Franz Kline (1910-1962)
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Franz Kline (1910-1962)

Color Abstraction

Franz Kline (1910-1962)
Color Abstraction
signed 'Kline' (lower left)
oil on paper
8¾ x 7 in. (22.2 x 17.7 cm.)
Painted in 1957.
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Houston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Franz Kline: The Color Abstractions, February-November 1979.
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Lot Essay

With the bold strokes of a master colorist, Franz Kline presents a dynamic structure of diagonal brushwork exploding between two registers of contesting coloration. Contrasts between light and dark - blue black and orange-yellow - dominate the upper and lower halves of Color Abstraction, 1957, a brilliant and complex fusion of strokes and pigments. Crowned by the incursion of a bright red band that doubles a diagonal blackened-red band below, this irruption is framed by triangular light yellow planks, which create an intersection of forces that define this masterwork. Diffusions of pigment in multidirectional splatters, scrapes, and surface granules attest to the speed with which the artist wielded his brushes. A passionate transcription of oppositions - between values, textures (liquescence and the marked dryness of brushwork), directional thrusts, and rhythmic oscillations caused by the velocity with which the artist moves over the canvas - Color Abstraction is a triumph of inspiration, an action painting whose monumentality seems to break out from its contained field. Warm and cold hues are framed and cropped, pressing multiple pictorial incidents into a vortex of animation and visual intensity.

Color Abstraction works against received opinion that white and black dominated the artist's interests: just as color was always on his palette, color paintings filled his closets and lined the walls of Kline's studio (T. Hess, Conversation with Harry F. Gaugh, New York, April 7, 1972, in H. Gaugh, "The Abstractions with Color," Franz Kline: The Color Abstractions, exh. cat., Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, 1979, p. 11). From his figurative work in 1930s and 1940s through to his biomorphic paintings and into his artistic maturity, Kline produced chromatic abstractions with the force and engagement of a committed colorist. At Sydney Janis' behest, Kline turned from commercial enamel paint to artists' tube paints (for which the gallery paid), intensifying Kline's investigations of color. As Kline told Janis, "if I can't do more with color than I can with black and white I won't use it" (F. Kline, quoted by Sidney Janis, 1978).

Alongside other Abstract Expressionists of his generation who experimented in expressive coloration and the contention between the extremes of chroma, Kline moved between black and white statements and essays marked out for their high-keyed chromatic palette. In Color Abstraction muscular tautness is created both by singularly intense color contrasts pitched against an array of brush techniques - from dashed wide orthoganals to fluid applications, from thin linear crossing to drips. Such a range places Kline squarely in the center of first-generation Abstract Expressionists' broad statements of gesture and active relationships to the canvas as well as to their compositional paradigms of intentionality. Drawing from associated signatures styles of colleagues such as Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, Color Abstraction is a consummate statement of Kline's campaigns in executed in parallel with these artists.

Kline's abstractions in color from the 1950s mirror in their triple registration and horizontality Rothko's floating rectangles from the same year, while Kline can be seen in reciprocal dialogue with de Kooning's abstractions from the late 1950s on. Both artists use split registrations and value differentiation to define spatial tension between foreground and background. In both De Kooning's Suburb in Havana, 1958, for example, and in Kline's Color Abstraction, lightened values create activity on the surface while darker hues enhance depth recession. High-key colors in de Kooning's full-bodied yellows serve, like Kline's orange-yellow in the present work, to declare a middle space that allows contrasting light to interpenetrate the foreground - the blues in de Kooning and the whites in Kline engendering exuberant textural play. Later de Kooning may well have referred back to the work of a man he considered his "best friend" (H. Gaugh, Conversation with de Kooning on Aug. 9, 1971, in ibid., p. 13), for the abstract landscapes such as Door to River and A Tree in Naples, both from 1960, amply demonstrate Kline's own vectors of linear tensions and chromatic expressivity. These artists, in their horizontal and diagonal striations and compositional structure created from overlapping planes, share and vigor and exhilaration, which is underpinned by what Kline admits is can often surprise him. "The final test of painting, theirs, mine, any other, is; does the painter's emotion comes across? We don't begin with a definite sense of procedure. It's free association from the start to the finished state and the surprise element which that entails. Butthe emotion must be there. If I feel a painting I'm work on doesn't have imagery or emotion, I paint it out or work over it until it does. The old idea was to make use of your talent" (F. Kline, quoted by S. Rodman, Conversations with Artists, New York, 1961, pp. 108 -109).

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