Syd Solomon, American (1917 - 2004)
Syd and Ann Solomon settled in Sarasota in 1946. They spent their first summer in East Hampton, New York in 1955. After 1959, the Solomon family that now included a daughter Michelle and a son Michael divided their time between homes and studios in New York and Sarasota. In New York, Solomon became immersed in a world of the abstract expressionist painters that included: Lee Krasner, William and Elaine de Kooning, Alfonso Ossorio, James and Charlotte Brooks, Conrad and Anita Marca-Relli as well as Balcomb and Gertrude Green. When they had the opportunity, many of these artists came to Florida. Solomon was an important painter who created a bridge between the art worlds of Sarasota and New York.
After the 1950's much of Solomon's work was richly inspired by the subtlety and power of nature. His paintings and works on paper demonstrate his fascination with topographical, climatic and atmospheric conditions of the land, sea and sky. His powerful and expressive gesture guided by his versatile imagination created works of art that wrestle with the enigma of nature and the complexity of natural phenomena. Solomon spoke of nature often. And others have remarked on it as well. In a 1974, interview, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said to Solomon, "I would have to say you were a painter of bright weather."
The foundation for all of Solomon's work is his comprehension of balance and form as well as his experienced eye for color. A composition that at first appears abstract may balance a narrative aspect with a lyrical one. His process remains to this day enigmatic even to those who knew him well.
When Solomon chose to be with people, he chose to be with other artists and writers. The conversation was stimulating and the creative spirit invigorating. When he had the opportunity in the sixties as co-chair of the Fine Arts Institute at New College in Sarasota he invited his friends to come teach in what was a sleepy fishing village of Sarasota that had a world class collection of Baroque art. And travel they did - James Brooks, Conrad Marca-Relli, Philip Guston, Balcomb Greene, Larry Rivers and Afro- they all came to see this place that Solomon had come to love.
In an interview on Siesta Key in 1979, Solomon said "Yes…the finished work is extensively abstracted. Its truth must depend on the concept of my personal involvement." The dialogue begins with the painting, he continued "I must yield to the nameless spontaneity and it is then that the memory is modified again"
Solomon was good friends with the poet and critic Harold Rosenberg who died in the summer of 1978. Rosenberg could have been writing about Solomon in his article about those he called Action-Painters when he said "the artist accepts as real only that which is the process of creating." So intense and committed was Solomon to his process and the act of painting. His expressive gesture places Solomon in the company of the other painting giants of the forties, fifties and sixties.
If his inspiration might have germinated in his unconscious or subconscious there seems to be no doubt that his gesture was something he controlled or perhaps guided. He responded to his emotions and once he was in the painting he allowed his response to be more intuitive and less about preconceived ideas.
His paintings provide us with a sense of nature. He presents a surface to pique our perusal. His paintings inspire us to travel, to let the mind wander, to be transported and to be suspended in the locus of his invention. Not on the water or in it, Solomon locates us as an observer to revel in his process. We can project ourselves into the midst of his strokes and gestures. Sometimes it is as if we had stepped out into the breeze of a soft summer shower and other times we may feel engulfed in the overpowering wind of a storm.
Meyer Shapiro writing about the Abstract Expressionists said, "We see excited movements, scattered spots and dashes, fervent streaking….an explosive release. The strokes of paint exist for themselves on the strongly marked plane of the canvas as tangible touches…sometimes they form dense complex crusts of interwoven built-up layers."
Despite the control Solomon exercised in his painting he was willing to give a certain amount over to chance. His gesture was guided by an inclination toward circles, squares and curves. His sinuous strokes were not about perfection but rather his refinement of a rough edge that was unpredictable. There is overlap and integration, addition and reduction, revelation and masking.
In the sixties, he began using polymer tempera as a base combining it with oils and colored inks. He became fascinated with a resist technique where he used a lactic casein solution as a masking agent. He would use this to cover parts of the canvas and then wash the surface off after other paints he later added would dry. Washing off the dried masking agent would reveal areas beneath that had been covered. He could repeat this process as many times as he wished until he was satisfied with the effect.
Speaking to Kevin Dean in preparation for a show at the Ringling Museum, Solomon said "My methods became very mysterious, even to other artists and I wanted to keep it that way." The Ringling Museum and its collection were important to Solomon. It was one reason why in 1946, Annie and Syd decided to settle in Sarasota. They became good friends with Chick Austin the first Director and all those who followed him at the museum. The museum's collection must have reinforced for Solomon the imprinting of European collections he had seen in Paris after the war.
In a 1974 interview, when Kurt Vonnegut asked Solomon "What disappoints you in a painting…anybody's painting?" Solomon replied "a lack of tension….."
John Macdonald was quoted in a 1969 article about Solomon's work as saying
"The creative process, when it has the validity of a Solomon, must have about it a pungency of compulsion, the tautness of search…the tension obtainable only through the instinct to move toward the outer limits of control."
In the catalogue for a 1993 exhibition in Naples Solomon remarked "I do occasionally try to identify a locale and the image it projects, so I mark it with a title just one or two words, that may be a hopelessly small literary clue to my memory intention, for as the painting begins to have a life of its own it may speak out in transformations that supercede all as it becomes both innocent and shrewd is it now from the shores of the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico?"
(The above contains excerpts from essays and lectures written by Mark Ormond in 2005 and 2006)
Solomon (1917-2004) was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1935-1938.) After serving in Europe during World War II he attended L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1945.) In Sarasota, he enrolled in the Ringling School of Art & Design (1946-47.)
Solomon has exhibited his work throughout the world and is included in the permanent collections of numerous museums including The Baltimore Museum of Art, Butler Institute of American Art, The Chrysler Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, High Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, Norton Gallery of Art, Parrish Museum of Art, The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tampa Museum of Art, Tate Gallery, London, Tel Aviv Museum, Wadsworth Athenaeum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In December 2006, Greene Contemporary will exhibit a selection of Solomon's works made between 1945 to 1958.