art analysis, franz kline piece, probst 1

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an analysis of a franz kline piece i saw at the MFA in boston.

Submitted: September 26, 2011

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Submitted: September 26, 2011





While we have focused continuously on gesture painting and action painting through the works of Pollack, Motherwell and the gesture significance in De Kooning’s anti female violent projections in his work, I find something new.  I discovered this piece in the abstract expressionism section of the museum of fine arts. When I first saw this piece, I thought that it was a Robert Motherwell piece. It reminded me of the calligraphic series, and the simple usage of black and white to emphasize shape and space. While Pollack often used a massive canvas variety of dazzling colors, and Motherwell struck emotional chords with the elegy theme in his work, there is softness to this painting that drew me to it. The piece was created by Franz Kline, and is called Probst 1. Its medium is oil paint on canvas, and it was created in 1960.

First, for some reason, the spaces between the black, rough brush strokes, and the mixture of horizontal and vertical lines make me think of fire escapes. This draws urban and industrial connotations. Drawing upon the urban analysis of the brush strokes makes me think that the artist drew inspiration from architecture, or modes of transportation. I see bridges, tunnels, roads, and indicators of movement. On the top right, the paint between the parallel lines is what brought to mind the fire escape, but could also be interpreted as a ladder, another sign of movement, or reaching upward. I find this an interesting aspect to note because the genre that the artist paints in, action painting revolves around the theme of movement. Bu pushing this motif even more, he puts a subtle but certain focus on the essence of the work. By incorporating movement into a grander sense of movement, being from New York City, I interpret it as the urban hustle and bustle of life, and how movement never stops. We never have a chance to sit and think, we are simply always in movement. And even when we have the chance to escape in nature, the natural world around us, waterfalls and streams are ever-moving to. It is disturbing that nothing has time to rest, but comforting to think that even nature imitates our lives, and movement is, essentially, a repeated affirmation of life. In this way, Kline comments on his own medium of work being an affirmation of life. It makes people think of the process of gesture painting almost as a ritual, or a dance, rather than the creation of an aesthetic, logical piece created solely with the hand, wrists, and fingers.

In this piece, I see the elegance of calligraphy and Asian characters being twisted and pushed to the edge, made hard. But within this hardness, when looking close, I see softness. Not all the lines are bold: some fade, others settle to the bottom, they seem to be reaching upward to me, which is indicative of a hopeful tone. The ultimate softness for me lies between the black and the white. Underlying the black paint, when I looked very close, there were hints and an underlying layer of light pink paint, almost flesh colored. When I think of pink and black, I think of a tacky hot pink, as witnessed in fashion atrocities, or bad choices for a pornographic company’s design layout. But I have never quite considered, or contemplated, the light pink against the black. It suggests vulnerability beneath blatant, black hardness. Although Kline has been known to profess his inspiration from De Kooning, its aggressive violence doesn’t come through as strongly, or as driven.

Franz Kline was initially a cartoonist for his high school, eventually moving to New York to settle in the New York school of abstract expressionism. His work was often untitled, which I enjoy, leaving the observer or appreciator of his art to make their own decisions. A quote by him is: “the final test of a painting, theirs, mine, any other, is: does the painter’s emotion come through?” I find this modest, but surely a principle that he stays true to, as for me, the emotion in the painting definitely came through and was thought provoking.




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