The Barbican gallery in London has officially kicked off the summer with a retrospective on American artist Lee Krasner – the first in Europe in over half a century.
The exhibition acts as a biography, shedding light on and celebrating Krasner’s work (1908-1984), which is often eclipsed due to her marriage to American artist, Jackson Pollock.
When Krasner and Pollock first met in the early 1940’s, Krasner was considered to be the more accomplished artist. But ever since Mural (1943), Pollock’s ground-breaking abstract painting defined his style, it had been his work that got all the attention. When Pollock tragically died in a car crash in 1956, the shadow cast on Krasner’s career only grew longer.
Pollock, shortly after his death, became nothing short of a mythical creature. He was heavily romanticised as the troubled genius, immortalized in Hans Namuth’s photographs, and bought by the world’s billionaires and biggest institutions. Death’s impact on an artist’s career is no new thing, but the impact it had on his wife’s career, who also happens to be a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, certainly is.
Krasner went on with her life as an artist but was also now responsible for looking after her late husband’s estate. While she certainly was well-known and was often exhibited, there always seemed to be somewhat of an interest in Jackson’s work through her. Either her work was seen in the context of his or he wasn’t mentioned at all. Krasner remained in his shadow even after she died 35 years ago in 1984.
Overdue but extremely important, there is now a confident, comprehensive and intelligent show presenting Lee Krasner as one of the inventive, forthright and one of the most important painters of the 20th Century that she is.
With more than 100 works from across her 50-year career, the exhibition features a whole range of iconic pieces, from her early self-portraits to charcoal life drawings. The only Krasner work that is publicly exhibited in the UK is Gothic Landscape at the Tate Modern.
In addition to her famous large-scale pieces, the show features works from her 1940’s Little Image painting series, a collection she made in a small bedroom in her and Pollock’s home. The small working space is seen in her work through her techniques. Little Image was a groundbreaking series for Krasner which ultimately put her on the map as a major artist.
After Pollock’s death, Krasner thrived creatively and was public about channeling her grief into her work. She chose to take over his studio and many critics said that it was during this time that she found her artistic voice and natural stride. Works from this period are featured in this exhibition, including Icarus (1964), which some believe to have Pollock’s face in it. Other incredible career-defining pieces are Guardian (1960), Happy Lady (1963), and Siren (1966).
The exhibition will be showing a number of her works in the UK for the first time, including the larger-than-life Combat (1965), which stretches more than four metres in length. When not touring, it usually sits in the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia.