“I will brook no interference when I assert that Lee Krasner is not only the finest woman painter the U.S. has produced in this century but – since sex is not really the vital matter here – is right in the top of the pile of the great 20th century American artists, period.”
The eponymous painting of the pivotal Earth Green series, the present work from 1957 captures the emotional power and painterly bravura that has established Lee Krasner as one of the most innovative and visionary abstract painters of the last century. Executed in the months immediately following her husband Jackson Pollock’s death in a car crash, Earth Green captures the visceral emotion and energy of an artist at the precise moment of profound revelation. Executed in the fecund colors of vegetation, earth, and flesh, and fusing organic forms with a rhythmic, splattered technique, Earth Green nods to the action painting of Krasner’s late husband but has an explosive ebullience that sets it resolutely apart from his work, not least due to its overt and insistent femininity.
In the present work, undulating curves and swelling, rounded forms rendered in lush pinks gesture abstractly at the female figure before receding into a verdant green ground. Ghost-like, these forms sweep breathlessly across the monumental canvas surface, guided by umber swathes of paint. At once unruly and lyrical, Krasner’s powerful gestures advance with rhythmic certainty across the canvas, endowing the composition with an captivating visual power which led the esteemed British curator and critic Bryan Robertson, who owned the present work for many years, to declare that in “Earth Green of 1957 […] the disguise or surmounting of the figure image with another, abstract, reality is as compelling, edgy, spacious and paradoxically impenetrable as ever, which is of course how it should be. As a kind of visual parallel to the way in which Joyce uses puns and portmanteau words in Ulysses, so Krasner also makes occasional visual double entendres, so that an eye can look like a seed and something like a vulva can look like the cross section of an apple. Transformations are omnipresent, but essentially all her work exists on its own invented terms.” (Bryan Robertson, quoted in: Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner Collages, October 1986, n.p.) Indeed, Krasner’s celebration of the female form, and metonymic equation of femininity and the life-giving earth, reflects the emotional upheaval of this time in her life. As many critics have pointed out, Krasner’s reassertion of her womanhood represented a direct reply to the archetypal machismo of her late husband’s oeuvre.
Painted at a critical intersection of Krasner's life, where Pollock’s death marked at once a personal tragedy and the opportunity to assert her own artistic independence, the Earth Green series represents a rebirth, both literally and metaphorically. Indeed, as much as these paintings stand as a declaration of artistic identity and a radical break both formally and conceptually, they also provided a cathartic and therapeutic release for Krasner. These were the first paintings executed in the barn beside the house in East Hampton that Pollock used to call his studio, a location that abruptly gave Krasner the opportunity to work on a grand scale. As Hobbs describes it, with this series: “Krasner experienced the difficulty and exhilaration of creation, the fears of being subsumed in mythic content, and the satisfaction of finally developing and accepting an enlarged sense of self as a result of her deep commitment to fulfilling her own nature.” (Robert Hobbs, “Krasner, Mitchell, and Frankenthaler: Nature as Metonym”, in: Exh. Cat., Denver Art Museum (and travelling), Women of Abstract Expressionism, p. 66)
Works from Lee Krasner’s “Earth Green” Series in Prominent Collections
Typifying the pervasive sense of life and growth that characterizes the eponymous series, Earth Green is one of Lee Krasner’s enduring masterpieces, and its foundational importance to Krasner’s oeuvre – and to this series in particular – is only further underscored by its exalted title. Conceptually rigorous and aesthetically astounding, Earth Green epitomizes Krasner’s friend Edward Albee’s glowing review of her work in the catalogue for her show at Robert Miller Gallery: “I will brook no interference when I assert that Lee Krasner is not only the finest woman painter the U.S. has produced in this century but – since sex is not really the vital matter here – is right in the top of the pile of the great 20th century American artists, period.” (Edward Albee, "Considering Krasner," in: Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner Paintings 1965 to 1970, 1991, n.p.)