Ivan Le Lorrain Albright

Ivan Albright, The Vermonter (If Life Were Life, There Would Be No Death), 1966-1977

I once asked Ray Yoshida, this would have been back in the early 80s, who he thought the best painter to come out of Chicago had been and he answered, “Ivan Albright.” I’d recently done a research paper for my art history class where we were required to write on our favorite painting by a Chicago painter. I chose the painting below by Albright. One can  get a small sense of the visual feast and labyrinthine complexity of the painting as a whole by looking at the detail below it.

the door

That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do, The Door

Detail from The Door The Window (Poor Room–There is No Time, No End, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End), 1942-43, 1948-55, 1957-63

Self-Portrait in Georgia, 1967, 1967-68, oil on panel

I particularly like this one because you can see Albright lampooning  the Hans Hoffmann push pull abstraction that had become the prevailing American ideology at the time he painted his portrait.  He painted the above work at the height of the dominance of American painting by the edicts handed down primarily by Clement Greenberg to artists like Kenneth Noland that painting be flat and abstract, with not a trace of figurative reference. It’s clear that Albright is mordantly commenting on this kind of simplistic designer abstraction–note the Noland targets but also the dumb paint handling of greys in the shirt, which clearly reference Johns. Johns, of course, was not only a painter of targets but preferred turgid grays and the kind of insensitive paint handling that Albright accurately ridicules when painting the shirt.  It’s a hilariously knowing send up, contrasting the extraordinarily accomplished painting of the head with the ham-handed amateurishness that was the signature style of not only Johns but so many subsequent painters.

Appears the Man, lithograph, 1980

albright 2

Ivan Albright, Self-Portrait Smoking

albright 3

Ivan Albright, Self Portrait (No. 20), 1983

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3 Responses to Ivan Le Lorrain Albright

  1. wewordsmiths says:

    Ivan Albright: The Anti-Koons

    As the previous post (by time, not subject) was one of disdain & despair, I feel obliged to express a countervailing current of hope, and something of the sublime.

    By the sometimes fortunate vagaries of the Interweb, I came across your lovely blog via a search for the above posted image of Ivan Albright’s THE VERMONTER. This year, he is my all-time favorite artist.

    Let me step back a bit. It is perhaps an embarrassment (not really) that I must parade again my status as an amateur. Not as an artist, which would be so true as to be pellucid; but also as a member of the audience. That word. Of course here I’m strictly speaking of seeing, not hearing. An amateur critic.

    Since a bit of seriousness in college (rather a while back) my most recent reintroducton to the art world was piqued by the odd purchase of The VINCENT PRICE Treasury Of American Art. I surpress a dry little grin as I recollect. The book is signed by the actor, and as a fan of his work, and as a continuation of that guilty pleasure, this was my primary interest. However, his critical eye is not at all bad, “not bad”, actually, rather good.

    He starts out with ELIZABETH FREAKE AND BABY MARY, by “Artist Unknown”. A charming start, with a bow to the unknown in all art whether attributed or not. He finishes up with, nicely, Fritz Scholder, and not so nicely, Franz Kline.

    In between he presents: John Singleton Copley, Karl Bodmer (long before P.T. Barnum’s antics), Asher Brown Durand, Elihu Vedder, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, William Michael Harnett, Mary Cassatt, JOSEPH Stella, Georgia O’Keefe, Stuart Davis, John Kane, Henriette Hurd, Thomas Hart Benton, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Philip Evergood, Peter Blume, and others; some obvious, some not.

    So here’s where we segue to your blog. Third from last in the volume we find Albright’s SELF-PORTRAIT IN GEORGIA.

    This was the first time I’d ever seen an Albright. I was visually arrested. I could not look away for many moments. I dug up a magnifying glass for relief, both kinds. I was motivated to search AbeBooks for the best volume on his works. (This was the monograph, titled IVAN ALBRIGHT, by Michael Croyden, 1978, Abbeville Press. There was also a limited edition, 150 copies, signed.)

    I nearly clicked on one of the better offers, but no doubt due to some butterfly in Peru about 12 years ago to the day, I went on to the next page and found – the ARTIST’S COPY! Also signed, of course. Two week’s pay. I doodle it. Now if the art world were aright, I should have had to shell out at least 20 week’s pay. But no, instead I must gloat in gleeful embarrassment on behalf of the artist.

    Of course, long before I received the book, I’d looked up other Albright work on the Interweb. Which brought me to your blog and post on THE VERMONTER. I can add nothing to your good words except this:

    IMHO, this work, this magnificence, this astonishment, this soul-mystery-of-itself/himself (including the amusing vernacular usage “himself”) is none other than the sublime 20th century exemplar of the also sublime Mona Lisa.

    Yes, it’s merely a banal, should I say pedestrian, portrait of a male, a man seated. Yet here is the man and at once also his eternal, infinite soul.

    Now, no one has ever been this old. Not the face, nor especially the hands. But that is all to the good, since they are nonetheless, like the painting-whole, entirely convincing. Sugh extreme imaginative age, ageless age, *forces* the viewer to imagine the subject as a callow youth in the same instant and in the same space. This is supreme realism through mystery. This is the genius of Ivan Albright.

    Now, Albright also produced at least three other “Mona Lisa” candidates, all female, all most excellent. But this one, this supreme mystery is the best.

    As the saying goes: There is more art, more that is artful in THE VERMONTER’S little pinky than in the entire output of post-Warhol “Nart” (Non-Art).


  2. wewordsmiths says:

    Forgot to mention, Price gets tangled up a bit in “critic-ese”, but not often. Thus, I also note his remarks re: William Harnett’s AFTER THE HUNT, et al:

    “The art historians and art psychologists have looked for deeper meanings in them than just pure enjoyment, but even their aesthetic obtuseness cannot eliminate the pleasure one feels in seeing his pleasant, meticulously observed, unquestioning, still-life arrangements of objects. When one reads that his work is ‘somewhere between Emersonian transcendentalism and di Chirico symbolism’, I can only shake my head, mainly to clear away any lingering effects from this statement that disallows a simple, direct view of his work.”

    Thank you, Mr. Price.

  3. wewordsmiths says:

    Also meant to mention, and I’m compelled to avoid the omission –

    It is not only through the astonishing complexity of/and layering & texture whereby Albright succeeds in the painting of a soul, but also from his truly odd palette. The underlying tones are, as in most of his work, grey-brown-olive and mauve. (Often they predominate, I should say they are rather overlying – if not here). In any case, these tones are, to say the least, not usually susceptible to the expression of resplendence. They suggest drabness, yet with Albright they almost always attain its opposite, the vibrant & the somehow vivid. And this quality is, despite obvious intricacy, not from the surface, both seen or imagined, but from within; from the irreducible vision of a master.

    These choices, both his virtuosic intricacy of brushstroke & layering, a denseness & complexity that expresses deepest honesty, and his uncanny transformation of color; these complement/parallel his overall aesthetic intent of the contrary image: the macabre pushed to its opposite, the sublime soul.

    Such miraculous intent!

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