The art world lost another giant recently and I somehow missed the memo. Cancer took the life of abstract expressionist Pat Passlof this past November.
Ms. Passlof was the widow of one of my all-time favorite artists, Milton Resnick, who died back in 2004. Both were members of what was called the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, which included artists such as Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, among others.
Passlof, a native of Brunswick, Georgia, studied at the Black Mountain College with de Kooning, prior to taking up residence in New York City in the 1940′s.
The New York Times ran a very nice obituary for Ms. Passlof last year.
A member of the New York school of Abstract Expressionists who was less widely recognized than male colleagues like Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, Ms. Passlof had been immersed since the 1950s in the heady, impecunious cultural ferment of Downtown Manhattan.
As a profile of her in The New York Times (recently) recounted, she lived and worked in a former synagogue on Forsyth Street, on the Lower East Side, which she had bought in the early 1960s and renovated almost entirely herself.
Ms. Passlof’s husband, the painter Milton Resnick, had, until his death in 2004, lived and worked in a renovated synagogue of his own, around the corner on Eldridge Street.
As Ms. Passlof told The Times, for nearly half a century there had been three of them in the marriage — he, she and art — and by mutual agreement the demands of art often trumped those of connubiality.
Ms. Passlof’s canvases are distinguished by the primacy of the brushstroke: they were sometimes so thickly worked in oils that reviewers commended their smell as well as their visual aspects.
This deliberate, dense layering of paint makes it hard for the viewer to tell what is figure and what is ground, and the constant, jockeying interplay between the two gives Ms. Passlof’s work much of its dynamism.
She was also known as a master colorist. In some paintings her palette centers on muted, desaturated earth tones; in others it exploits saturated colors from deep night blues to vibrant oranges.
Patricia Passloff was born in Brunswick , Ga., on Aug. 5, 1928. She parted company with the final “f” of her surname early in her career, after she finished a painting only to discover she had left insufficient room for a full signature, her sister and only immediate survivor, Aileen Passloff, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Though her art was rooted in abstraction, Ms. Passlof did not shun representation. Some years ago, intent of painting the human figure, she hired a model. It was then she discovered she could not paint legs — at least not the kind that came two to a set — to her own satisfaction.
She resolved to concentrate on more-than-two-legged creatures. The result was a noteworthy, hauntingly allegorical series featuring centaurs.
From another obituary at Artcritical:
The world has lost a truly remarkable painter in Pat Passlof, who died on Sunday (November 13) on the eve of a new exhibition of her work. Equally it has lost a very special human being. A kindly curmudgeon, old school in the depth of her solidarity with others and the forthrightness of criticism when it needed to be expressed, Passlof was utterly indefatigable in her generosity, whether as a teacher, a widow, a Tai Chi companion, or indeed a painter. We sometimes forget how generous painting can be because the making of it has such antisocial requirements. In Passlof’s case, generosity comes across in the way her images are constituted equally of integrity and finesse: brimful of beauty, but uncompromising in rigor and resolution. Her art and life were a yin and yang balance of opposites.
Through May 25, 2012, an exhibition of Passlof’s work, with art spanning her entire career, is currently on display at the Black Mountain College + Arts Center and Western Carolina University’s Fine Arts Museum. The exhibition honors Passlof’s lifelong commitment to painting and provides much needed recognition of her work as an artist as well as a teacher and a writer about art.
The show contains approximately 60 of Passlof’s paintings, representing more than 60 years of her career, from her time at Black Mountain College to her most final works. One way or another I will visit this exhibition first hand because Passlof and Resnick are two of my favorite artists of all time. I can’t imagine another opportunity like this happening in my lifetime.