Among her first works of this time were gouaches in which she limited her palette to black and white; this was a choice many New York artists made at the time to convey seriousness as well as to free their art from the demands imposed by color. This path enabled Park to concentrate on bolder, highly contrasted and clearly defined images, arranged within shallow and sometimes ambiguous post-Cubist spaces. In the mid-1950s Park began to create larger canvases such as Hot Spur and Initiation (both ca. 1955); in these works, her use of more complex and charged relationships between forms reflect her growing confidence. The dynamic and brilliant fiery orange in both paintings express a sense of heightened emotion, but one in which large planes of color are contained in an elegant and dynamic balance. Using modulated hues, cursive, undulating lines, and floating forms, Park evoked the natural world, as in the lithe and graceful Zachary (ca. 1955), while in Aztec (ca. 1955) painterly rectilinear shapes in rich earth and terra-cotta tones suggest ancient pictographs. When she included such works in her first one-person exhibition, held at Tanager Gallery in New York in November 1957, the noted New York Times art critic Dore Ashton wrote that some of her "crisp, well-composed works . . . .very active in movement, suggesting openness, as if her theme were the sea [while others] are more quiet, with resounding forms."
In the late 1950s Park investigated collage, as did her contemporaries Krasner and Conrad Marca-Relli. Culling from her earlier works for passages of color that she found interesting, Park cut them out and placed them in new relationships. The abutting planes in these works opened a vista that she explored in the 1960s, in works such as Tara (1960), whose square format has Platonic associations heightened by Park's use of sensuously blended and luminous hues. Later in life, Park had an avid interest in Piet Mondrian's neo-plasticism, creating paintings such as Oxydendrum (1975) and Hudsonia (1976) where line and plane extend beyond the picture, implying a simultaneous sense of place and of infinity.
An artist who was unceasing in her exploration of the perceptual relationships afforded by color and shape, Park exemplified the professionalism, the experimental risk-taking, and the direct engagement that was at the essence of abstract expressionist art.