Fairfield Porter

SEE-January + February 2012
By Sharon Corwin

A Curator’s Perspective:
Fairfield Porter’s View from Upstairs
1966, oil on canvas, 24” x 20”


Fairfield Porter (1907–1975) was a realist painter at a time when abstract art dominated the art world. He painted quite ordinary subjects: his family and friends as well as his homes and their surrounding landscapes in Southampton, New York, and Great Spruce Head Island, Maine, where he had summered since childhood. Maine was special to Porter, and he would return every year to paint. “It is my home more than any other place,” he said, “and I belong there.” Color and light pervade his idyllic Maine scenes. He appreciated the material qualities of paint, how it could be made to behave on canvas, and how he could push figurative elements toward the edge of abstraction.- Foreground and background subjects intermingle on a single flat plane. The negative space between the spruce branches—the gray paint of the waters of the Penobscot Bay—is laid on top of the green paint of the trees’ foliage. This push and pull between figure and ground subtly shifts the composition between abstraction and figuration. This is Porter’s modernism.

– The house is severely cropped at the corner of the picture. Its slanted roofs introduce abstract geometries into a landscape otherwise filled with natural forms. Spatial distance is flattened. A boulder seems to perch atop the pitched roof.


– The view is from a high bedroom window of the Big House, Porter’s family home on Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay. Facing due east, the Barred Islands are visible in the distance.


– The lawn is made up of dynamically applied brushstrokes, seen most vividly in that single zigzagging brushstroke of paint scribbled over the pale orange grass. It provides a sharp contrast to the straight, solid brushstrokes that build up the architecture of the house.


– The ease with which Porter applies paint to canvas is evident in the loose and swirling brushstrokes of the trees. While he adhered to a largely figurative style throughout his career, Porter could apply paint with a gestural bravura that shows the influence of his longtime friend, the abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning.


– The muted grays that fluctuate in tone to form sea, land, and sky suggest an overcast day—strikingly distinct from the bright palette that infuses the foreground landscape.


This piece will be on view at Gleason Fine Art in Portland through February.

Gleason Fine Art | 545 Congress St. | Portland | gleasonfineart.com

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