The life of a symbol is in its refusal to become fixed. It is through its metaphorical quality
that it takes on a thousand meanings. – Myron Stout, 1953
NEW YORK – Craig F. Starr Gallery is pleased to present a survey of black and white paintings, charcoals, and graphites by the American artist Myron Stout (1908-1987). In his lifetime, Stout was the subject of only five exhibitions – two of which were museum retrospectives, the last one being at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1980. MYRON STOUT, on view from November 4, 2016 through January 21, 2017, is the first solo exhibition of Stout’s work in almost a decade. Comprised of loans from The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and private collections across the country, the show brings together four paintings and 12 works on paper. An essay by renowned art historian David Anfam, will be included in the fully illustrated catalogue.
Born in Denton, Texas in 1908, Stout’s career as an artist did not begin in earnest until he was 39-years-old. In 1946, he studied and became friends with Hans Hoffmann, and Stout’s earliest works (1947-52) are multi-hued abstractions, often complex in their compositions. Around 1950 Stout was inspired to begin working in black and white. Though it was always his intention to return to color, he never did. After relocating from New York City to Provincetown, MA in 1952, Stout would devote the rest of career to the body of work for which he is most celebrated: the intimately scaled works rendered in rich blacks, lunar whites, and silvery grays that bridge Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.
MYRON STOUT focuses on the artist’s distinct departure into black and white abstraction, where light and energy surround sublime white forms against black grounds. Stout famously worked deliberately and meticulously, at a measured, if not abated, pace; in 14 years, he finished just eight paintings and nearly completed five more. Stout placed more importance on the process of thinking, seeing, and creating a work than on its completion, and it often took him
years of working intermittently to finish his compositions–making subtle changes in placement and scale before arriving at the desired balance of form and spatial tension.
Heralded as “the secret hero of the new abstraction” by contemporary painter Chris Martin, Stout endured an unexpected posthumous fate—somewhat removed from the historical record of abstract art, in part as a result of his secluded practice. Yet as a student of Hofmann, Stout circulated in the center of New York City’s art scene, and followed the work of his contemporaries closely—chronicling their movements in his collection of journals[i]. For these reasons, Stout has been considered an “asider” by David Anfam—a term coined by literary critic, Dennis Donoghue, to describe one that is both an insider and an outsider.
Reacting against Abstract Expressionism and the other prevailing art movements on his time, Stout forged his own path, one that reflected the aesthetics of hard-edged abstraction, but with a focus on the painterly process, which is evident even in his drawings. Stout described, “When I start drawing, I work with the black and white areas as well as their enclosing lines. Jogging them back and forth. Feeling my way. Pushing a black area up. Starting out with one black area across the bottom. And then something else one place, and then erase and mark out, and shift without actual drawing, more like in the painting process.”[ii] Stout’s black and white works lack the signs of spontaneity and the artistic heroism of the Abstract Expressionists. In B.H Friedman’s introduction to the catalogue for Stout’s 1980 Whitney retrospective, he writes, “Unlike the dominant artists of his own generation, [Stout] is involved with scale but not size, with image but not ‘gesture,’ with expressiveness but not expressionism, with light but not conventional color.”[iii]
In addition to the formal concerns of Stout’s work, many have recognized deeper meanings in his paintings and drawings despite their stark modernist tones. The art critic, Michael Berenson has noticed how Stout's work is in many ways rooted in 19th-century American painting[iv]. Echoing Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, Stout channeled asceticism and prayer. According to Friedman, Stout “made from his deepest feeling what amount to ritual objects—objects so physical, so full of the grain and texture of life that they suggest metaphysical photographs taken somehow simultaneously at the dazzling speed of light and at the slow, grinding pace of eternity.”[v] The works presented in this exhibition are loaded with symbols of power and reconciliation, and ultimately reflect the artist’s personal quest for painterly perfection.
[i] Dickey, Tina ed. Selections from the Journals of Myron Stout. Midmarch Arts Press, 2005.
[ii] Myron Stout quoted in Friedman, B.H. Introduction. Myron Stout. Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980. p. 11.
[iii] ibid, p. 10.
[iv] Berenson, Michael. “Works of Myron Stout, Standing on Their Own.” The New York Times. 2 November 1990.
[v] Friedman, B.H. p. 13.