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Color Wave Fantasies – Jules Olitski at MFA Houston

Now showing at the MFAH is Revelation: Major Paintings by Jules Olitski, which covers key works by the late artist. Olitski held the esteemed position of being the first American artist to be given a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during his lifetime. Although his paintings from the 1950’s-1970s show the impact of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field art, he merges these two styles to create a distinct brand of art all his own.

Olitski’s paintings reveal the integral role that color plays in his work and his interest in unconventional ways of applying it. The five decades of his work range from his unconventional Stain paintings, Spray paintings, Baroque paintings, High Baroque paintings, and the last series, titled “With Love and Disregard.”

In 1959 he began creating his Stain painting series where he used paint thinner to allow the colors to blend seamlessly into the canvas. In his Spray paint paintings, the color appears like an ether hanging over the canvas or, as Olitski stated, “…like a cloud, just hanging in the air.” In the Baroque paintings, the visual heaviness of the dark color schemes and iridescent tones evoke a cosmic scene of galaxies in a faraway planet.

However in his last series, “With Love and Disregard,” the colors shape into biomorphic forms in thick globules of color. In one work, his juxtaposition of tangerine, emerald, plum and ultramarine blue evoke Nasa photographs of the earth in painted, artificial colors. In another, amethyst, turquoise, bubble gum pink and saffron spew onto the surface as if some type of volcanic eruption has occurred. Olitski’s ability to suggest the natural world without allowing any markers of it shows his dexterity and imaginative abilities with the formal elements of art.