Milton Resnick

(1917 – 2004)

Movements associated with
Abstract Expressionism
Monochromatic color field painting

Discussion
Milton Resnick was a founding member of NY Abstract Expressionism; however, he has been overlooked by art historians in part because he was fighting in WW2. He also abhorred self-aggrandizement and promotion. During the 1940s he lived in Paris on the GI Bill and he didn’t return stateside until 1948. Because of his tenure in Paris and is reluctance to self-promote he was often considered in De Kooning’s shadow and as a second-generation Ab Exer. He resented this as he had been a voice in the genesis of Abstract painting in NY in the late 30s and 40s, a time when he was friendly with artists like Ad Reinhardt, Willem de Kooning, and Elaine de Kooning. By the time he returned to NY many of his contemporaries had moved on to Pop and Minimalism.

Nevertheless, Resnick came to artistic maturity in the late 1950s. His quick brushstrokes dance over the entire surface of his paintings; a style of abstraction that paid homage to the sense of movement in the brushwork of French masters, Monet, and Cezanne. And yet, the continuous surface, the reduction of pictorial hierarchy is a culmination of Abstract Expressionism. His emphasis on the surface of the composition prefigures the minimalist works of Robert Ryman, Ralph Humphry, Frank Stella, and Donald Judd.

Resnick refused to participate in the 1951 “Life” magazine photo of Abstract Expressionist artists: de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. This photo helped establish who would be recognized as the icons of Abstract Expressionism. Resnick’s romantic view of the artist, the truth of his vision disallowed for such self-promotion and his career suffered for it.

The works in the Lab collection are predominately his large monochromatic painting, where paint is layered thickly, and brushstrokes have an evenness that lends the composition and “all over” quality. Thus, there is no discernable hierarchy of form, which is a key tenet to some modes of Abstract Expressionism.

Bio
Resnick was born in Russia but moved to NYC with his family at five years old. They settled in Brooklyn where he attended public schools. At age 14, he enrolled in the Commercial Art Program at Pratt Evening School in Brooklyn, however, a teacher there suggested he would be better suited for fine art. So, he enrolled at the American Artists School in NYC, where he met and befriended Ad Reinhardt. His father forbade him to become an artist, so in 1934 at the age of 17, he moved out and supported himself as an elevator operator while attending art school.

During the Depression, Resnick was in the Easel and Mural division of the WPA. By 1938, he owned his own studio on West 21st St, this was near de Kooning’s studio, of who he got to know. During this time, he dated Elaine, who would later become de Kooning’s wife.

When WW2 hit and Resnick joined the army, he served for 5 years and stationed in Europe, including Iceland. After the war he lived in Paris for 3 years, and associated with Brancusi and Giacometti, among other artists.

In 1948 he returned to the US and enrolled in Hans Hoffman’s Abstract Expressionist school on the GI Bill. Around this time, he took a studio on East 8th street, near Jackson Pollock, de Kooning and Franz Kline. In 1961, de Kooning introduced him to his future wife, Black Mountain College graduate, Pat Passlof.

In the 1950s and 60s Resnick earned respect as an Ab Expressionist, thus the world has mistakenly categorized him as a second generation Ab Exer. Resnick was part of the original Club with Pollock, de Kooning and Kline. However, he then he left and served in the war, so his connection with the genesis of Abstract Expressionism has been largely overlooked. This coupled with his adamant stance against self-promotion, has prevented him from receiving more public attention.

Selected public collections
The Met
The MoMA
National Gallery of Art, DC
The Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, DC

Accolades
Founding member of “the Club” NY forum for Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s

Links
https://nga.gov.au/exhibition/abstractexpress/default.cfm?IRN=51801&BioArtistIRN=20917&mystartrow=61&realstartrow=61&MnuID=3&GalID=0&ViewID=2
https://brooklynrail.org/2018/04/artseen/MILTON-RESNICK-BOARDS-1981-1984
https://www.resnickpasslof.org/
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/01/arts/milton-resnick-art-foundation.html?smid=em-share