Delighted to be introduced to Milton Avery at the Royal Academy’s new show celebrating the ‘American Colourist’ and to see just how influential the artist was. He was a key player in the shift from a post-impressionist thrall into the new, whizzy world of Abstract Expressionism and found an inspiring new way to use colour to capture the ‘feel’ of a subject.

This new show at the Royal Academy really gives you the chance to see the evolution of a fascinating artist. I always find it encouraging when I hear about people who develop their art later in life. Milton Avery, born in 1885, in Altmar, New York left school at sixteen to work in a factory. Clearly, he was interested in art but thought he’d attend evening classes in commercial lettering but found that drawing was his passion.

The first room in this exhibition has a collection of his early works, many on bits of old board, fragments of canvas or card and you can see how he’s having a go at producing landscapes in the style of the European post-impressionists such as Van Gogh or Matisse and the use of impasto and colour-rich paint is impressive. But he continues pushing his art and becomes really interested in the ‘sensation’ that colour and shape on canvas can convey.

Below are two of my favourite paintings in the show. Apparently they were painted at high speed, and the scale is huge, capturing tremendous action and story-tellilng. You really get the feeling that he’s just witnessed these sites and wants to record the ‘feeling’ rather than exactly what he saw. Oh, they are inspirational.

As we move through the exhibition chronologically you can see how the surface of the paintings flatten, he strips out all unimportant information and concentrates on the blocks of colour and shapes which he can see. As his work progresses he is finally able to see beach towels on the sand and convey them with minimal detail but the ‘feel’ of the image is all there. I really love these works.

I thought I’d put these two paintings (below) together. I’m assuming they are of the same scene but made several years apart. On the left is the early version, a bit more literal but still evoking scene and the atmosphere created by the weather. On the right, the later one, there is less detail but it’s still got a terrific sense of place and you also feel that it must have been made on the spot at high speed.

I liked his paintings of women together. He manages to convey a sense of energy and movement in his most static of situations. The women in these pictures may be still, possibly posing, but you feel that there is an interior world being seen too and the images are full of action and narrative.

As you can gather, this exhibition was hugely pleasurable and I’d love to go back for another look. It’s on at the Royal Academy until 16th October 2022.

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