Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art

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9780300076370: Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art

Fairfield Porter, a painter who produced realist work in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement, was hailed by John Ashbery in 1983 as "perhaps the major American artist of this century." This intimate literary and intellectual biography of Porter tells his life story -- integrating it with his art, art criticism, and poetry -- and in so doing explains Ashbery's claim.Drawing extensively on Porter's correspondence and on interviews with members of his circle, Justin Spring chronicles Porter's upbringing in a wealthy family; his education at Harvard; his youthful travels in Europe and Stalinist Russia; his marriage to Anne Channing Porter, a poet; his work as a painter and critic in New York; and his association with major figures of the American modernist movement, both artists (Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin, Willem de Kooning, and Alex Katz) and poets (John Wheelwright, Kenneth Rexroth, Frank O'Hara, and, finally, James Schuyler, who lived with the Porters for over a decade). Spring presents a balanced picture of Porter as a fascinating, talented, but troubled man who lived a politicized, bohemian life, struggled to raise a family of five while dealing with a bisexual identity, and triumphed only late in life as a painter and critic.Twenty-five years after his death, Porter remains highly regarded within the art world but little known outside it. This absorbing biography will give him the public recognition he so richly deserves.

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Review:

Fairfield Porter, the lyrical American painter of tense slices of family life, was an extraordinarily complex and conflicted person. Born in 1917, Porter finally achieved a measure of fame in the 1950s as part of the second wave of New York School artists--only to be eclipsed as a realist painter a few years later by the brashly ironic crew of pop artists.

Born into a patrician family, Porter lived most of his life on a dwindling trust fund, in a succession of sparsely furnished rural houses that he kept escaping to hang out with artists and writers in New York City. (He also wrote poetry and art criticism.) Although his political sympathies led him to dream of being a great muralist, his discovery of the intimate domestic scenes of Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard proved the key to his mature style.

Porter's immediate family populate many of his best paintings, yet he was the most ambivalent of family men. He had five children with his long-suffering wife, Anne, a poet who survives him, but skipped town when each one was born. To complicate things further, he discovered in midlife that he was in love with the poet James Schuyler, who became a perpetual houseguest long after the brief affair was over.

Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, by Justin Spring, is not the sort of art book you plop on the coffee table to browse "some day." Modestly sized and handsomely designed--with just enough good-quality reproductions (27 in color) to whet your appetite for the way Porter's seductive palette sets off his intensely isolated figures--this is a page-turner to read in bed. --Cathy Curtis

Review:

"This book is a remarkable achievement." -- Jed Perl, New

...an exhaustive and intimate biography of a complex man ... it is also a valuable addition to the intellectual histories of New York School painting and poetry. -- The New York Times Book Review, David Cohen

Porter... is revealed to be eminently qualified for the sort of magisterial status denied him. -- Richard Howard, New York Observer

Spring's biography provides an opportunity to consider for the first time the entirety of Porter's vita and his place in an art world that could never exactly pin him down. Spring attentively records Porter's blue-blooded ancestry; his boyhood in Winnetka, Illinois, and on Great Spruce Head Island, Maine; his marriage to the poet Anne Channing; and the difficulties they had raising five children. -- Daniel Kunitz, Lingua Franca

This beautifully designed book's sympathetic life drawings . . . will be a must read for anyone interested in contemporary painting or poetry. -- Publishers Weekly

This elegant biography...attests to the continuing attractions of Porter's work a quarter-century after his death. -- Daniel Kunitz, Bookforum

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