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Milton Avery, David Park exhibit to debut at NY Amory Show

David Park’s ‘Portrait of Lydia Sewing,’ 1955 (left) and Milton Avery’s ‘Reader with Plant,’ 1963. Hackett Mill images

SAN FRANCISCO – Hackett Mill art gallery will present the first major exhibition to bring together Milton Avery (1885-1965) and David Park (1910-1960), examining two pioneers who each initiated major mid-20th-century art movements while working within two different cultural contexts. This will be the first significant juxtaposition of the artists presented in subsequent installments, the first at the Armory Show in New York (March 7-11) and a second version at Hackett Mill in San Francisco from April 10-May 31.

Both artists are known for focusing on the human figure as subject during the rise and dominance of abstraction in American painting. Compelled more toward interiors, people and domestic scenes than the trending mania of abstracted compositions, both David Park and Milton Avery pushed their figurative visions forward against the dominant trends of Modernism. Mark Rothko described Avery’s subjects as “a domestic, unheroic cast … that often achieves the monumentality of Egypt.”

Both artists treated these intimate subjects in groundbreaking ways that challenged the tenets of Abstract Expressionism and ignited new directions and movements. Park led the Bay Area Figurative movement which included Richard Diebenkorn (who was Park’s student) and Elmer Bischoff. Avery is considered the father of the Color Field movement.

This show examines the paintings from the 1930s-1960s and reveals how Park and Avery borrowed from everyday life, a stark contrast to the objective style of abstraction, to become painters in full command of their picture planes on their own terms. For Park, returning to the figure allowed him to celebrate that which surrounded him, often his domestic life with his wife, though he did so by incorporating some shared techniques with the Abstract Expressionists, namely thick, visceral paint application and strong gestural brushwork.

While Park is credited as the founder of the Bay Area Figurative movement in California, Avery continued to chart his artistic trajectory on the East Coast, operating outside the New York School. Avery is known for alleviating excess pictorial elements and details in order to focus on his true subject: color. His figures, often depicting his wife and daughter, exist amid broad, flat, expanses of color fields. Avery’s work is considered an important precursor to color field painting and an important influence for artists including Avery’s friend Rothko. Both artists explored their signature formal and technical style through personal subject matter, offering glimpses into their worlds and restoring a level of intimacy to American painting.

On the decision to curate this exhibition Francis Mill said, “Breaking conventions of historical categories, we juxtapose David Park and Milton Avery for the first time. Park pioneered figurative painting in 1950 when it was very unpopular, ultimately giving birth to the Bay Area Figurative movement. Avery introduced color as the true subject when gesture was paramount which gave birth to the American color field movement. Conventional thinking has kept each of these artist’s dialogues separate. Together, we see why an artist’s personal search for identity is of universal relevance.”

Avery and Park’s work is included in many major national museums and continues to be highly sought after by collectors and institutions as well as reexamined by curators, scholars and critics. A retrospective for Park is currently in the works and as representatives of the Estate of David Park, Hackett Mill is working closely with the SFMOMA on this exhibition.

Hackett Mill, founded by Michael Hackett and Francis Mill, presents rare works from the 1950s and 1960s by significant American, European, and Asian artists. The gallery represents the estates of David Park, Frank Lobdell and Robert Schwartz and the artists David Beck, Masatoyo Kishi, Manuel Neri, Raimonds Staprans and Brian Wall.