dinsdag, april 12, 2016

Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler

Robert Motherwell’s painting studio, with rolling racks, in Greenwich, CT.

Motherwell’s collage studio in Greenwich, CT.

"Robert Motherwell, my father, purchased our home the year I was born. My earliest recollection of entering his studio is when I was a toddler. We lived in a brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which had a flagstone patio—a postage stamp of outdoor magic—where my sisters and I loved to play. But to get there, we had to go through his studio, this sacred yet foreboding ground in which we were never allowed to loiter without adult supervision. I had no idea why it was so “special” but I was terrified of violating such sanctioned space.

As a collage artist and painter myself, I am all too understanding of why Dad’s studio was so off limits—paper tentatively but meticulously placed, yet unglued, the night before—how easily in our rush to escape to our patio playground we might have scattered an entire night’s work!

When I was five, my father married Helen Frankenthaler. She had a studio outside of our home, and I recall thinking “how nice” it was for her to leave our basement for Dad. Later I realized that she knew the business of her career was far better served outside the home, away from children, dogs, and the daily routine. Extremely organized and meticulous, she became a mentor to me long before I realized it. I remember as a teen thinking, how odd to call her on the phone, only to have it answered by her studio assistant. Why couldn’t she take the call herself?

Every year we summered in Provincetown, MA, a small fishing village at the tip of Cape Cod and a thriving artist and writer’s colony. Dad chose this location for its serious yet unpretentious artistic community. It was also a wonderful place for children to romp around largely unsupervised, and a good alternative to summer camp.

My father and Helen’s studios were above each other in an old barn, now home to the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC), a residency program for artists and writers which Dad co-founded. After many years, Dad was able to purchase waterfront property, where he built our home, the three-story “Sea Barn,” with studios on the top two floors and living quarters on the first.

Once on my way home from college, I visited Helen (she and Dad were now divorced) at her East 83rd Street studio, a much larger space than when she first married my father. It was then that it dawned on me what a “factory” she had created and why it would have been impossible for her to have a studio at our home. It was not just a place to paint—it was zoned as a full-blown enterprise replete with studio assistants, office staff, and often visiting artists, students, gallerists, or curators. It was both awe-inspiring and intimidating to me because I was beginning to take seriously my own future career as an artist.

After their divorce, Dad purchased a carriage house in Greenwich, CT with living quarters upstairs and studios downstairs. His work space was separated into zones similar to Helen’s. It was divided, more or less, into seven studios in all, each for different purposes: painting, framing, printmaking, collage, and displaying. The largest studio, where he did most of his painting, was lined with custom racks that rolled out from the wall to display paintings for dealers, critics, and collectors. For storage, they were simply rolled back into the wall.

Often when I visited from college, I couldn’t wait to get to his studio so that he and I could critique works-in-progress or recently finished paintings. “Which is your favorite painting and why?” he would ask. It was not an unfamiliar question since both Helen and Dad asked this whenever I attended their openings. I was quite comfortable by this time discussing my father’s work with him. He would often say, “You really get it!” We would also discuss how my work was going when I was in college and after. Learning the “language” of painting during these visits helped me develop a critical eye, one that continues to inform my work today.

There were administrative offices as well, and an open space for dining with his “crew,” as he called his staff, for debriefings during lunch. They tackled the administrative and logistical aspects of his business so that Dad could paint without interruption at night. He would escape the busy-ness of the day and paint from eight in the evening to around two a.m.

Helen Frankenthaler in her East 83rd Street studio in New York, September 1975. (bron: Vasari21, foto Helen Frankenthaler: Edward Youkilis)

> Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

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