Sometimes it’s essential that I reconnect with one of the great loves of my life. I stole away Sunday to meet her where I always do, at the Wichita Art Museum. She helps reconnect me to the core of what makes me search, and finally begin to scratch the crude lines which hopefully will become my better works.
She is “The Painter” by Robert Motherwell. She, more likely a “he”, was born of Motherwell’s hands in 1944, during a time of supreme violence during WWII. Abstract expressionism was in full bloom and New York had become the new art capital of the world.
The era brought us Pollock, de Kooning, Stamos, Rothko, and Motherwell among many other greats. This collaged painting, my favorite at WAM, reflects portions of the bougainvillea and baked clay colors of Motherwell’s California childhood, but also contains painted blips of blood red which resemble explosions. A yellow ochre rectangle with bold lines resembles a tank. And there is a piece of an Army field map with the words “26th Infantry” clearly in print.
The work reflects bloodshed. It is spare, and completely powerful despite it’s relative frugality. It conveys the horrors of war along with the vulnerabilities of home. It is born of fear and sorrow. And it continues to mark time. These very points are the essence of what makes a painting great. They guide our vision. And it is why I always revisit this piece. I see it as the high bar I can only dream of clearing.