The intense color palette and expressive gestures of Colleen Tucker’s abstract paintings enticed me immediately when I first saw them hanging in the Creative Framing Art Gallery this month. For Tucker, art is first and foremost about process; painting is simply about the act of painting. She will be the first to admit that cerebral philosophies do not direct her. Instead, Tucker focuses her energy on technique and medium. Her approach is formalistic – driven by color, stroke, pattern, rhythm, and structure. In Tucker’s words, “I get very excited when I throw color on anything. Laying the color down is really what I like.” One look at Tucker’s Reef’s Edge or Blooming and it is clear that nature stimulates her. However, nature is merely a jumping off point for Tucker. In no time at all, the freedom of her technique takes the subject to another level.
Growing up in a small town in west Texas, Tucker did not have access to museum exhibitions and the usual cultural opportunities that abound in metropolitan areas, but believe it or not, Life Magazine was her link to the art world. The popular magazine routinely ran feature articles highlighting mid-century megastars of the avant-garde – Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and their fellow painting rebels of the 1950s who were committed to challenging traditional arbiters of taste and taking modernism beyond Cubism and Surrealism. By and large these celebrities of the art world were men, and furthermore the editors of Life characterized several as macho, James Dean-like luminaries, loners in the studio, idols for all who aspired to tap into their creative spirit. With the exception of Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner (whom it must be noted were featured alongside their more famous husbands in a shared role) and Hedda Sterne (the only woman included in the infamous 1951 group portrait of The Irascibles – that alliance of artists who protested the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s refusal to exhibit modern art), female artists rarely graced the pages of the magazine or achieved similar levels of success during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. For this reason, as an art historian, I find Tucker’s affinity for this movement and her paintings that are very much in dialogue with these pioneers of Action Painting to be incredibly powerful today. Coming of age in an era that was often unkind to women artists, Tucker, in the spirit of one of her artist heroines Helen Frankenthaler, the legendary second-generation Abstract Expressionist whose work led the way for Color Field painters, is now making her mark.
Despite the fact that females were typically marginalized from the New York School, Tucker was drawn to the movement, and she credits her mentor at SUNY Purchase, the legendary Irving Sandler, for catalyzing this strong connection. “The way he shared his knowledge struck a chord, and the freedom of expression the New York artists created appealed to my creative spirit.” Sandler hung out with the world-famous Abstract Expressionists in their studios and gathering places including the infamous Cedar Tavern around 10th Street in Lower Manhattan. As an art critic and an educator, Sandler became a major voice of the American avant-garde, curating landmark exhibitions, interviewing a wide range of American Art legends beginning with the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, later moving on to the rising stars of Pop Art and the midwives of Postmodernism such as Cindy Sherman and Chuck Close.
In the same spirit, Tucker continues to evolve with the contemporary art world. She views it as a lifelong process. After all, Tucker has been creating art since childhood when her most prized possessions were three shoeboxes filled with colorful crayons. In Tucker’s words, “I don’t think I had a choice whether or not to be an artist. I have always expressed my emotions with color.” Colleen Tucker’s lyrical abstractions add yet another layer to the visual culture of Louisville and its surrounding community.