Fairfield Porter: Raw - The Creative Process of an American Master

April 11 - June 13, 2010



Parrish Newsletter article for the exhibition:


Fairfield Porter Raw: The Creative Process of an American Master

April 11 - June 13, 2010

By Klaus Ottmann, Robert Lehman Curator


After Fairfield Porter's death on December 18, 1975, the Estate donated the remains of his Southampton studio and home to the nearby Parrish Art Museum. Porter had lived and worked in a rambling, nineteenth-century sea captain's house on 49 South Main Street since 1949, except for regular visits to the Porter family summer house on Great Spruce Head, an island in Penobscot Bay, Maine, and frequent stays in New York City.

The gift to the Parrish Museum included, in addition to major paintings and important works on paper, a large number of works in various states of completion, including a sketchbook, unstretched paintings on canvas that had been stored by the artist rolled-up, and many paintings on various kinds of boards.

Fairfield Porter Raw: The Creative Process of an American Master presents, in addition to a selection of finished paintings and works on paper, a large selection of Porter's unfinished or never before exhibited paintings. In the spirit of one of the Parrish Art Museum's key missions -- to celebrate the unique and ongoing creative climate of Long Island's East End -- these works will be exhibited "raw," that is, unframed and unmatted, to convey an unprecedented insight into Porter's creative process.

Many of the works in this exhibition have an unfinished quality; some intentionally, others because they remained incomplete at the time of his death, illustrating Porter's practice of beginning with pale washes of thin paint as he explored color in relation to composition.

Porter was an artist to whom materials mattered greatly. In the mid-1940s, Porter had studied technique and material with Jacques Maroger at the Parsons School of Design in New York. Maroger, an art restorer and former technical director of the Louvre Laboratory in Paris, developed his own formula for a paint medium based on his extensive studies of the Old Masters. Porter became an early champion of the Maroger medium. Its base ingredient is white lead. When mixed under heat with linseed oil and mastic, a natural resin, it forms a gel-like medium that allows the brush to move fluidly across the canvas. Porter used a variant of the original Maroger medium, the Venetian Maroger, which contains beeswax instead of mastic. Porter kept meticulous records of the paint mixtures that he used during various periods. The Archives of American Art hold several of these paint recipes.

Painting Materials (ca. 1949), a still-life depiction of his disorderly pile of brushes projecting into all directions, jars, and a can of paint thinner as seen from above, almost like an urban landscape, exemplifies the casual disarray that is a distinctive feature of Porter's artistic practice. Porter's biographer, Justin Spring, described Porter's studio as having been "always in a state of lively disorder... This disarray is worthy of consideration, for Porter not only featured it in his paintings, but let it seep into his aesthetics." [1]

Porter's sketchbook pages have been digitized and will be shown in the exhibition on a small digital frame. To distinguish finished paintings from unfinished works in the exhibition, the unfinished stretched canvases are hung without frames, while the paintings on boards will be displayed leaning against the wall on picture rail moldings. This presentation will allow the visitors to experience not only the composition and color of each work, but also its "materiality" - - canvas, Masonite, corrugated cardboard, and even asbestos or aluminum sheets -- affording unique insights into the mind and the artistic practice of this modern master.

As Porter once stated, "art is not ideal it's material and specific and actual." [2]



1 Justin Spring, Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), 173.

2 Fairfield Porter interview, 1968 June 6, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Photo captions:

1. Fairfield Porter (American, 1907-1975). Painting Materials, ca. 1949. Oil on canvas. 32 1/8 x 25 1/8 inches. The Parrish Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter, 1980.10.35

2. Photograph of Fairfield Porter working in his Southampton studio, ca. 1967. Photograph: Ellen Auerbach. Courtesy of the Fairfield Porter papers, 1888­2001 (bulk 1924­1975). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

3. Fairfield Porter (American, 1907-1975). Landscape, 1960s. Oil on canvas. 24 1/8 x 20 1/8 inches. The Parrish Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter, 1980.10.140

Return to "An Unfinished Quality": Fairfield Porter's Creative Process, essay by Klaus Ottmann (5/14/10)

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.