Up Close with Re-Echo

A superlative and early example from Lee Krasner’s seminal Earth Green series, Re-Echo from 1957 epitomizes the artistic reawakening that overtook Krasner in the months immediately following the unexpected death of her husband, Jackson Pollock. The seventeen paintings of the Earth Green series stand among Krasner’s most accomplished and exalted; first exhibited together at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1958, these paintings were extremely well received at the time and prompted Clement Greenberg to offer Krasner a solo show the following year. One of the earliest paintings of the group, Re-Echo is particularly evocative of the painting that provided impetus for the series as a whole, Prophecy, which predated Pollock’s death and seemed in retrospect to preempt that tragedy, prompting its titling. Executed in 1957, Re-Echo emerges from a moment of extreme crisis and is charged with immense psychic exigency. Both a testament to and catharsis of the emotional turmoil which fueled her practice at this crucial nexus, the present work presented an opportunity for Krasner to assert her personal and artistic independence. Indeed, the very title of Re-Echo poignantly and saliently alludes to the cyclical rhythms of life and to Krasner’s contemplative state as she mourned Pollock’s loss and experienced her own personal reawakening.

Jackson Pollock, Easter and the Totem, 1953
Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Art Resource, NY . Art © 2020 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Lee Krasner, Prophecy, 1956
Private Collection. Art © 2020 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In the summer of 1956, Lee Krasner abruptly shifted her artistic direction, creating a painting that was unlike any other she had made to date. Krasner recalled of Prophecy that upon completion: “the painting disturbed me enormously and I called Jackson to look at it. He assured me it was a good painting, and said not to think about it, just continue." (Lee Krasner quoted in: Ellen G. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York 1995, p. 152) Shortly thereafter, Krasner left on a trip to Europe in July of 1956, and the painting was still on her easel when she returned in mid-August to bury her husband. Krasner recalls: “Then Pollock died, I got back from Europe and this painting – once more I had to look at it and deal with it; Prophecy still frightened me enormously. I couldn’t read why it frightened me so, and even now would be hard put to do so. And so in that sense the painting becomes an element of the subconscious—as one might bring forth a dream.” (Ibid., pp. 152-53) Painted just before Pollock’s death, Prophecy undoubtedly is prophetic: compositionally invoking the cyclical progression of birth and rebirth, and already confronting Pollock’s legacy with a force of her own, Prophecy heralds a new era of painting for Krasner, one that was contingent on her personal and artistic liberation from her husband. In the months following his death, Krasner coped with grief by painting, and in her anguished state she would create a series of paintings, including the present work, that continued the work she had begun with Prophecy.

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907
Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Art Resource, NY. Art © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In the paintings that followed, of which Re-Echo is a paramount example, round, bulbous forms and primeval imagery suggest fecund cycles of birth and growth, and yet these forms also imply the proximity of ripeness to decay. From Krasner’s refined painterly vocabulary, delicate touches and passages of fluid grace are tempered by bold, even violent, strokes; great arcs of umber and ochre are countered by animated sprays of vibrant pinks and greens. Indeed, the fleshy pinks, magentas, yellows, and verdant greens of Re-Echo endow the composition with a sensuous vitality and optimism that counters the profound personal sorrow and emotional gravity of its inception. The Earth Green paintings were also the first paintings that Krasner executed in the barn beside the house in East Hampton that Pollock used to call his studio; as Hobbs explains, with this move “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, Lee Krasner, New York 1992, p. 66)

As much as Re-Echo is a painterly celebration of artistic identity and a radical break both formally and conceptually, it is also a cathartic work, and it is this psychic tension that endows Re-Echo with its lasting gravitas and raw intensity. Within Re-Echo, essential forms and gestures appear repeatedly to create a coherent and compelling pictorial structure; each spray of pigment and knotted form is balanced and counter-balanced by its echo, testifying to the deliberateness and fierce intention with which Krasner built this triumphant masterpiece.

Lee Krasner in her studio with an early state of Cauldron behind her and Prophecy to the right, August 30, 1956
Photo by Sidney Waintrob © 2020 Budd Studio Artwork. Art © 2020 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York