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a word on art

A Morning with Milton

There truly isn’t any better feeling than strolling through London, coffee and warm croissant in hand, before all the crowds pour in, is there? On what felt like the first autumnal day of the year, I made an early morning trip down to the Royal Academy to visit the 'Milton Avery: American Colourist' exhibition.

Milton Avery is one of America’s most-celebrated 20th-Century colourists, who you have probably not heard of. Often compared against Mark Rothko’s artistic oeuvre, who you surely have heard heard of, Avery was in fact one of his mentors and close friends; some would even go as far to argue that Avery was influenced by Rothko in his later years and not the other way around. For any visitor planning to view the 'Milton Avery: American Colourist Exhibition', you will certainly leave wishing you had known about him sooner!

Born in New York in 1885, Avery’s work ultimately provides a fascinating lens from which to view early 20th Century American life through. Avery’s unique ability to capture this particular point in American history, through simplistic forms and flat, seemingly arbitrary, colour cannot be ignored. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who often focused much more on realism, Avery forged the link between American Impressionism and Abstract Impressionism and was often referred to as the 'American Matisse'.

As Mark Hudson has commented, "American art before Pollock and Warhol is murky territory for us". Personally, when I come to think about American art at the time of Avery's paintings, Grant Wood's 'American Gothic' and Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks' immediately spring to mind. Whilst there is no doubt that contemporary paintings of Avery's time are executed with tremendous talent and brilliant palettes, the subject matter often harks back to the effects of the Great Depression. Avery's paintings on display here illustrate a much more positive outlook on the simple, average American life - minus the glitz and the glamour. Rather than leaving feeling slightly defeated, we are left totally energised and astounded, ready to delve into more of Avery's oeuvre.

Located in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, I was instantly greeted with bold, block colour on the walls. Now, for someone who doesn’t particularly like wearing bold colours, I love bright, colourful rooms. Colours have so much power over our moods, whether we realise it or not, and I find it incredible how bright colours dressing different rooms evoke such varied feelings. Aside from this, the colourful rooms of the RA and the way in which the space has been utilised, go to show how effective and powerful carefully considered curating can be.

Like many exhibitions, the curators of 'Milton Avery: American Colourist' take their viewers on a chronological journey through Avery's life. Beginning with his early works, we are able to appreciate his artistic talent regarding palette, technique, and composition. Avery's early influences here are apparent; his early works are reflective of Corot's subject matter tied with Van Gogh's textured brushstrokes.

However, when the artist moves to New York in 1926 and the years progress, the viewer is able to gain an understanding of Avery's personality and his influences. Avery was most definitely a wallflower; an observer of the people.

Ultimately, the Royal Academy's exhibition gives the work of Milton Avery a huge platform for both admiration and intellectual stimulation. Avery's works on display across the three rooms bring colour and vibrancy to an Autumn's day and I have left with a deep curiosity to explore Avery's work, as well as the works of other American modernists.

The 'Milton Avery: American Colourist' exhibition runs until the 16th October at The Royal Academy and I highly recommend you to visit if you are looking for a gust of fresh air! For more information, and to book your tickets, please click here.


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