Mary Abbott, a descendant of Pres. John Adams and Gen. Robert E. Lee, was born in Boston in 1921, bur grew up in NY and Wash., DC high society. As a young woman, she worked for a while as a photographer’s model, but from a young age she had decided she wanted to be an artist. At age 12 she began to take classes at the Art Students League. In 1942 she married the painter Louis Teague who was in the Air Force. While he served in the military during the war, she studied and painted. As she revealed to Thomas McCormick in a private interview in 2004, “I was reading Proust, Painting ling Utrillo, and absorbing the abstracting of Picasso.” When she rreturned to NY, her friend, sculptor David Hare, introduced her to The Subjects of the Artist– an “anti-school” anyone could join if they left their artistic past behind and just FELT — started by Hare, Rothko, Motherwell and others. Rothko, Motherwell and Barnett Newman became her mentors. She said of them. “They taught us to draw imagination.” Hare also introduced her to peyote, the hallucinogenic experiences of which greatly influenced her use and understanding of color. In the late 1940’s, Abbott began an important affair with William de Kooning, “the love of my life.”
Antioch 1950 oil and oil crayon on canvas 49 x 85″
(I’m sorry about that blue line, but the painting was too large for my scanner)
By 1950 Abbott had begun to exhibit at important NY galleries. Many of her early successful abstract pieces resulted from trips she took to Haiti. According to McCormick “These canvases are densely packed with undulating rhythmic forms that spoke to the artist of the people and topography of that exotic island.”
(click on collection and then Mary Abbott)
In the 50’s Abbott met and began a collaboration with Barbara Guest, a poet and critic who was interested in poems that were essentially words given to an artist who “placed” them in a painting; this was based on the work of surrealist poet Mallerme. The works by Abbott/Guest were first shown at Kornlee Gallery in 1958 along with collaborations by Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara. Below is one such placement painting:
Le Chante de Rossignol — For Joseph Cornell
1959 oil on linen 73 x57″
Earlier, Abbott had experimented with mixed media and collage:
Mixed media and paper collage 23 3/4 x 18″
From 1974-77 Abbott taught at the Univ.of Minnesosta, her courses emphasized the use of color. When she returned to NY in the late 70’s she embarked on a series of flower paintings to increase her own understanding of color.
Abbott continues to live in Manhatten and Southhampton, and continues to paint in the lively, energized manner of her earlier work .
Those of you who have been following this blog know that I am very interested in the Abstract Expressionists and have been ‘researching” them. So I was very excited when I saw a notice for an opening at a gallery in downtown Chicago of an A.E. I’d never heard of — Mary Abbott! I went to the exhibit yesterday and was blown away. Incredible work — large, medium and small, on canvas, on linen and on paper, oil and oil stick, thick and thin, remarkable brushwork, so very textured, and fantastic color, vibrant and subtle. There’s more of her work online:
(click on artists and type in her name)
I invite you to enjoy the work of this remarkable artist who has remained largely unknown for the past 40 years. I am indebted for the images and much of the biographical information to the catalogues of the McCormick Gallery, written by Thomas McCormick.