Franz Kline (American, 1910–1962)
Oil and pasted paper on paper, mounted on Masonite
19 x 19 3/8 in. (48.3 x 49.2 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Schneider, 1964 (64.146)
© 2011 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Kline arrived at Abstract Expressionism later than others, having continued working in a figural style redolent of American Scene painters into the late 1940s. By that time, he was ready to concentrate on formal concerns, and his friendship with Willem de Kooning helped pave the way. As a means to break free of figurative representation, Kline experimented with a Bell-Opticon enlarger (in de Kooning's studio) to project some of his small drawings in large scale, and he made a leap toward abstraction. By late 1950, he was exhibiting abstract work that immediately brought him success. Large-scale black and white compositions of energetic, dramatic gestures in which wide swaths of paint thrust across the canvas. For many, even these works of complete abstraction still evoke figural references (to various landscapes or urban scenes of industry, or to trees or other referents). Kline acknowledged this residue of imagery: "There are forms that are figurative to me, and if they develop into a figurative image it's all right if they do. I don't have the feeling that something has to be completely non-associative as far as figure form is concerned."
In 1956, Kline reintroduced color. Black Reflections, an intensely colored small work on paper, may in fact relate to an earlier black and white piece. Kline's work, so apparently spontaneous or impulsive in its emphasis on highly dramatic gestural brushstrokes, is, in fact, carefully considered. The sweeps and rapid brushings of both thick and diluted paint are the product of much meditation. He often drew inspiration for large compositions from small studies, and he also continued explorations of key elements in works even years after their creation. In this case, the central black shape is a mirror image of the shape in a black and white untitled painting of 1954.