Color goes ’round in Olitski show

Color-field painters, sometimes referred to as second-generation abstract expressionists, departed from their predecessors in the 1960s, establishing color as the principal element of their work.

It was a marked contrast to the heavy brush work and impasto application of paint that was a hallmark of the earlier abstract painters.  

Color itself became the subject of paintings — not color describing something familiar, but color invented by the artist.

Startling color characterizes the works in “Jules Olitski: Embracing Circles 1959-1964” at the Hackett Mill gallery in The City.

The exhibit marks the first time the large-scale color-field paintings have been on view on the West Coast.

The pieces’ sizes — bigger than 5-feet square — adds to their flamboyance. 

Olitski is an acknowledged master of the medium whose work has been exhibited internationally in major museums and galleries.

The process of directly staining unprimed canvases with paint, rather than applying it with a brush, allows the paint to soak into a canvas’s fibers, giving the colors unique and particular intensity.

Olitski amplifies the nature of the color with his design. The circles — which are juxtaposed, irregular and drawn by hand — have a crude appeal that heightens viewers’ emotional reaction.

The contrast between foreground and background in the paintings proves exceptional.

For example, in “Fair Charlotte, 1961,” blue, purple-black and blue- green circles are placed on a yellow rectangular canvas. The intensity of the yellow dominates the focus in a way one might not expect in the background.

“Medusa Pleasure, 1962” evokes a similar reaction. A small deep-blue circle is less dominant than the intense, large red rectangular background.

The paintings’ placement in the show — with one per wall — enhances their effect.

It’s as if they occupy their own world, and it heightens viewers’ experience as they move from one to next.

IF YOU GO

Jules Olitski: Embracing Circles 1959-1964

Where: Hackett Mill, 201 Post St., San Francisco

When: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; closes Oct. 1

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 362-3377, www.hackettmill.com

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