“Avery was one of the first American painters, perhaps the first, to insist that a painting should be flat and on one plane, without ‘photographic’ depth…” Robert Hughes.
Born in Altmar, New York, this American painter spent most of his early life in Connecticut before settling in New York City in 1925. He studied briefly at the Connecticut League of Art Students and in his early years supported himself through a variety of night jobs so he could paint in the daytime. After his marriage to Sally Michel in 1926 he was able to concentrate on painting full-time, living on his wife’s earnings as an illustrator.
While most of Avery’s contemporaries were working in sober, naturalistic styles, he decided to follow the example of Matisse in his joining of pure colour planes within flowing outlines. Favourite subjects included landscapes and beach scenes, although his work became increasingly more abstract. In works such as ‘Mother and Child’ (1944), for example, in the way Avery organises areas of pure colour, he clearly anticipates the “Abstract Expressionists”. Avery’s rich colourings were highly distinctive and proved to be influential on younger artists such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. Rothko in particular was a real admirer of the ‘sheer loveliness’ of Avery’s work. Favourite subjects included landscapes and beach scenes, although to look at some of his later works, the style could almost be mistaken for abstract.
Milton Avery was an independent artist described by Robert Hughes as “a man of absolute dedication and conviction, a painter who did almost nothing but paint”. His use of colour was the most remarkable aspect of his work, developing flat colour planes with virtually no internal texture. It is the juxtaposition of these planes that so impresses the younger artists.