(Bratslav, Ukraine, 1917 - 2004)
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Gift of Mrs. Mary S. Huhn, Mrs. Dorothy S. Steinberg, and Mr. John F. Seiberling, Jr. in memory of their father, Mr. J. Frederick Seiberling
A member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionist painters—a group that valued spontaneous, gestural painting that was intended to reflect the artist’s psyche—Milton Resnick toiled in obscurity for years unlike celebrated counterparts including Jackson Pollock Mark Rothko. Resnick’s use of color gives Abstract Expression—with an emphasis on dynamic, energetic brushstrokes—a fresh, even joyful presence. His application of paint—thin and watery in some areas and thicker and belabored in others—demonstrates his interest in exploiting its physical properties. The lyrical passages of color and shimmering overall effect are reminiscent of the French Impressionists, especially Claude Monet. Resnick once claimed, perhaps unconvincingly, “I am not the follower of Monet [and] I am not an Abstract Expressionist.”
Abstract Expression, 1959
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
"I worked day and night. . . . I never stopped. I never laid down. . . . I was haunted by art."1
The last surviving member of the acclaimed first generation American Abstract Expressionist painters, Milton Resnick—unlike other members of that celebrated group, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning—toiled in obscurity for years. Also unlike them, Resnick alone maintained an unwavering dedication to creating strictly nonfigural abstractions, at least until very recently. In 1994 Resnick stated: “I never thought I'd be painting goddesses in my old age.”2 "The figure happened out of need.”3 That need, expressed by an artist who had always adamantly maintained his painting’s independence from landscape or figural traditions, may have been a surprise to him alone.
Looking at Abstract Expression, painted in 1959, the viewer could hardly be faulted for suspecting that more personal, emotional elements were present in Resnick's painting all along, surreptitiously revealed in both landscape and figural elements. The Resnick family emigrated from Russia to Cuba before settling in New York when the artist was six. Resnick, whose birth name was Rachmiel and whose nickname was Milya, was renamed Milton, an issue he finds troubling to this day. He confesses that he spent much of his life feeling unmoored. Childless and married only later in life, Resnick was often depressed and seems to have used painting as a way to work through personal conflicts at significant junctures in his life. Abstract Expression, for instance, was painted in the year Resnick was diagnosed with and operated on for stomach cancer.
Wealthy, well-educated, and cultured, Resnick learned technical drafting, drawing, and lettering at Pratt Institute. After a stint in the army in World War II, followed by a three-year sojourn in Paris, he settled back into New York and life as an abstract painter. He did not have his first solo exhibition until 1955, when he was thirty-eight. The late date of his first New York show led many critics to place him erroneously among the younger generation of the so-called New York school painters, including Larry Rivers (see pp. 120–21) and Helen Frankenthaler (see pp. 174–75), rather than with the earlier, pioneering group of Abstract Expressionists, where he truly belongs.
Abstract Expression is one of a group of paintings created between 1957 and 1959, when Resnick revolutionized his style by concentrating on its smallest element—the brushstroke. Abstract Expression, with its vivid palette and nervous brushwork, is one of Resnick’s finest—and final—paintings where the sensuous physicality and emotionalism of his application of paint can be clearly discerned. In 1959 he began to paint huge, monochromatic canvases in which his brushstrokes became completely invisible.
While the use of color gives Abstract Expression a fresh, even joyful presence, it is the application of paint—here, thin and watery, with a quicksilver stroke; there, thicker and more belabored—that lends the painting its unique suggestive quality. Its lyrical passages of color and shimmering overall effect are reminiscent of the French Impressionists, especially Claude Monet. Resnick once claimed—perhaps unconvincingly—“I am not the follower of Monet [and] I am not an Abstract Expressionist.”4Abstract Expression—despite its title—is a clear statement that the artist's primary interests lay not in art historical associations but in exploring the evocative qualities of paint and in producing powerful art.
- Jeffrey Grove, 2001
1. Linda Cathcart, Milton Resnick: Paintings 1945–1985 (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum, 1985), 4.
2. Quoted in Klaus Kertess, "Postcards from Babel," in 1995 Biennial Exhibition (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art and Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 25.
3. Jonathan Santlofer, "Lions in Winter: American Artists in their 70's and 80's," ARTnews 92 (March 1993): 87.
4. Allen S. Weller, Art: USA: Now (New York: Viking, 1962), 83.
Campbell, Lawrence. "Resnick Paints a Picture." ARTnews (December 1957): 56, 38–41, 65–66.
Robins, Corinne. The Pluralist Era: American Art 1968–1981. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.
Recto: BC: "Resnick", in oil, "59" below it. Verso: "Resnick 1959"