Moving Through Space and Color: Natalie Edgar’s Animated Abstractions

The Woodward Gallery has put together a smashing presentation of new works by Abstract Expressionist painter Natalie Edgar. The exhibit has a sense of airiness, one canvas to a wall, paying full homage to each work.

Every painting in this assemblage comprises two fields: a white panel on either the right or left side, and a larger portion from which a brew of overlapping, criss-crossing, visually receding or protruding swaths of color engages the senses. Interestingly, the white/color boundary is left ragged implying an original relation between the two fields. In a recent conversation with the artist, Edgar noted that the white area in her paintings provide “a place from which to enter the painting.”

Once inside, color, shape and arrangement play out drama, pensiveness and, indeed, whole sensibilities. Island of Hydra (above) comes at the viewer as a mixtape of hues comprising rectilinear medium blues leanly applied, revealing the canvas beneath. Surprise! Yellows blotched onto the bluey surfaces and, more unexpectedly, smudges of orangey red overlying it all, here and there; the whole of it a cool sensation, tempered, and finally, warmed at the surface.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 1.49.43 PMLetter from Ucello #1 (above) is an arrangement in varying blues, yellows and oranges. Swaths of white conjoin and eliminate overcrowding of the pattern. Instead, slightly warmer yellowy and tangerine hues, in large, irregular blocks, interspersed with seemingly twisted ribbons of white, give way at the surface to an overall veil of a moodier, gauzy palimpsest of blues, with darkening indigo patches here and there.

edgar-nijinsky_diary-2013-loMotion is ever present here. Paint is applied in varying thicknesses, colors overlap and form a nexus of intensely charged shapes and relationships. I briefly discussed with Edgar, Hans Hofmann’s notions of “push and pull” amongst color elements of a picture and his idea of overlapping visual planes on a flat canvas, and asked whether these ideas influenced the process of painting, for her. Edgar assented, adding “I also want the pictures to move.” One need only look to Nijinsky’s Diary (above), follow the green path to the innards of the work, stumbling along cobblestones of pinky dotted blues, to know motion on canvas.

The process is twofold. A plein-air drawing or small scale water color is made representing a particular sensation, mood, insight or thought. From this diminutive original, the notion is transformed into the much larger work of oil on canvas.

Born in New York City, Edgar, an artistically precocious child, took in the artsy milieu that the city offered, beginning with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Junior Museum after school program, and, ultimately, on to Brooklyn College. Primarily trained by abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, she also worked with Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. In this milieu, the painter developed her ideas of purposefulness in painting, “honesty,” as she put it, and an insistence on art as a presentation of ideas, rather than aiming for some end point outside of, and beyond the process of making art.

In 1959 Edgar met, and eventually married, noted sculptor, the late Philip Pavia, a founding member of “The Club,” comprising artists who regularly convened to discuss art, philosophy and the like. Names like DeKooning (Willem and Elaine), Grace Hartigan, Mark Rothko, Hanna Arendt, John Cage, Barnett Newman, John Ferro and Ad Reinhardt dot the rosters of those in attendance at those gatherings. In such a mise-en-scéne, awash in feverish production of paintings by the art world’s (primarily male) glitterati, Edgar continued her work in quietude. When questioned as to whether her gender was a hindrance to her in connection with notoriety she replied, “No. I worked under the radar. I wasn’t happy being a follower, I wanted to get up higher on the mountain.” In time, succeeding generations would discard notions of art as a process of emergence, on canvas, of an artist’s inner sensibilities, in favor of art as a pastiche of cultural intransigences. One new mode was Pop Art. Edgar told me “I was still interested in Abstract Expressionism and not about to become a Pop artist.”

edgar-whampow-2012-loIn later years, Edgar and Pavia, as she referred to him, began journeying to Italy. They settled on a place in the town of Pietrasanta, in the Northern Apennines in Tuscany, returning time and again. There, Edgar ventured out to the famous quarries of Carrara and Pietrasanta – the very same quarries from which Michelangelo obtained his marble. Images of huge prismatic chunks of marble strewn on a mountainside, broad, chiseled facies of the quarries and their angular juxtapositions, inform Edgar’s contemporary works. It is there, also, that the ideas for each of the paintings in this exhibit arose, all save one, (Wham Pow!, above), which was entirely conceived and completed in New York.

Natalie Edgar’s early involvement with art imbued in her a sense of integrity about ideas and their ability to inform art, and an unflinching strength of purpose about her life’s work. Durability, robustness, even a playful in-your-faceness (Wham Pow!) are on display here. This series of her latest paintings on view at the Woodward Gallery serves as a testament to her integrity and steadfast vision.

Natalie Edgar: Abstract Journey
Woodward Gallery
133 Eldridge Street
Ground Floor
New York, New York 10002
March 1 – April 26, 2014

The author would like to thank Kristine and John Woodward, Nicholas Pirolo and Elizabeth Cantile Grecki for their generosity and assistance.

Images courtesy Woodward Gallery, NYC; ©2014 Natalie Edgar

Island of Hydra, 2010
Oil on canvas
46 x 56 inches; 116.8 x 142.2 cm
Signed lower center,
Signed and dated on verso

Letter From Uccello #1, 2012
Oil on canvas
42 x 56 inches; 106.7 x 142.2 cm
Signed lower center,
Signed and dated on verso

Nijinsky’s Diary, 2013
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 inches; 101.6 x 127 cm
Signed and dated on verso

Wham – Pow! 2013
Oil on canvas
50 x 60 inches; 127 x 152.4 cm
Signed lower right,
Signed and dated on verso

Additional Reading:

Natalie Edgar, (Ed.) Club Without Walls: selections from the Journals of Philip Pavia. 2007. Midmarch Arts Press:New York

Rosenberg, Harold. The American Action Painters. from Tradition of the New, (1960) Horizon Press: New York; originally in Art News 51/8, December, 1952, p. 22.

Ann Rebecca Bleefeld received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in Vertebrate Anatomy. She was a staff vertebrate paleontologist for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, published a variety of research papers and lectured in research venues including New York, Beijing and Oslo. Having returned to prior interests, today Dr. Bleefeld is a freelance writer and a member of the New York Press Club. She lives in New York City with her feline companion, Max, and is at work on a collection of short stories.