“If I could just get a spray of color in the air, and somehow it could stay there–
that would be it.”
Jules Olitski • Instant Loveland • 1968 • acrylic on canvas • 2946 x 6457 mm • The Tate Collection
On Sunday, February 4th, 2007, American artist Jules Olitski died of cancer at the age of 84. (via Artforum.com via Der Standard) Olitski was part of the later wave of post war abstractionists championed by Clement Greenberg under the banner of “Post Painterly Abstraction” which a cooler name assigned by a critic there never has been. Other Post Painterly Abstractionists include Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland and maybe even a little bit of early Larry Poons.
In Emile de Antonio’s landmark Painter’s Painting, Olitski talks about his motivations for making a life of art:
- “I decided to be a painter when my grandmother died. And there was something about that that made a number of things clear to me. I was a kid... and I loved her very much and feel that in some way she was one of the few people who supported me. That is she loved me. I got, nonetheless, the sense of an absolutely wasted, thrown away life. Like a dead cat on a garbage pail heap. And it made me get a very clear look on a all the people around me... My family, their friends... And the one thing that got through to me was the notion of... If there’s one thing you want to do, that’s meaningful, in my case it was painting, do it. Do it.”
Jules Olitski • Night and Light • JacobsonHoward Gallery
Matthew Collings in his book It Hurts delves further into Olitski’s youth. Olitski told Collings the following story in 1997 when he was visiting the artist at his home on Bear Island in New Hampshire. Collings was asking him what it was like when the critical framework that Clement Greenberg had structured around him suddenly went away because no one believed in it anymore, and then the fell into obscurity. Olitski replied that he never really went away. And it didn’t matter because he was emotionally prepared for just about anything after his early life:
“Interestingly, Olitski isn’t his real name. It’s something else, beginning with D. His father was executed in Russia in a pogrom, and his mother brought him out to New York as a child. She answered an ad to be married and the husband turned out to be a nightmare stepfather who abused him mentally and physically. He was told that he was an idiot and retarded and he believed he was. he never spoke. The only that kept him going was the fantasy of killing the stepfather when he was older. He grew up and joined the army, to get power for the murder. But when he thought he had enough power, he couldn’t go through with it, and felt pity for the stepfather instead; and he even took his name, even though he hated it.
He came out of the Army and started being an artist. But he was too socially inept to get into the art world. he lived in a little room that had rats. He was starving. He thought he was going mad. He was suicidal. Then his luck changed. Because of something to do with the G.I. Bill he was able to get a job at an art school as a teacher. He found he could talk. He had a salary. No one thought he was retarded. He kept expecting them to notice but they never did. After a while, he even got in to the art world. ... Because of his shyness he pretended his paintings were by somebody else. He said he was only the agent. It was a complicated story but in the end he got a show and after a while he stopped pretending to not be the author of his own work, and he met Greenberg, and that was the beginning of the rise.”
1922 ~ 2007