Fairfield Porter: an American classic by John T. Spike

Fairfield Porter: an American classic by John T. Spike

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New York : Abrams, 1992. Hardcover. 320 pages ; illustrated ; 30 cm. A nice clean copy with unmarked pages and firm binding.


The art of Fairfield Porter has never achieved wide recognition, yet artists and critics have long appreciated his work. This first comprehensive, fully illustrated book on Porter's life and work present him as an "American classic"—as important and enduring in his generation as were Homer, Sargent, and Hopper in theirs.

During his most active years as a painter, from 1950 to 1975, Fairfield Porter produced a body of work that is rich in its luminosity, its handling of paint and color, and in its quintessentially American subject matters As Hilton Kramer wrote in a landmark essay in 1985, Fairfield Porter "is going to have to be recognized as one of the classics of our art."

Art historian John Spike has written an insightful and informative biography, enhanced by interviews with members of Porter's family and access to the artist's private papers. His text is copiously endowed with Porter's own words (drawn largely from previously unpublished letters and his art criticism) and those of his family and contemporaries.

From his highly educated parents Porter developed an appreciation for learning and self-expression. (His brother Eliot matured into a gifted nature photographer; T. S. Eliot was a cousin.) Much of his life was spent in the company of some of the period's most influential critics, artists, and writers. After graduating from Harvard, he went to Italy and studied art history under Bernard Berenson; his coterie of friends included Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jane Freilicher, Thomas B. Hess, Tibor de Nagy, Larry Rivers, Rackstraw Downes, John Ashbery,: Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. Porter's steadfast focus on his vision of painting eventually led to his emergence as a figurative painter in the postwar decades of Abstract Expressionism, followed by critical triumphs in the 1960s and 1970s, Less well known is Porter's prescience as an art critic, which is given full attention here.

Porter's art is celebrated in 277 paintings, prints, and drawings, many of them reproduced in full color. Together, they offer a kind of visual autobiography, for the artist's subjects were always himself, his family, and friends, as well as the places he lived in over the years—New York City, Southampton, Long Island, and especially the house he knew from boyhood on Great Spruce Head Island, Maine.

In Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, John Spike emulates his subject and applies similar high standards of literary and artistic excellence; the result is the story of one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century.

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