Thursday, July 22, 2010

Three White Paintings

Jasper John's White Flag, purchased directly from the artist by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a painting John's himself considered among his best. He used layer after layer of beeswax to collage newsprint, charcoal, rag and white pigment onto three separate panals, the star panal, top stripes and longer lower stripes panals. The completed painting measures just over six and a half feet high by ten feet wide. The Met's timeline features a multimedia web page about John's White Flag.

White Flag by Jasper Johns, Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 1955

Perhaps a precursor to John's monochrome Flag was the Russian avant-garde painter Kasimir Malevitch's painting Suprematist Composition: White on White painted in 1918 and now in the Museum of Modern Art. Malevitch developed an aesthetic theory called Suprematism that expressed pure feeling by exploring space with basic geometric forms notably circles and squares. He may be best known for his painting Black Square.

Suprematist Composition: White on White by Kasimir Malevich, Oil on canvas, 1918

The painting Crystallizations by Mark Tobey showcases a style employed by Pacific Northwest mid-twentieth century artists known as "white writing". The white writing technique was a form of unified field painting that borrowed heavily from Asian brush calligraphy and ultimately influenced American Abstract Expressionism. Said Tobey, "What I had learned in the Orient had affected me more than I realized. This was a new approach. I couldn't shake it off. So I had to absorb it before it consumed me. In a short time white writing emerged. I had a totally new conception of painting. The Orient has been the greatest influence of my life."

Crystallizations by Mark Tobey, Tempra on paper, 1944

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