I am a big fan of Arthur Dove (1880-1946), an American modernist associated with the Alfred Stieglitz group in the early 20th century. He didn’t become a household name like Georgia O’Keeffe, who was a good friend of his. I’ve long thought of him as “one of…” the pioneer abstractionists, “one of…” the painters who evoked nature and landscape in his works, “one of…” the names to be spoken of in the same breath as John Marin, Marsden Harley, and Charles Demuth. He didn’t stand out for me until I recently noticed some stunning works at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:
These works stopped me in my tracks. I excitedly brought over my friend who was with me on this museum visit. How do you explain abstraction to someone? “Tanks” transported me to a rustic town, on a lazy day. “Dancing Willows” felt like willows bending in the breeze in the sun. The painting didn’t look like willow trees, it felt like willows. “Clouds” held many moods to contemplate…mystery, uncertainty, warmth, intrigue. The power of the abstract is that it activates your imagination through the colors and forms at hand, which—it’s nice to know—come from the artist’s original subject.
I read some books on Arthur Dove and found that his painting process was to concentrate deeply on the thing (tree, ocean, boat, building) he wanted to paint and to let the forms and colors come to him….the forms and colors should represent the deep nature of the subject, not necessarily the outer surface. There is something important here—that there is a spiritual image that is not the same as the physical image of things. And that art can convey it.
I was in Washington D.C . this past weekend and finally had a chance to visit the Phillips Collection, which I highly recommend. Besides a wonderful exhibit of American photography, I found a show-stopping Arthur Dove painting, “Me and the Moon.”