UNTIL 29TH JULY 2017
“Effulgent in their gorgeous, low-toned palette of greys, mauves, greens and a whole range of pinks that are Avery’s trademark…” – Laura Cumming, The Observer
This solo show of Milton Avery is the first in London for 10 years, and boy was it a long time coming! Luckily Victoria Miro has taken on his estate in the UK, so this could be the first of many- they also took him to Basel this year, with a whole booth dedicated to the modernist painter. I think he’s making a bit of a comeback.
The show combines drawings and paintings, with the latter naturally the stronger of the two, and amongst those the show hangs on 3 or 4 stand out pieces. But I’m not complaining, I’m just happy to be here- Milton really nails the subtle interplay of colour fields that renders the subject incidental. With quotes such as “I never have any rules to follow, I follow myself.” and ” why talk when you can paint”, Milton sounds a bit ‘singular’, but his friendship with Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman when he moved to New York in the 1920s would radicalize his style into the modernist painter we know today, which is as if Matisse, the Hudson River School and Rothko had a baby, making that vital link between Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. Milton himself was a strong influencing force on Rothko.
Take the intimate scene of Young Couple (Husband and Wife) 1963. The jarring lime greens, baby pinks luminous against the brown and grey expanses. He’s a skilled colourist, and it makes the harmonious scene charming and intimate. Avery is credited with a rothko-esque (ironic) ability to place colour. In fact, Mrs Avery is quoted as saying the colour placement is “fundamental” and “without it, the pictures might look like high-level noodling” . Also charming are the subtle details: his moustache, his turtle neck, the book. These were details that Avery didn’t always bother with or see as necessary. The ‘Wife’ in the painting is Milton’s daughter, March, and the husband is Philip G. Cavanaugh. He reads aloud to March in the Avery home in Central Park West. Their figures are distorted but only in as much as to accentuate their nuanced, corresponding forms and they open up to the viewer like a book themselves. What starts as the solitary act of reading is suddenly made totally inclusive. Wader was painted the same year in the Catskill Mountains, the vivid pink bringing in the summer heat.
Other paintings show a mixture of figures, landscapes and still lives. Here’s to more Milton Avery to come.
List of works here