Milton Avery: The Late Portraitsby Polly Leonard
Victoria Miro presents an exhibition of portraits drawn from the last four years of Milton Avery’s life. Characterised by economy of touch and luminescence of colour, the works on view see the artist apply a lifetime of experience to cherished subjects and motifs. Milton Avery (1885–1965) made portraits throughout his career yet, bar a handful of exceptions, did not accept commissions. Instead, he drew and painted what was most dear to him and closest to hand – family and friends, at home or on vacation.
Throughout his career, Avery’s habit was to devote his summers to drawing and making watercolours, which would serve as the basis for the oil paintings he worked on during the winters back in New York – a routine that goes some way in explaining his art’s sense of endless summer. Conciseness, so often a mark of an artist’s late style, can be aligned here with practical necessity. The latter years of Avery’s life saw the artist increasingly confined to his apartment and studio on Central Park West, rarely venturing outside except for occasional walks in Central Park.
The Averys were immersed in the art and culture of New York. As early as the 1930s, the apartment became a meeting place for young artists, including Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, as well as writers, musicians and poets. At MacDowell Colony and Yaddo artists’ colonies during the 1950s, they worked in the company of writers and poets such as James Baldwin, Howard Moss, Peter Viereck and Sara Henderson Hay. Two Poets, 1963, captures this bohemian milieu, its figures, treated as angular shapes, becoming spare and monumental.
Until 8 September 2019, Victoria Miro, Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994, 30124 Venice, Italy.
If you would like to emulate the late Milton Avery and enjoy the sights and sounds of New York, why not read Jessica Hemmings' article City Limits in the Political issue. Subscribe to Selvedge here.