When you're reading a book do you ever think ahead to the book you'll start when you finish the book in your hands? Somehow I think you won't be surprised to hear I do that all the time. No matter how much I am enjoying what I'm reading, somewhere in the back of my mind I'm mentally shuffling books around. I've been slowly working my way through Kate Simon's Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood. It's the first of three books she wrote about her life--particularly growing up in New York in the 1920s and 30s. I love memoirs and Simon writes in a witty manner--glimpses of her world and family.
In my ever growing pile of library books, however, I have Gail Levin's biography of artist Lee Krasner, which is a hefty hardcover of over 500 pages. It's not something I'll be reading while walking on the treadmill, but I still want to have a go at reading it. If you're not familiar with Lee Krasner you probably have heard of Jackson Pollack to whom Krasner was married. Like so many other famous marriages where both individuals were creative and trying to make a name for themselves, Krasner (the wife) took on the role of nurturer and critic to Pollack. Both she and Pollack were influential in the Abstract Impressionism movement.
Although I'll be finishing up Kate Simon's book this week, I've been dipping into the Levin biography in anticipation. Krasner left behind very little written record of her life and working process preferring oral history. She gave many interviews to journalists, critics and art historians and talks before student audiences.
"'I was in on the formation of what all the history books now write about the abstract expressionists. I was in the WPA, part of the New York School, I knew Gorky, Hoffmann, de Kooning, Clement Greenberg before Jackson sis and in fact I introduced him to them. But there;s never any mention of me in those history books, like I was never there,' protested Krasner in 1973. The lack of attention provoked Krasner to aver, 'And being dogmatically independent, I stepped on a lot of toes. Human beings being what they are, one way to deal with that is denying me artistic recognition'."
"Today Krasner's protest might be even more vehement, since artistic erasure has been compounded by personal misrepresentation and caricature--both inadvertent and willed. Gossip has crowded out the facts that are available, and Krasner's life has been picked over for tidbits to serve other agendas--from playing second fiddle in Jackson Pollack's very sensational life to being aspects of her life to feminist stereotypes that do not fit. In reality, well before she met Pollack, Krasner had established herself as an artist and had won the respect of peers; then, after scarcely fourteen years with him, she continued for nearly three decades to create and show her art."
To put my reading into perspective--Kate Simon was born in 1912 in the Warsaw Ghetto and emigrated to the Bronx. Lee Krasner was born in 1908 in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish emigrant parents. Simon died in 1980 and Krasner in 1984, so they were contemporaries. I'm very excited to start reading about Lee Krasner (will return to Kate Simon's other memoirs later), and I suspect I'll be sharing what I read along the way.