Norman Bluhm (1921-1999)
Silver Fog
signed and dated 'bluhm '59' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
72¼ x 48¼ in. (183.5 x 122.5 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Washburn Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Sale room notice
Please note this work will be included in the forthcoming Norman Bluhm, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings edited by John Yau.

Brought to you by

Jonathan Laib
Jonathan Laib

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthing coming Norman Bluhm, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings edited by John Yau.

Norman Bluhm: The 1950's
"Bluhm is the only artist working in the idiom of abstract-expressionism who has a spirit similar to that of Pollock, which is to say that he is out,---beyond beauty, beyond composition, beyond the old-fashioned kind of pictorial ambition".
(Frank O'Hara, 1962, as quoted in F. O'Hara, Standing Still and Walking in New York, New York, 1983).
Norman Bluhm, with a slashing defiance, circa 1958-1959 became a forceful agent of Action Painting, not a sublimated or liberated form of plein aire painting but a cross into something more akin to Gutai and Fluxus in his physical and performative act of creation. The arcs of color that careen across the surface of Silver Fog (lot 246) are fleeting records of Bluhm's swinging arm and physical virtuosity, the end result is a visually striking document of his actions, executed with complete precision and confidence. Writing of Bluhm's painterly freedom, art critic Barry Schwabsky commented that Bluhm's paintings represent for him "a half-insistent, half-diffident way of flirting with the depiction of space rather than either declaring it or abandoning it, a glance past the absoluteness of any position (whether in the physical or ideological sense)" (R. Rubenstein, "Ecstatic Meditations: Norman Bluhm's paintings over five decades", Norman Bluhm, Milan, 2000, p. 23).

Bluhm along with his close friends and colleagues Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Zao Wou-ki arrived at their most celebrated moments in near simultaneity during the middle to late 1950's. In culturally rich Paris in the early 1950's, Bluhm and his equals spent a considerable amount of time painting and socializing with other contemporaries such as Sam Francis, Samuel Beckett and Alberto Giacometti. This close-knit group of irascibles brought the language of the New York school to Paris and brought new life to the increasingly dogmatic practice of American abstract painting due to their critical distance from New York. Bluhm's Reflets of 1956 (lot 247) and Warm Lake of 1956 (lot 248) are excellent examples of his mid 50's manipulation of light and color on a grand scale. "The Spatial movement of these paintings tends to be downward; they can evoke rain falling in a tropical forest, dropping theater curtains and the descent of some mythic night. Painted light to dark, that is, the bottom-most layers of color are the most brightly hued, the mid-1950s paintings quietly radiate with a kind of filtered light that seeps through the interstices and marks" (Ibid., p. 21).

James Harithas, former chief curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, organized the first museum exhibitions of Norman Bluhm, Joan Mitchell and Salvatore Scarpitta among others and had the following to say of Bluhm in June of 1998:
"An Artist's fundamental task is to create form and infuse it with meaning and emotion. Significant artists not only create beautiful works of art for their own and future generations, but the best of them also communicate a profound spirituality through their art. Especially in this time of rampant materialism, it takes great intensity and imagination to pursue a transcendent art and a willingness to accept the solitary existence fundamental to this quest. Norman Bluhm is such an artist."
(J. Harithas, "Norman Bluhm", Norman Bluhm, Milan, 2000, p. 11).

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