A published art critic well-informed in philosophy, Fairfield Porter’s own artworks are known for their unaffected, spontaneous quality. Inspired by both the intimate, representational paintings of French artists like Édouard Vuillard as well as Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionism, he developed his own signature style combining concrete local detail with overall abstraction. Porter particularly admired the fearless, unapologetic artistic spirit of his friend and mentor de Kooning, and liked to recount the time an audience member at a Museum of Modern Art lecture asked, “Mr. de Kooning, how can we persuade the American public that they need art?” and de Kooning responded, “They don’t need art. What the artist should do is to assert himself.” (as quoted in J.T. Spike, Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, New York, 1992, p. 83) Following this credo, Porter’s best paintings, such as The Schooner II, capture the surroundings of the artist’s daily life in a manner true to the scenery but also, more importantly, to his own impulsive feelings during the painting process.
Ever since he was a child, Porter's family spent the warmer months at their house on Great Spruce Head Island off the coast of Maine in Penobscot Bay. Fairfield’s father James built a large two-story shingle house on the small, mile-long and half-mile-wide island in 1912, and the artist and his brothers grew up looking out onto the bay from its porch every summer. Porter grew to love the Maine atmosphere, once quoted as saying, “I’ve been to Maine almost every summer since I was six. It’s the place where most of all I feel myself to belong.” (Fairfield Porter’s Maine, Southampton, New York, 1977) Portraying the Barred Islands as seen from his lawn, The Schooner II is one a series of canvases inspired by the artist’s close attachment to Penobscot Bay.
In The Schooner II, Porter divides the picture plane into three equal horizontal sections: the sky, the water and the land. Painted with soft tonal shifts, the misty blue sky and golden brown earth recall abstract color fields. The center section, however, is more nuanced and representational in its execution, detailing trees near the shore line, distant forests and rocky bay islands. The nominal boat is a white focal point in the center of the layered landscape. With small strokes, Porter paints on shadows and highlights in layers of contrasting shades, in a manner almost reminiscent of printmaking. His style, therefore, is a unique combination of a variety of abstract and realistic techniques and aesthetics.
This range in executional method reflects Porter’s belief that an artist should be open to experience while creating art. Despite his predilection for painting his family and homes, Porter was less interested in portraying certain subjects than he was in the painting process. Klaus Ottman explains, “Porter painted what was immediately around him…He was interested above all in the process of painting. For him, painting was neither an emotional nor an intellectual activity; it was a process that made ‘the connection between yourself and everything…you connect yourself to everything which includes yourself.’” (K. Ottman, Fairfield Porter: Raw, Southampton, New York, 2010, p. 15)
Precisely because he painted them according to the connection he was feeling with his environment, Porter's best works seem of-the-moment rather than practiced, casual and direct rather than forced. Uniquely capturing the beautiful imagery of his Maine homeland, The Schooner II is a perfect example of Porter’s play with both detailed and expressionist techniques.