P R E S S > T H E 2 R
E A L I T I E S O F A
R Y S T I L L M A N
From Paris Press, 1928-1933
of Ary Stillman- Chicago Tribune,
By B.J.Kospoth, December 1928
American Indians - Chicago Sunday
Tribune (Paris Edition), By B.J.Kospoth, Sunday, November
Brings Original Touch in Our Lives, Asserts H.Ary Stillman
- The Sioux City Tribune, By H.Ary Stillman, October 26,
From New York City Press, 1934-1945
From New York City Press About Ary &Music, 1946-1952
||A Rich Life
of Painting - Houston Chronicle, March
||The 2 Realities
of Ary Stillman -
Houston Post, By Eleanor Freed
Art Portrays 'Inner Reality' - San
Antonio Light, By Marcia Goren Weser, October 21, 1990
By Eleanor Freed
February 27, 1972
Occasionally today there are artists who are constant
successes, catapulted to fame and fortune by the entente cordials
which frequently exists between museum curator, metropolitan art
dealer and serious art journals, but for the most part the creative
agony remains an ongoing trauma in a very private domain.
Sadly, the ultimate external fruition, recognition
such as accorded by a museum retrospective, comes if it
comes at all too often as a post-modern reassessment. Such
is the case with an exhibition of the work of Ary Stillman (1891-1967)
which has just opened at the Museum of Fine Arts.
One is immediately confronted with the evidence
of a psychic dichotomy, an earlier dedication to transcribing
the surface reality abruptly terminated by a later compulsion
to probe the Inner self and to paint the inner reality.
Typical of many mature artists with established
styles at the time that abstraction became the Esperanto of the
day, a former plastic vocabulary had to be discarded while a new
one was first to be discovered and then mastered. After the holocaust
of World War II, Stillman realized that he could not go on painting
the crowd scenes, the ambience of the city, the vistas of Paris
or portraits. Seeking his own way, he began to play with charcoal
on paper. "I felt that maybe through an accident or subconscious
movement, I will get something from within myself."Hundreds
of these charcoal drawings "opened up a direction where to
jump over the fence. I saw possibilities for compositions, for
things that contain certain realities."Later, in some reminiscences
which his devoted widow, Frances, made available to me, Stillman
said of abstraction: "Not only does the artist create a plastic
unit but he offers an opportunity to others with imagination creatively
to look at it the same as music
Speaking of his radical departure from figurative
painting, he said, "Even years before my going to Mexico
I had completely broken away from painting surface realities.
But it was in Mexico that the inner reality began more and more
to emerge, that I felt more and more its essence. It was for me
a period when fantasy became paintable, or when I invaded the
world of fantasy. I was completely involved in the mysticism of
The exhibition is accompanied by a handsome catalogue
with a perceptive text by Richard Teller Hirsh, former director
of the Michener Collection, who has just been made director of
the New Zealand Museum. Philippe de Montebello, director of Houstons
Museum of Fine Arts (now the director of the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York City), has edited the extensive oeuvre which
remains a part of the Stillman-Lack Foundation in Houston (Stillman
spent the final five years of his life here). The major stress
has been placed by de Montebello on the years after Stillmans
breakthrough into abstraction.
Although Stillman was a friend of many of the painters
of the New York School and a member of the Eighth Street
Club (De Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, Franz Kline, John Cage,
Morton Feldman, Jack Tworkov, Larry Rivers, Frank OHara,
etc.), he was always a loner, on the fringes of whatever organization
he tentatively joined. Stillman wasnt group-oriented, remaining
always a detached observer of the scene. Yet during the decade
1945-1954, he indeed made the scene through numerous exhibitions
in top drawer galleries and significant museum group exhibits.
One-man shows at Midtown Gallery followed Bernheim
Jeune and earlier Paris exhibitions
Macbeth where he presented the first abstract show (1946) in their
then 50-year history and five successive exhibits at Bertha Schaefer.
Although critical reviews were of a high caliber, his collectors
remained limited and he never achieved any degree of financial
security or special singling out for museum one-man shows.
oil on canvas
23 1/2 x 29
University of Houston,
Moores School of Music, TX
The early representational paintings such as "Sideshow,
Coney Island" of 1937 "Salon Mexico (El Baile)"
and "Worlds Fair," both from 1940, are full of movement
and imbued with the zest and swirl of life. Despite the fact that
his color is more subdued and his faces and figures less distinct,
Stillman projects vitality as strongly, though perhaps not as
earthy, as did Orozco in his early dance hall paintings or Reginald
Marsh in his urban commentaries.
Although at one time on the roll of W.P.A. artists,
Stillman was never a social protest painter and relatively briefly
a social realist. He had been too deeply affected by his years
based in Paris (1922-1933) and the vast scope and residual influence
from his extensive travels. Later, when he began to paint in an
abstract manner, as if on call to an inner genie, he summoned
up memories of the Romanesque, Byzantine, Sienese, Catalonian,
African, Mayan and Incan from which he developed rhythms and patterns
based on a pastiche of many civilizations.
Strolling around the two rooms of the exhibition,
one of the initial impacts is how Stillman employed black and
white as colors in his often writhing, sometimes syncopated surfaces.
In most of these works there is a sort of Danse Macabre between
the romantic, intuitive Stillman and the analytical, ritualistic
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18
Denver Art Museum, CO
Sometimes I am reminded of Paul Klee by the ominous
black lines that appeared through so much of Stillman and during
the end of Klees life, as well as their mutual dependence
on music. Both painters ignored conventional perspective. Stillmans
flat field, often subdivided into surface grids, could be glyphs
from previous civilizations. In Stillman, irregular lines of color
often encompass and contain the painting as an exterior frame.
There is much underpainting and layering and broken staccato patterns.
Shadows and contours hold frequent turbulent dialogues.
I am also reminded of the dance patterns of Carlos
Merida and his extraction of Indian myth; however, there is a
finite order and clean-cut geometry in Merida, where in Stillman
there is a looseness, a break-up of forms, a restless probing
into the transitory nature of space. In this Stillman shares rapport
with Gorky and an earlier Pollock.
Frances Stillmans diary of her late husband
is most interesting
how a poor boy from Byelorussia migrated
to Sioux City, Iowa
thence to New York, Paris with trips
all over three continents before his many years in Cuernavaca
and lastly in Houston. Life
the essentials of existence
a muse, years of bad health
inner torments and struggle
world seemingly passing him by during the last decade.
What we see poured out before us in a most sympathetic
setting is the serious, often difficult, and sometimes beautiful
work of a sensitive, tortured creative spirit. Ary Stillman was
a man whose entire life was devoted to a search for truth, the
outer and then the inner reality as he plumbed decades of recollections
of things seen; expressed but above all felt.