Despite illness, Michael West had the "sensation of a rushing train" which was her need to paint. This is why I refer to these decades as heroic. She suffered from 2 aneurisms. One in her stomach, and the other heart-related. She had a stroke in the mid-1970's, and also suffered with arthritis. She was a heavy smoker and did not eat well. However, she was sharp and "taut like a spring" according to Judith Malina, the actress and wife of Julian Beck, founder of The Living Theater. Despite all this, she still made large and uninhibited paintings that are striking and timeless. In this period of her work, she used alot of white as the top level and used it calligraphically. She still painted on the floor and used all four sides of the canvas. Many of her works can have different orientations because the compositions are equally valid on more than one side. She almost always signed, titled, and dated her work on the verso. Often on the front as well. Her signature is not always the key to the proper orientation. She sometimes added to the work and changed the orientation, still leaving the signature in the original place. Her brushwork, texture, and unusual use of color or lack of are distinctive qualities and have contributed to her very special style. Though it is said that she was the first to use staining, pre-dating Helen Frankenthaler, Noland and Morris Louis, most people, even scholars, are unfamiliar with this special 'grand dame' of the New York School of Painters
Michael West rarely made a "bad" painting. She was so experimental that what may first appear to be a poor example to you, with more intense study may very well turn out to be a masterwork. She composed like Pollock and her work is absolutely not all automatic as some have led us to believe. Michael West was constantly drawing and figuring out her next composition. Her LITTLE-known drawings are the key too understanding her complex work.
INCENSE, 1990. Oil on Canvas. 44" x 30. If you look carefully a wispy image of Ms. West can be seen in the wafts of incense smoke. This is Michael West's last painting before her death in her studio in 1991.