Arthur B. Carles 1882 —1952
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Arthur Carles was a painter whose work went through phases of Realism, Impressionism, Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism; and of the latter style, he was one of the first American proponents. He studied with Thomas Pollock Anshutz, Hugh Breckenridge, Henry McCarter, Cecilia Beaux, and William Merritt Chase. A student at the Pennsylvania Academy, he was early influenced by the bravura technique of William Merritt Chase as well as by early works of Edouard Manet. At the same time, he also painted in a precise realist manner. In the spring of 1905, Carles won the Academy's prestigious Cresson Traveling Scholarship, which enabled him to visit London, Paris and Madrid during the summer months. In 1907 he was awarded the larger and more prestigious Cresson Memorial Scholarship for a two-year stay in France, which he extended through 1910. He developed an interest in Post-Impressionism and Fauvism and fell under the influence of his friend, Henri Matisse. At that time, he also associated with Paul Gauguin. While in Paris, he was introduced to the latest trends in art and became a dedicated modernist. Returning to the United States for a few years, Carles was back in France for five months in 1912, and again between July 1921 and February 1922.
By the late 1920s, Carles was increasingly interested in abstraction. During another extended stay in France, from 1929 to 1931, he renewed his friendship with Constantin Brancusi and was deeply impressed by cubism that he saw on his frequent visits to Georges Braque's studio. Although he had been aware of it for years, Cubism suddenly became relevant to him, and he began to reinvent himself, exploring new directions in his own work. For the rest of his career, his canvases varied from the structured geometry of Cubism to the freer, more spontaneous approach of paintings like Abstraction.
In New York, he participated in Alfred Stieglitz 1910 avant-garde show "Younger American Painters," which made the distinction between the popular American Scene painters and those including Carles who were painting in an abstract manner.
Carles is recognized as one who pioneered with Synchromism, an early innovation in pure color abstraction which was developed primarily by Stanton Macdonald-Wright working in Europe and shown to the American public in the Armory show of 1913. Other early American artists experimenting with Synchromism at the time, included Thomas Hart Benton, Morgan Russell, Andrew Dasburg, and Patrick Henry Bruce. Synchronimism was developed by Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright, fellow expatriates,who met in Europe in 1911. The two began developing theories about color and its primacy in the creation of a meaningful work of art. Like other young adventurous artists of the time, they had come to view academic realism as a dead-end and were pondering the possibilities of an art form that might minimize or even abandon representational content. They were particularly interested in the theories of their teacher, Canadian painter Percyval Tudor-Hart, who believed that colors could be orchestrated in the same harmonious way that a composer arranges notes in a symphony. Inspired by their experience of Delacroix, the Post-Impressionists, and the Fauves, In 1913, Carles' work was included in the now famous, New York Armory Show of 1913, an exhibition that included modernist painting and sculpture of both European and American artists that proved shocking to the American public and a revelation to America's artists. During World War I, Carles was among a group of artists who served as civilian ship camouflage artists for the U.S. Shipping Board in Philadelphia.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he did little exhibiting. His work became increasingly abstract, and between 1937 and 1941, he created works whose heavily brushed surfaces and violent appearing rhythms anticipated the Abstract Expressionism that became pervasive in America in the 1950s.
By 1940, when Carles had been accorded the honor of his first one-man exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, his work had become virtually synonymous with American modernism. He stood at the forefront of new developments in painting and represented the promise of what lay ahead. By about 1940 when Carles painted Abstraction, one of his very last studio works before becoming partially paralyzed, he was in fact producing some of the most advanced painting of the period. He propelled the dynamics of abstraction to the next logical realm. He became the architect of a new type of pictorial expression. He shattered the picture surface, painting in planes of pure color and allowing his medium to be newly expressive as an independent entity. Freed from the traditional precepts of picture making, he captured paint falling and dripping on the pictorial ground and celebrated these "moments" as an integral part of the overall composition. Carles expressed himself through a complex interplay of forms which focused on the sensation of movement, swirling, and shifting patterns of light and color. He moved far beyond the natural world to declare his concern with the process of painting itself. He distilled a sense of the mystical in his work and lay bare the very process of making art. In Abstraction Carles engulfed the picture plane in a powerful energetic field with a vortex at it's center. He created a canvas imbued with energy and movement that looked toward Action Painting. (1) He essentially announced himself as a prophet of Abstract Expressionism.
Carles stood alone to the critical eye because he was so far ahead. He slowly digested his European lessons, then moved on to a symphonic orchestration of colors, all his own, sometimes working thru floral or portrait subject matter.
Carles had a profoundly influential affect on such artistic pioneers as Hans Hofmann, who shared the belief in the importance of the picture plane and understood that paintings and drawings were dynamic organisms. Beyond Hofmann who enjoyed a close dialogue about art with Carles, there were a great many Abstract Expressionists who recognized Carles' contributions to the ever-changing conscripts of abstraction. Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krassner, Franz Kline, Theodore Roszak, and Mark Tobey were among the many rising stars who understood that A.B. Carles was a vital link between early American modernism and Abstract Expressionism. Noted Abstract Expressionist critic Clement Greenberg, in fact credited Carles with offering a way out of Cubism to the next pictorial realm. Art Historian William Seitz acknowledged Carles' efforts of the 1930s and concluded that he "was one of the most notable native precursors to Abstract Expressionism." In 1952 at the time of the artist's death, Carles was already considered a bridge to the next generation of painting; he was recognized by Art News as "one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement." Carles stopped painting in 1941 because of an accident. He died in 1952. In 1983, Barbara Wolanin organized a retrospective of his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In the exhibition catalogue, Wolanin describes Carles as a link between Philadelphia and Paris, and as "one of the most brilliant colorists in the history of American art." Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952): Painting With Color
Auction records for A B Carles show a growing interest in A. B. Carles works.
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