Mary Abbott, Untitled, 1951
Smart Museum of Art
Hello, my name is Claire and I’m a graduate student here at the University of Chicago.
I have been researching the relatively unknown work and practice of abstract expressionist Mary Abbott. Her work is compellingly immediate. It forces questions like what makes a painting a painting rather than a drawing. This untitled work combines the two mixing drawing’s immediacy with the medium of painting. This allows for an amalgamation of connections, disconnections, and entanglements and space which resemble scribbles or even doodles. Abbott is uninterested in creating a finished and completely rendered full image. She is unafraid of having open and empty corners.
I am particularly drawn to the paper of Abbott’s work—its edges, corners, crumpled fold stains and imperfections. The paper infuses her drawing with a heightened physicality, the artist’s presence is made visible through the way that paper lived in her studio. Anchor paint spills down its surface from the upper edge and the hole from where it was tacked to the wall is still visible in the lower right hand corner.
Yet, Abbott treats her drawing, a generally preparatory medium, as the final product, denoted by her prominent double signature. The spontaneous possibility associated with drawing offered Abbott space for freeing experimentation and resulted in a work with lived-in expressive immediacy.
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Despite its horizontal orientation, Mary Abbott’s untitled painting on paper draws the eye diagonally—originating in the top left hand corner with short, quick strokes, the painting’s dominant brushstrokes move downwards with a dynamic curve, towards the right. Abbott’s paper is stunningly imperfect: a gray wash, muddied with hints of red, spills downward from the center of the top edge, a minuscul dot of orange, in an otherwise neutral composition, peeks through along the paper’s bottom edge. Otherwise, the sweeping dynamism of white paint strokes, intertwining and overlapping with her preparatory charcoal drawing, dominates the paper. Abbott’s foggy white paint, in contrast to the soft, yellow-cream of her paper, transforms into pale blue and cool gray as it drags charcoal pigment across the page. Despite encompassing a flurry of painted gestures, Abbott’s work ultimately guides the eye to rest at a moment of concentrated charcoal marks at the right of the painting.