"Fairfield Porter"

By Panero, James | New Criterion, April 2006 | Go to article overview

"Fairfield Porter"


Panero, James, New Criterion


"Fairfield Porter" Bern' Cuningham Gallery, New York. March 8-April 15, 2006

Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) has become a painter's painter, and it is easy to see why. As a representational artist in an age of abstraction, Porter went up against Clement Greenberg and famously attacked his bullying idealism: "[Greenberg] said, 'You can't paint figuratively today? ... I thought, 'If that's what he says, I think I will do just exactly what he says I can't do! That's all I will do" I might have become an abstract painter except for that."

In the 1960s, as art turned minimal and "literal," Porter also showed how painting could still be relevant without appealing to the mazes of Frank Stella. "I like in art when the artist doesn't know what he knows in general; he only knows what he knows specifically" Porter explained in 1968 to Paul Cummings of the Archive of American Art. At Harvard, as a privileged undergraduate in the 1920S, Porter studied the philosophy of David Hume with Alfred North Whitehead. "Hume's idea [is] that all you know is one sensation after another; you do not know the connections between them." A writer and critic as well as a painter, Porter thought deeply about the role of empiricism in paint. For him these concerns included the details of place and the specifics of construction.

A generation of figurative painters, several now represented by Bern' Cuningham's Chelsea gallery, have emerged under Porter's influence--Rackstraw Downes and Philip Pearlstein to name but two. …

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