Albert York, American Painter, 1989
(Photo: New York Times, online ed.)
Very few people knew Albert York, in any sense. He produced approximately 250 paintings during his lifetime, nearly all are in private collections, and each are not much larger than a sheet of letter-sized, 8.5" X 11" paper. For at least twenty years, those small canvasses sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He died last night, and in looking over the detritus of our culture as reported by the NYT as I usually do every morning, saw his obituary.
Two Trees And A River; oil on silk on masonite, 1962
10 X 11 inches (All Photos of York's Work Shown From The
University Of Massachusetts, Amherst's The Sienese Shredder,
What makes him singular is that he seemed to be an ordinary man -- or, no more or less ordinary than anyone you might meet on the street. He spoke his own language in his artwork, and while he took art very seriously (his entire life was, in one way or another, wrapped around it and shaped by it), seemed unconcerned about the currents of 'modern' art. He went his own way.
Born the illegitimate child of an electroplater in the Detroit automotive industry in 1928 (when being a bastard child was still considered a major social stigma), York grew up in a succession of boarding schools, then studied art -- not in Chicago or New York or Boston, but at Schools Of Arts and Crafts in Ontario, Canada, and Detroit.
The Sea At East Hampton; oil on canvas on masonite, 1964
8 X 12 inches (Photo: U. Mass, Amherst Sienese Shredder)
He spent at least twenty years working as a finish carpenter, and gilder of frames for paintings, before being able to paint full-time. York's employer as a gilder saw some of his work, recommended him to a Manhattan art dealer -- and the rest, as they say, is history.
His work has been compared with another reclusive New York painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder (as well as reclusive figures like J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon), and was praised for the minimalism and small dimensions in his work -- a small, clear note above the cacophony and screeching of the modern art business, which is much more about itself, about power and money, than really about art.
Wheelbarrow; oil on panel, 1974;
7 X 12 inches (Photo: U. Mass, Amherst Sienese Shredder)
In 1989, when an exhibition of his work (lent by the collectors who owned them) and two other painters was held at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, no one knew whether York came to see the show; no one knew what he looked like. He did go -- and one of the staff at his dealers' took the photo of him at the top of this post.
Bread and Wine; oil on panel, 1995
8 X 10 inches (Photo: U. Mass, Amherst Sienese Shredder)
The dominance of art by the creatures who claim to know what it is, who buy it as cheaply as they can and sell for as much profit as they can make, is nothing new. The thing about York is that he didn't participate in that scene. In the end, fate and chance helped York to realize the dream of every artist -- to make a living strictly from sale of their works.
Woman With Skeleton; oil on canvas on masonite, 1968
12 X 11 inches (Photo: U. Mass, Amherst Sienese Shredder)
My take of him is, if someone wanted to buy his pictures, that was fine; he needed the money. If his dealers wanted to create a Garbo-like mystique around his shyness and sell his works for tens or hundreds of thousands a pop, he was okay with that, too. But he never confused the merely commercial with what motivated him to produce his art. Because that's what it's all about, really, no matter what Art In America or Vanity Fair says.
It seems ironic that this body of work, 250 small but powerful paintings by a quiet man uninterested in fame or wealth, are now owned by a few museums -- but principally by the very, very rich, where they will generally go unseen by the ordinary public of which York was a part.
The Edge Of The Forest; oil on canvas on masonite, 1963
10 X 10 inches (Photo: U. Mass, Amherst Sienese Shredder)
Before Nine borrows freely from the panoply of images and writing that appear on the Intertubes. As a Dog, I can't really afford usage fees for some of this material -- however, I believe it's not only fair but important to be recognized for your work.
As a result, with images, Before Nine will provide attributions for the photographer and or news agencies who distributed them, where possible (However, at times even the most diligent search of Blogtopia does not yield this information). The same for excerpts of written material, where the names of authors will be listed, and links provided.
If you feel that there has somehow been unfair use of your photograph(s) or writing; or, if you're just thin-skinned and have hurt Fee-Fees that an awful anonymous Blogger (and masquerading as a Dog!) has been mean to you, we'll be happy to consider your Request / Veiled Sociopathic Threat to remove them, and not use additional material of yours in future.
If I'm not happy about it, I'll bite you and pee on your leg.
WHAT'S IN HERE
Ingredients: ALL NATURAL Water, glycerin, behenyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, barely legal minimum age Butosylmonal (or any available) alcohol; vodka, silica; full spousal support alimony glutosides, penyl trimethicone, niacinamide, Regis Philbicide, duck-o-lyne, potassium cetyl phosphate, retinyl palmitate, Rheinish Palitinate, Thurn-und-Taxis palmitoyl tripeptide-3, beta-glucan, sodium hyaluronate, arginine, The White Album, Bungchau Offal bark extract; JoyJoy Esther Williams squeezings, butyrospermum Here Comes Sparky!; coffee, Gung-Ho seed, HOO-AHH Big Powder, Intubular glucosyl membrane fixative (now with 63% more Love), WD-45 hydroxyethyl acryloyldimethyl tautaurate copolymer FETANG ANG ANG ANG; Paraffin, generous helpings; empathetic understanding; small animal residue (tetramethyl hydroxy-piperdino); hexylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin, caprylyl glycol, mica (ci 77019), titanium dioxide (ci 77891), choice sweepings; NAR NAR NAR and the full faith and credit of the government of the United States of America and Long May She Wave; with a twist of lemon, please.
Make absolutely certain your sense of humor is fully engaged prior to using Before Nine. I am not responsible for your level of consciousness or documented ability to subjectively perceive stuff. Got that? Swell. Comfy now? Want a treat? A Juice Box? A cigarette? Well okay then.
Some of us who write stuff just can't leave it alone. As a result, text sections which have been altered or added after initial posting will be highlighted in red, so the whole world will know. So glad we got that clear. Nu?