New York

Ethel Schwabacher

Gallery Schlesinger Limited

Ethel Schwabacher, who died in 1984 and whose career has enjoyed increased recognition in recent years, was one of the visual poets of the Abstract Expressionist movement. A contemporary of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman, she was a painter with a bold and thrilling sense of color. As shown in the group of paintings from the ’50s that were featured in this show, Schwabacher was someone who knew how to seize upon the special power color has to suggest feeling. She did so by using color as an element to activate the surfaces of her oil canvases. Paintings such as Woman: Red Sea, Dead Sea, 1951, Evening, 1958, and Oedipus at Colonus I & III, both 1959, reveal how she used color as the key to gaining entry to the forces of the unconscious.

In Woman: Red Sea, Dead Sea, the smallest of the canvases displayed, Schwabacher conveys the ways in which the passion of the emotions can alternately propel and bind the direction of one’s life. The enigmatic forms in the work bear references to female figures and marine creatures, which seem at once to be pulling away from the swelling ground of fiery layers, as well as tied to the surface. Schwabacher’s talent for building feeling right into the constructive values of her paintings can also be seen in Evening, 1958. In this work, she captures the feeling of foreboding that can be rung in by the falling of darkness, using black to shadow and also to shape space. The black planes and lines, barely held in place by the luscious reds and earth tones, are made to look especially ominous.

Elsewhere Schwabacher reveals a keen dramatic sense, as well as a talent for lyrical statement. In Oedipus at Colonus I, resplendent light and surging energies emanate from a field of burning reds and yellows. The central abstracted form can be taken as the spiritual entity of the tragic hero, who is shown as a symbol of the crucible that must be endured as one passes along the hard road to consciousness and understanding.

Ronny Cohen