New York, New York
Summary of Nell Blaine
Arriving in New York in the midst of Abstract Expressionism's rise, Nell Blaine became a part of, and in fact helped to create, a vibrant community of young artists, poets, and musicians who drank up Abstract Expressionism's commitment to abstraction, color, and gestural brushwork but found new subject matter in intimate depictions of friends, nature, and mundane views. Blaine, along with Larry Rivers and Jane Freilicher, helped to usher in a new, Contemporary Realism, that took up the familiar and everyday that in some ways anticipated the subjects of Pop Art but that was more lyrical and introspective.
Blaine's evolution from an abstract painter to a painter of portraits and landscapes may seem an about-face, but she remained interested in the dynamic relations between form and color and creating an intimate viewing experience no matter what her subject matter. Her adaptations to a mid-life medical condition created new challenges but also new ways of working that enhanced her intimate portrayals of friends and her surrounding environs that continue to influence contemporary landscape painters.
- Pulling inspiration from the gamut of modern art as well as jazz music, Nell Blaine created dynamic paintings that pulsed with vibrant colors and layered perspectives that captured the felt sense of nature, places, and people. Though initially dedicated to abstraction, Blaine carried the compositional effects she learned from Hans Hofmann into her realist paintings.
- Blaine's participation in the trend toward figuration in the 1950s, a trend that encompassed such diverse artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Romare Bearden, and Jane Freilicher, demonstrated that realism, even when subtle and quiet, was a powerful response to the growing cacophony of Cold War consumer culture.
- While immersed in the social scene of the Abstract Expressionists, Blaine's closest friends, all represented by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, created a smaller, more intimate community that engaged in collaborative projects with poets that were often more playful and intimate than the grand scale of her Abstract Expressionist colleagues.
Biography of Nell Blaine
Nell Blaine's childhood was a difficult one. She experienced little love from her father, Harry Blaine who seemed to never recover from the death of his first wife even after remarrying and having Nell. In contrast, her mother, Eudora Blaine, a devoutly religious woman who had already birthed one stillborn son, almost smothered her daughter with attention and controlling judgement throughout her childhood.
Important Art by Nell Blaine
Nell Blaine's painting Red and Black features curvilinear shapes in black, blue, and red that sit atop a lightly painted, milky white background. The shapes are not strictly geometric but have a more organic quality in the way they fit together and relate to one another dynamically and recall some of the chance-inspired collages and paintings of Dadaist Jean Arp. This piece is an important example of Blaine's early commitment to abstract painting after she moved to New York City. Less gestural and more controlled than some of the other artists working in this genre, this painting shows the influence of her teacher Hans Hofmann, who advocated for abstraction and the visual tension of a push-pull composition.
Exposure to jazz music also influenced Blaine's work. Reveling in its sound, she began to think of her abstract compositions as coming together the way jazz musicians form their unique sounds. She once stated, "We painters were in love with the idea of creating new forms and rhythms related to the spirit we felt moving in this music.... Like each improvisation in jazz, each color in abstract painting was to have a life of its own in the picture. Color relationships were to be more keenly felt and weighed. So it was with the role of the players in a jazz ensemble. " In this painting, then, each form, can be seen not as an individual shape but as a part (or note if you will) in the larger composition of the painting.
Nell Blaine's painting depicts a street scene rendered in simplified, geometric shapes and a myriad of colors that makes the work look slightly abstract while simultaneously being reminiscent of Fernand Leger's Cubist forms. One can see numerous cars on a busy street, but the focal point is the right half of the canvas in which a large male figure seems to either rest his hand on the headlight of a parked car or perhaps straddles a motorcycle while he looks downward.
Blaine was still deeply absorbed in Abstract Expressionism when she made her first trip to Europe in 1949; however, during her stay, she fell under the influence of the city sights as well as the nature around her and began to experiment with the depiction of more realistic imagery in her works. This painting, an early example of the beginning of this shift in her work, shows one of her first incorporations of the figure. This change was due in part to French artist Jean Hélion, who Blaine met during her stay and whose open studio sessions she attended with other young artists. Art historian Martica Sawin explains, "It was his late 1940s hard-edged, more stylized paintings of newspaper readers, umbrellas, and nudes that played a part in leading Blaine back to the figure. " While her paintings would eventually become more figurative and gestural, here we see the beginning of her transition away from abstraction.
Wharf Studio is a lush celebration of color. In the foreground, a small vase of pink flowers, a green glass, and a colorful plate of food sit atop a teal colored table. Behind the table, one sees a wicker sofa covered in green cushions and vibrantly striped blankets. Further in the background, a wall of windows lets in the streaming sun.
In this work, one finds two recurring themes in Blaine's art. Room interiors became a favorite subject of hers once she made the transition from abstraction to realism in the 1950s. It also shows the inspiration she took from the many places she visited and lived; in this instance Gloucester, Massachusetts, which Blaine subtly references in the glimpse of the water through her studio windows.
While realistic in subject matter, Blaine loosely renders objects with broad brushstrokes, reveling in her love of Impressionism. Here one experiences the sense of the place, an intimacy that would be lost if the work was more precisely rendered. Not abandoning the lessons she learned from her abstract compositions, Blaine explained, "Realism in painting consists of order, rhythms, growth, and shapes, rather than the actual appearance of things."
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Nell Blaine
- Alive Still: Nell Blaine, American PainterOur PickBy Cathy Curtis
- Nell BlaineOur PickBy Martica Sawin
- Nell Blaine: Abstract Paintings and Works on PaperBy Valerie Carberry