All Out and All Over: Milton Resnick, The Painter's Painter
Nov 11, 2018
The best way to describe a Milton Resnick painting might be, fittingly, in the artist’s own words. The story goes that while looking at one of Resnick’s thick, heavily-impastoed paintings, a viewer once asked the artist how much all of the paint used for the painting cost. Resnick, with a wily smile and prideful demeanor, replied “a thousand dollars on the canvas, and three thousand on the floor.”
For anyone familiar with Resnick’s oeuvre, his reply makes absolute sense. As for those who are not, it helps paint a fairly accurate picture of an artist who was at once quirky and passionate. Considered an “artist’s artist,” Resnick was vehemently committed to the absolute purism of painting as an artistic medium. It was not unheard of that a Resnick painting could weigh as much as 300 lbs, due to their large scale and amount of densely-layered pigment.
Resnick was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist and member of the New York School who was profoundly dedicated to the principles of non-representational painting. He championed an “all-over” approach to painting (not unlike Jackson Pollock) throughout his artistic career, and up until his death in 2004. The artist, a self-proclaimed anarchist in both his personal and professional life, believed that painting was a ‘defiant act’ and refused any intervention of recognizable imagery or prescribed meaning to his abstracted, thickly-painted works. Rather, Resnick insisted that the meaning of a work of art lies in the process of painting itself instead of in the perceived interpretation of the finished product by the viewer.
Milton Resnick was born in Bratslav, formerly Russia but now considered part of Ukraine, in 1917 to wealthy Jewish parents. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Resnick’s parents immigrated the family from Bratslav to Brooklyn, NY in 1922, when the artist was only five years old. Once in America, Resnick studied commercial art at the Pratt Institute before transferring to the American Artists School (AAS) to focus on painting. After graduating from AAS in 1937, he briefly participated in the Works Progress Administration Art Project until he was drafted into the US Army where he faced combat in WWII. Upon his discharge from the army in 1945, Resnick studied in Paris at Académie Julian in Paris under the G.I. Bill. He finally returned to New York after his travels and studies during the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s. Back in America, Resnick fell into ranks with the likes of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline, amongst others, and married fellow painter Pat Passlof in 1961.
The influence of the other AbEx and New York School painters Resnick associated with after his return to New York City is abundantly evident in the charged electricity and raw energy his paintings exude. Each work aspires to a certain timelessness, with no clear beginning or end, with no implication of finality, only existing in a constant state of being. Resnick’s pioneering approach helped pave the path for future generations of American Painters, like Robert Ryman and Frank Stella, who similarly placed extreme importance on the physical properties of paint in their artistic practices. At the time of his death, Resnick was considered to be one of the last living original Abstract Expressionist painters.
Milton Resnick’s estate has been exclusively represented by Cheim & Read since 2006, and in 2015, the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation was founded. The non-profit organization’s primary purpose is to preserve, exhibit and publish works by Resnick and Passlof, as well as other painters working in the AbEx tradition. The Foundation is headquartered in Resnick’s former studio and home at 87 Eldridge Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The foundation is open to the public as a showplace for Resnick’s works, hosting a rotating calendar of exhibitions, lectures, readings and other academic events and programming. According to Geoffrey Dorfman, the Foundation aims to “be a place that people who love painting come to.”
Milton Resnick Paintings 1937 - 1987 is currently on view at the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, New York. The exhibition continues until January 20, 2019.
For further information about the exhibition: The VR exhibit of Milton Resnick Paintings 1937 - 1987