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Lee Krasner’s “Living Colour” at the Barbican

Hello, internet.

So, I’m thinking about starting a series where I talk a bit about artists and their work, particularly women. Partly because I’ve been wanting to expand my knowledge on the subject, so to speak, but also because it has been another “thing I’ve been meaning to do” — that is, write more thoughtfully about art — and just never really did. (Aside from uni essays, which, if we’re honest, head towards a more philosophical, at times navel-gaze-y, and at other times a Charlie Kelly web of mystery slant, than anything.)

First up is the inimitable Lee Krasner. When her expansive retrospective opened a couple of months ago at the Barbican, it did so to expected wide-ish coverage. However, the coverage of course involved, expectedly, He Who Must Not Be Named, Krasner’s husband and poster boy of abstract expressionism. You know who. Predictably, I mention him too now, in the beginning, but I would like to offer the “just to get him out of the way” card by way of explanation. Hopefully you’ll have it, and then we can move on.

The show has closed for about a week now, which is what often happens because I sit with my thoughts for too long a time and just miss the windows. But perhaps it does no good to rush through things one needs to process, so here we are. The more forgiving aspect of writing about art, maybe, is that it doesn’t seem to expire. The urgency doesn’t die with the passage of time, or I certainly don’t think so. I can write about the oldest things and never feel like I am running out of time to think about the things I want to say.

But back to Krasner.

Although her husband has gained very, very wide artistic acclaim — in my mind, for his absurd brazenness, more than anything — the fact that Krasner perhaps lived, in a way, in his shadow came as a surprise to. Krasner, as painted by the show’s biographical notes, was headstrong and had a mind of her own. Certainly not someone who took crap from anybody. Maybe that was my impression, and the front she put on (or was put on her). Maybe I ought to look at people in a way that allows for complexity. In any case, it was an experience seeing the very logical (seamless?) progression of her work, to see the seeds and the roots and the eventual fruit, which is to say, the practice she arrived at by the end of her life.

Krasner’s work is emotional and visceral. She is unapologetic, by which I mean, she isn’t precious about her work or how she feels about it. She does what she feels must be done. I think that might be a large part of her genius: the unsentimental abandonment of one mode of expression in pursuit of another that is more authentic and true.

I didn’t know a lot about Krasner and her work, and although I’d been introduced to more of it through the Barbican’s Living Colour, there are certainly more layers to peel back, revealing a more accurate picture of a woman whose work received belated attention, possibly owing to her marriage to such a large creative force. Possibly owing to the state of things in general, where women who are wives take a backseat, almost by default.

When people are as entwined as Krasner and Pollock seemed to be, it’s also quite easy to leach into the others’ work, and while I do see traces of one in the other, it is very evident, too, that their work diverge in very important ways. Krasner’s expressions appear to come from a very deep place of longing and self-effacement. Of a loudness and boldness that does not feel like they come from a quiet wife waiting in the wings.

There never appears to be any animosity with Krasner, though. She believes in the importance of her husband’s work, and based on their correspondences, values his opinion. Perhaps I am projecting too many thoughts here, and to be honest, I don’t have a lot of base knowledge on Krasner (as I’ve mentioned early on), or Pollock for that matter. What I do know is that I am and can be deeply moved by art and the artists that make them. And I know that Krasner’s are powerful expressions of movement and individuality, of a singular convergence of her own experiences and the life she forges as someone very close to someone very important and celebrated.

There has not been a major show of Krasner’s work in the U.K. since 1965. This feels, at times, an oversight, but given the state of women and their work throughout history — that is, the almost intentional overlooking, the diminishing importance, the pointed erasure — it is predictable. But what a joy it is to witness Krasner’s own celebration, in her own right, no matter how overdue it is.