Lawrence Kupferman

Beth Urdang Fine Arts

Lawrence Kupferman (1909–82) responded to the lessons of surrealist automatism and bio-morphism in a highly poetic and personal manner. Like his contemporary and friend Mark Rothko, Kupferman worked as a WPA artist, and first exhibited in New York in the early ’40s. However, he chose to make Boston his home and became historically more associated with the expressionist school in that city, which included Jack Levine, Hyman Bloom, and Karl Zerbe, than with the first generation of the New York School. This carefully selected exhibition of four oils and seven works on paper reinstates Kupferman as a pioneer in the development of Abstract Expressionist technique and theory.

Kupferman’s abstractions are clearly based upon the artist’s experience of the ocean. (He spent many summers in Provincetown with Hans Hofmann, Adolphe Gottlieb, William Baziotes, and Rothko.) Organic and biomorphic drips and swirls of paint dominate his images. Protozoan Community #2, 1947, shows Kupferman’s interest in the relationship between poured paint and marine biology. The piece explodes with fluid blotches and tentacles of color. Delicate, quivering filaments and projectiles define and emanate from amoebalike forms. An underpainting of blue, yellow, and green washes suggests the fresh water where a community of protozoa exists. There is no focal point in this work; it seems to have been created by carefully controlled accident. The artist’s ebullient sense of chaos illuminates this spirited ocean landscape.

Flying in an airplane over Cape Cod, Kupferman became aware that the ocean had no top or bottom, and he incorporated this concept into his allover biomorphic abstractions. In Microscopic Landscape, 1949, a darkly sublime watercolor, Kupferman signed his name on all four sides of the piece, suggesting that it could be seen and appreciated from any direction. Here, a predominant wash of black watercolor and casein ink recalls the dreamy surreal fantasies of Paul Klee’s black paintings from the ’20s. Kupferman gives light to his spectral image of the watery depths of the ocean through carefully delineated swimming sea creatures and abstract forms. Like Klee, he combines an inner vision with an outer experience of the world.

In Microscopic World, 1950, black washes merge with sensual red forms, which are themselves overlaid with tiny web like mosaics. The piece is evidence of the artist’s fascination with the electron microscope. Kupferman experienced the infinite poetry of nature through viewing enlargements of algae and studying cell structure, and he made oblique and direct references to the microscope in several of his paintings. The artist demonstrates a strong sense of wonder at the rhythmic beauty of the sea and its relationship to the blood that flows in our own veins. His work is organic abstraction of the highest order.

Francine A. Koslow