THE 1950's - CONTINUED EXPERIMENTATION
AND CONSIDERED TO BE THE FIRST TO USE STAINING!
Fine examples of Abstract Expressionist paintings from the Fifties have become sought after and collectable.
Michael West's 1950's paintings from this decade are astonishingly different from the 1940's and many are very different from her peers. In the 40's she developed a style not unlike Pollock's and Richard Pousette-Dart. At the end of the 40's decade and the very beginning of the 1950's, her work was about matter and energy. She would use a thick overlay of paint, sand, etc. These historic works convey destruction, rebirth, and energy all at once. Much like a phoenix rising from the ashes after a civilization destroys itself. She actually would think like a physicist. She believed in stored energy in the paint forms. Her works are thus very "alive". After 1951-52, her paintings became more linear and compositions were more like Hans Hofmann, but much more expressionist and cyclonic. "If Soutine is valid, then my painting is also valid" said Michael West referring to her mid 1950's work. Please realize that she mostly abstracted from objects. A painting might just be a few things lying on a table - which turned into something else: A transformation into something universally felt, and also containing ID. While some works may appear dark, they are actually the id coming to the surface. There are deep truths buried beneath the surface and appearing on the top of the surface. Her paintings are some of the most powerful expressions of the 20th Century. So, an untrained eye might find her work too busy. But in fact there is much depth, not only of paint but of her philosophy of art, mathematics, science, current events, and most certainly expressiveness and feelings.
Michael West had a very positive view of life and was a practicing Buddhist. Summers were spent in Stonington, Ct. which is a seashore town on the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Yektai, the Iranian-American Abstract Expressionist also spent his Summers in Stonington and they all spent hours on the beach discussing art among other things. While West and Francis Lee were members of "The Club", she preferred to spend Summers in the small Connecticut town, away from the hordes of artists who went to Provincetown. She was quite established in her style, thoughts on art, and was quite Bohemian in her ways and rarely swayed from her beliefs. This steadfastness hurt her relationships with some top galleries that desperately wished to exhibit her work. Her circle comprised of the NY Avant-garde and included numerous writers, dancers, actors and actresses, filmakers, and painters. In New York City, West was invited to exhibit in the 1953 Stable Gallery Artist's and Sculptor's Annual. Then in 1957, she had a one-woman show on Madison Avenue. It has been said that she was the first to use staining - pre-dating Frankenthaler, Noland, and Morris Louis. Her paint application was very advanced probably due to her early mentors; Gorky, Hofmann, and Pousette-Dart. While the 50's oils are controlled works with power and, they are not like many of the "fluff" Abstract Expressionists who never really risked that much. That is what it is all about - taking chances and risking, despite McCarthyism and other "scares" of the decade. Michael West was a true Poet/Painter.
Michael West in her Stonington studio with Black and White in background, c1953.
List of works with titles that are related to the poetry of Lorca, the films of Cocteau, the music of Varese, and Christianity and Zen Budhism.
Michael West in front of one of her dynamic 50s paintings, Stonington, Ct.
The Fabulous Fifties weren't so fabulous. Civil Rights and equality were a dream, there was fear of the bomb, the Strom Thurmond fillibuster as well as the McCarthy witch hunts were just a few of the atrocities going on in America. The good news - artists were still creating, and the Beats were making their mark in literature. The subjects of the artists were many. It was also the time of the important 9th Street show and the Artist's Annuals. The camaraderie and community of Abstract Expressionists was quite important in this decade. They could have easily dispersed and dissipated in an America whose "average Joe" would shun this type of experimental and soulful work. As Michael West believed, good triumphs over evil.
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