Modern and Contemporary Art

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Red-Vermillion, 1961

Jack Youngerman

American, 1926-
Oil on canvas
97-3/4 x 76 in. (248.3 x 193.0 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Mr. Robert Halff
P.1973.13

Not on view

Jack Youngerman moved to Paris in 1947, where he associated with a group of young expatriate artists, including Sam Francis and Ellsworth Kelly, far from the prevailing trends in the United States. Youngerman’s interest was, as he noted: “an exploration and articulation of the possibilities of abstract shape as opposed to the shape of things and as opposed to geometric work where you work with pre-existing shapes.” His interest in the interaction
of negative and positive shapes led him to limit his palette to two or three colors. After defining value (that is, the relative lightness or darkness of
a color), he chose his palette with an eye to achieving maximum contrast.

Both shape and color, then, are the source of Youngerman’s originality, as Red Vermillion so clearly illustrates. Three robust, asymmetrical color shapes spread across the canvas. Their tight interlocking creates a tension and visual force that is sustained to the very edges of the canvas against which they appear to push. Youngerman painted each color in thick, fluid and consistent strokes that left the imprint of the brush and therefore call attention to the surface of the canvas. However, the skill and sensitivity with which he painted the slivers of one color at the interface with another make it difficult to classify this painting as Hard-Edge, the movement with which Youngerman’s work has often been associated. Rather, Red Vermillion suggests early inspirations from his time in France, especially the voluptuous color surfaces and designs of Matisse.

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