“In Orange One… Krushenick arrives at a visual tension between the overall structure and the movement suggested by the clashing diagonals. It’s like looking into a kaleidoscope where the relationship of each part to those around it is in constant flux. There are so many focal points that we become visually disoriented.”
(J. Yau in Nicholas Krushenick: A Survey, exh. cat. Gary Snyder Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 11).
Painted in 1977, Orange One is an exquisite example of Nicholas Krushenick’s distinctive mastery of form and color. Often referred to as the father of Pop Abstraction, it is almost impossible to attribute his body of work to one movement alone, particularly as Krushenick actively resisted categorization in his lifetime. In 1968 he said, “I have no alliance to any one of them… Somehow I think one does not really want a title because that immediately means we’ve put him aside and we know what he is. I don’t want anybody to know what I am” (Oral history interview with Nicholas Krushenick, 1968 Mar. 7-14, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). In the early 1960s when the art world was gradually transitioning from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art Krushenick began painting the colorful, quirky and bold abstract compositions which would define his artistic output.
Born in the Bronx in 1929, Nicholas Krushenick knew from a young age that he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the army so that he could go to art school on the GI Bill. Krushenick spent a few years at the Art Students League, followed by study with Hans Hofmann. During that time he became an integral part of the art scene in New York. He worked in the frame shop at the Museum of Modern Art, spent time at Cedar Tavern with peers like Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning and he and his brother started their own gallery, Brata, on 10th street which represented trailblazing artists such as Yayoi Kusama.
Like many of his peers, Krushenick looked to Picasso in the early 1950s, but after a few years in art school realized his work was not as abstract and original as he intended it to be. In 1959 Krushenick visited Henri Matisse’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The experience inspired a turning point in his artistic practice. “I think Matisse is the only man that was a great draftsman, was a great colorist, was a great artist. We’re all not that good. Period.” (Oral history interview with Nicholas Krushenick, 1968 Mar. 7-14, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). As demonstrated by the 1947 work Panel with Mask, Matisse combined color and form in a way which Krushenick had never experienced before. Combining complimentary fields of solid color – green and red, blue and orange, resulted in a dynamic push and pull which although still rooted in the figurative would motivate Krushenick to innovate and take his compositions to the next level.
Measuring an impressive 70 x 60 1/4 in., the crisp gray and orange fields of color in Orange One vibrate within a precisely painted graphic structure of thick black lines. The composition exudes a tremendous amount of movement – diagonals jut in different directions contrasting with horizontal and vertical lines demarcating the edges of the canvas. In some places, white forms indicate the possibility of volume further jumbling initial spatial perceptions. In the catalogue for Gary Snyder Gallery’s 2011 exhibition of Nicholas Krushenick’s work, John Yau writes “In Orange One… Krushenick arrives at a visual tension between the overall structure and the movement suggested by the clashing diagonals. It’s like looking into a kaleidoscope where the relationship of each part to those around it is in constant flux. There are so many focal points that we become visually disoriented.” (J. Yau in Nicholas Krushenick: A Survey, exh. cat. Gary Snyder Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 11). Lending additional dynamism to Orange One’s composition, horizontal bands extend beyond the picture plane, around the turning edges of the canvas and into space.
As is evident in Orange One Krushenick employs black bands to separate the fields of color in his paintings – a technique often found in comic books illustrations and Japanese wood block prints – these black lines are the defining compositional elements. The structure these bands provide allow him to successfully synthesize graphic elements and compositional originality resulting in a unique sense of playfulness and mischievousness. With a similar sense of parody, Roy Lichtenstein would follow Krushenick’s example in his series of Perfect/Imperfect Paintings of the 1980s which parodied the constructs of traditional composition and art making.
Krushenick’s idiosyncratic style embodies aspects of various movements of his time: the energy of abstract expressionism, the visual impact of Op Art, the specificity of Hard Edge Abstraction and the dedication to color demonstrative of Color Field Painting. Krushenick’s paintings are lively and infused with personality. Contemporary artist Thomas Nozkowski describes the first time he encountered Krushenick’s paintings: “He demonstrated something I hadn’t seen before: how terrifying the confusion of figure and ground can be. Woah! As the floor vanishes, as the empty room solidifies—watch out!” – Thomas Nozkowski (Nicholas Krushenick: A Survey, exh. cat. Gary Snyder Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 121). Where his contemporary counter parts Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol drew from commercial pop culture, Krushenick distanced himself from that methodology and maintained a complete originality. His exuberant unclassifiable compositions maintain an undeniable freshness and idiosyncratic individuality which still rings true today – Krushenick was far ahead of his time.