Automatic Writing as Artistic Tool

Bradley Walker Tomlin, Number 12–1949, 1949, Oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 31 1/4 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Gift of Abby and B. H. Friedman in honor of John I. H. Baur

Just a few years before he painted this luminous composition, Bradley Walker Tomlin met Adolph Gottlieb and other leading Abstract Expressionists. The close relationships he forged with them influenced his shift from a Cubist style toward a more calligraphic, expressive language exemplified by Number 12. For this canvas, painted while Tomlin was sharing a studio with Robert Motherwell, he used the method of automatic writing to arrive at gestural calligraphic forms that float against a mystical yellow background.

Phillips Collection founder Duncan Phillips admired Tomlin’s work precisely because of its “interplay of an ordered formalism and spontaneous, expressive gesture.” Paul Klee’s art strove to marry the same principles. Number 12 combines curved arabesques with flat, ribbon-like forms; the latter became a hallmark of his mature style, as seen in Number 9, on view nearby in the Ten Americans exhibition.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Mark Tobey

Taking inspiration from the major theme of music in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, we paired 11 staff members with 11 works from the exhibition and asked them to respond to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Caitlin Meredith, Phillips Music Coordinator  created this playlist in response to Mark Tobey’s “Night Flight.”

Mark Tobey, Night Flight, 1956, Tempera on cardboard, 11 7/8 x 9 in., Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As I studied Night Flight by Mark Tobey, I saw many repetitive strokes and lines, that once repeated, began to morph into different shapes. This visual aspect is akin to the fugue, a compositional technique in which a melodic line is introduced and repeated by different voices, at which point the interwoven voices begin to develop into something new. For my playlist, I have chosen four pieces that have prominent examples of fugue-like material: two pieces by the king of the fugue, J.S. Bach, and two by more contemporary artists Sylvan Esso and Bon Iver. I hope as you listen you may be able to hear and visualize the repetitive fugue-like sonorities.

Caitlin Meredith, Phillips Music Coordinator 

Feeling inspired? Create your own playlist based around works in the exhibition and send it to us at communications@phillipscollection.org and we may feature it on our blog and social media.

The Whimsical and Free Artwork of Gene Davis

Installation view of Gene Davis’s “Untitled” works, on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee

“My last show of symbol paintings are just Klee blown-up large.”—Gene Davis

Gene Davis acknowledged the profound impact of Paul Klee—“his very first mentor”—on his artistic development. Beginning in the 1940s, Davis made regular visits to “the Klee room” at the Phillips, where Klee’s small masterpieces left an “unforgettable impression.” These untitled works by Davis with playful, flat forms were among a series of symbol paintings the artist made at the end of his life that harken back to his early experiments of the 1950s, when he painted freehand compositions with organic motifs (for example, Black Flowers). Davis attributed his “urge to do whimsical, free-hand drawings” to his “early infatuation with Paul Klee and children’s art.” Like Klee, Davis valued spontaneity and intuition over intellect—aspects that lay at the heart of Davis’s artistic methods, whether in his stripe paintings (such as Red Devil) or in his more gestural works.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.