A Few Reviews.....
BY MARC AWODEY
Having His Day
(published 02.23.05 SEVEN DAYS)
ARTWORK: "In Chelsea New York"
by Lucien Day
"We are not alone in attempting to resuscitate
meaning," artist Lucien Day wrote back in 1970.
That line, lifted from a promotional piece for the
Green Mountain Gallery he founded in New York City,
no doubt referred to the realistic approach exhibited
by Day and his fellow gallery artists. In the face
of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and numerous other
20th-century movements that paralleled Day's 65-year
career in art, he never wavered from his exacting
At the SoHo gallery he directed from 1968
to 1979, Day provided "a lively forum and intellectual
center for contemporary painters with realist tendencies,"
says Mickey Myers, executive director of the Helen
Day Art Center. That Stowe gallery is currently honoring
him with a retrospective of his enchanting and occasionally
brilliant work, produced in Vermont and New York City
between 1950 and 1998.
A Connecticut native born in 1916, Day graduated
from Yale in 1939 -- he was the "Class Poet"
-- then studied painting at the Cran-brook Academy
of Art in Michigan. Through visits to An American
Place -- the New York gallery operated by photographer
Alfred Stieglitz from 1929 to 1946 -- he became familiar
with such influential artists as John Marin, Georgia
O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and Charles Demuth.
After serving in the Army during World War
II, on the Pentagon's China Desk, Day made a home
in Craftsbury, and began a long dual existence in
small-town Vermont and New York City. His first substantial
exhibition was at the Fleming Museum in 1949.
Among Day's earliest pieces in the current
HDAC exhibit are watercolor depictions of two Vermont
towns, Hardwick and Albany, from the early 1950s.
In contrast to fellow Vermont artist Francis Colburn
-- only nine years his senior -- Day was clearly influenced
by modernists of the Stieglitz Circle rather than
social realism. Day's 1965 oil "Tamaracks"
has open, lacy brushwork akin to that in Marin's landscapes
of the Adirondacks. But more importantly, the painting
exemplifies a "search for form" that is
pervasive in Day's works. It's as if he approached
each picture plane without the slightest preconceived
Day's views of New York architecture are
similarly unbiased, as seen in the vertical watercolor
diptych "Trade Center Towers Under Construction"
from 1972 and 1987's "Carnegie Hall."
During the 1970s and 1980s, Day experimented
with shaped canvasses and original approaches to perspective.
"Early Snow" is a watercolor mounted on
wood; its seemingly organic curvature adds dimensionality
to the wintry landscape. Two oils in the show have
two paneled, flat surfaces that meet at acute angles,
creating "folded" effects and jarring perspective.
Day features Vermont and New York City, respectively,
in the pieces "Fall" and "Folded Third
Avenue." Though he was enamored of city and country,
however, Day did not try to portray both environments
simultaneously in his artwork. An artist of two worlds,
his views of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and the Big
Apple are equally fresh.
In addition to land- and cityscapes, the
HDAC retrospective includes many portraits in watercolor
and oil. "In Chelsea New York" is the blurred
portrait of a woman breast-feeding her baby, wearing
a somewhat anxious expression. A large-scale painting
entitled "Aloneness" has three figures walking
without seeming to engage each other; surrounded by
the pale negative space of sandy ground and washed-blue
sky, they seem to float. Day's approach to painting
humans is complex; his figurative works are less descriptive
likenesses than poetic sketches searching for inner
Enhancing the retrospective are works by
some of Day's colleagues from the defunct Green Mountain
Gallery -- Rudy Burckhardt, Lois Dodd, Margaret Grimes
and Marjorie Kramer -- as well as pieces by Fairfield
Porter, Rackstraw Downes, Alex Katz and Sam Thurston.
Their works illustrate common aesthetic sensibilities.
Vermonter Thurston's "Pot with Blue Trees"
is a rectangular vessel with brushwork that shares
Day's painterly veracity; a bowl attributed to Margaret
Grimes has a spatial curvature akin to Day's watercolor-on-shaped-wood,
Since 1992, the Vermont Arts Council has
been granting annual "lifetime achievement in
the arts" awards to the state's most accomplished
cultural figures. Eighty-eight-year-old Lucien Day,
who still lives in Craftsbury, should be the next
January 21, 2005 TIMES ARGUS
By Anne Galloway Times Argus Staff
At a time when the art world was mesmerized by the
mind-bending Abstract Expressionist paintings of Jackson
Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, a young
Vermont transplant embarked on a contrarian-style
Lucien Day, 88, is a serious artist with
all the right intellectual connections, who wasn't
swayed by any of the popular art movements of his
lifetime. He began painting expressionistic interpretations
of landscapes, people and cityscapes in the 1940s
and '50s. As the Pop Art movement gripped the nation
in the 1960s and '70s, Day opened a gallery in New
York City to showcase works by other American realists,
and he continued his own investigation of objectified
perspective in his realistic depictions of the World
Trade Center towers, portraits of family and friends
and interpretative paintings of woodland scenes from
his home in Craftsbury. As installations and post-modernism
took hold in the 1980s and 90s, his work became even
more his exacting, as he pursued a scientific approach
to replicating what the eye sees.
And though Day himself is, in spite of his
popularity with collectors (he's sold more than 80
percent of his work), a relative unknown, he associated
with compatriots in the American realism movement
who did become famous, namely Fairfield Porter, Alex
Katz, Rudy Burkhardt and Rackstraw Downes.
The Helen Day Art Center tracks the trajectory
of Day's 65-year career in a retrospective of his
work. The exhibit is presented chronologically and
includes memorabilia and family portraits. The Helen
Day show also includes a smattering of works by Porter,
Katz, Burkhardt and Downes. These thoughtful touches
help the viewer understand Day's evolution as an artist,
from his days at Yale and Cranbrook Academy, and the
context in which he saw his own work.
Day's paintings reflect his dual existence
as a New York City gallery owner and northern Vermont
hermit. For decades, Day divided his time between
the Big Apple and the town of Craftsbury. The more
than 20 paintings at the Helen Day are almost evenly
split between these rural and urban "scapes."
But no matter where Day was at any given time, he
brought to bear his poetic sensibility on what his
friend, artist Sam Thurston, dubbed the "non-heroic
everyday," that is to say, sights an average
person would walk by without a second glance: a scrubby
woodland thicket, a row of bland office buildings,
a lone pine tree, construction sites.
It's this sort of ordinary subject matter
that Day made his own through the use of large exuberant
brushstrokes and unique perspectives, subtle depiction
of forms and, in his watercolors, the patient revelation
of white space.
In Day's paintings, buildings lean this way
and that (sometimes forward and backward), facial
features come to light through the blank whiteness
of the paper and a few big swabs of color outline
"Lucian Day: A Retrospective" starts
with works from the 1950s and takes the viewer on
a journey through the '70s, 80s and 90s. Interspersed
throughout are insightful pieces by Day's friends
and colleagues: a portrait of Day by Lois Dodd rendered
in fluorescent orange, yellow, gray and brown, two
shorts by avant garde filmmaker Burkhardt, a Porter
townscape and a panoramic painting of a scrap steel
dump by Downes.
In his early landscape, "Green Hillside
with Snow," Day makes the viewer feel as though
the viewer is at once above this dark fir thicket
and inside it. The painting is dazzlingly detailed
and yet unfussy. It gives you the feeling you're getting
an impossible, bird's eye view of a secret nesting
His vertical watercolor diptych, "Trade
Towers Center Under Construction" from 1972,
is a dizzying portrait of the partially completed
skyscrapers. The two sections of the structures are
painted at slightly different angles so that the top
half appears to be tipping backward. Day gets it all
in here: the façade of a Beaux Arts structure
in the foreground, the bird-like construction cranes
at on the top floor.
Day gives the same care to his more than
a dozen portraits of family and friends. In a series
of untitled watercolors of young girls, the faces
are made up of large, energetic brush strokes and
important features are merely alluded to through subtle
use of white space. He lets the viewer fill in the
blanks, and the effect is marvelous.
In his later years, Day became obsessed with
creating paintings that objectified perspective, rather
than flattening it into one continuous whole. He wanted
to show how the eye and the mind break up an image
into component parts. The eye sees a skyscraper, for
example, from at least two different perspectives
– straight on and then from a neck-craning angle.
Day, in a break from tradition, started presenting
his cityscapes and landscapes on sinuous curves and
in "folds" to replicate the experience of
seeing. He adhered his paintings to a plywood curve,
or painted diptychs on wooden panels that he would
then mount together at conjoining angles.
In "Folded Third Avenue," for example,
Day's fairly conventional oil painting of a city block,
the verticality of the image is broken up into two
parts, and the sections are joined together at the
center, so that the painting's top and bottom edges
point out at the viewer in a V-shape. The perspective
is as strange and new as looking at a skyscraper for
the first time: There is a momentary sense of nauseating
And that is perhaps Day's legacy. While Day
shows us subjects that couldn't be more ordinary,
he forces us to see them as if for the first time.
...His urban tower pictures are tours
de force. In them he undertakes something most
painters would have avoided the depiction of a skyscraper
from top to bottom ina a single view. in life this
is only possible by an uncouscious floux of several
distinct images. Day's solution has been to modify
the shape of the upper part of the painting itself,
so that it, rather than the image literally shoots
into perspective. The results are remarkable: the
visual splendor and scale of New York are transported
into the gallery- the sparkling lights, the shadowy
interiors, the frozen brillienace - making it into
a kind of modern Venice on the Hudson.
by Laura Sue Schwartz
New York is
vertical space, a vertical place-which may be obvious
to the pint of being forgotten by those who live here,
or overwhelming to the point of being dismissed by
thouse who visit. Space is not wide, but stacked;movement
flows around, but vision is drawn upwards. To "see"
the city is to get above it, to absorb itsvertical
panorama and learn and relation to "u".
Lucien Day has painted New York with regard to this
very element of vision. His paintings go up like the
New Yorrk landscape...painted with an atmospheric
lightness that prevails over a potential to be imposing...
Art New Engand
Lucien Day Point of
Hearne Pardee Aug/Sept
approach the world by rooting themselves in a place.
One thinks of Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico or John
Maring in Maine, places that provided them self-definition
and stability. In the same way, Lucien Day has centered
himself in Vermont. Although he has lived in New York
and started a gallery there, he did so on his own
terms, grounded in the perspective of his rural community
and its New England values.
Point of view, in the strong
sense of being rooted somewhere, is also of central
concern to Day's art and essential to its particular
sort of objectivity. Objects before they are paintings,
his watercolors mounted on curved surfaces combine
the verticality and delicate calligraphy of Chinese
hangings scrolls with a Western concern for visual
truth. Day likes to compare him self to a scientist
in his preoccupation with sight, but perhaps it's
more appropriate to place him in the tradition of
New England philosophers like Emerson and Thoreau,
who sought a common foundation for science and art
through direct contact with nature.
Day was raised in Hartford,
Connecticut, where independents like Wallace Stevens
and Charles Ives supported their artistic careers,
and his New England upbringing included prep school
at Choate and a BA from Yale. At Choate, he recalls
a visit form Gertrude Stein, "who talked most
of one afternoon to the whole school, all boys. She
wore bedroom slippers, we were mesmerized." But
school included no specific training in art, and Day
considers time spent tinkering with model boats and
airplanes his apprenticeship for painting.
Day also remembers his father,
an art enthusiast, taking him to a show of John Marin's
work at Alfred Stieglitz's American Place Gallery.
There, he was introduced both to Marin's paintings
of mountains and to Stieglitz himself: "The old
man grew a lot of hair out of his ears, and he treated
me elegantly. " This larger-than-life encounter
implanted in Day a lifelong involvement with Marin's
work, inspiring an interest in watercolor and in lofty
mountains and buildings. Stieglitz, too, no doubt
inspired Day in his ambition to establish a gallery.
After an effort at law school,
some study of painting at Cranbrook Academy, and a
stint in the army, Day settled in 1946 in ...Vermont.
In the 1950's he began to make prolonged visits to
New York, through which he established a dialogue
in painting between the mountainous landscape of Vermont
and the cityscape of Manhattan. He recalls these early
years as "lonely and terrifying." He did,
however, show his watercolors at the Passedoit Gallery
on 57th Street, and, perhaps more importantly, establish
a close relationship with painter and critic Fairfield
Porter. Porter, in turn introduced him to Rudy Burkhardt,
Edwin Denby, and Alex Katz, other artists whose interest
in realism ran against the prevailing abstract expressionist
It was Day's pursuit of
this community of artists that eventually led to the
founding of the Green Mountain Gallery in 1968: At
its original West Village location, Day exhibited
a group of artists that resembled Stieglitz's in its
diversity, including painters like realist Lois Dodd
and abstractionist Ed Dugmore. Their works favored
local subjects, treated with
inventive, vernacular styles, responsive both to intimacy
of place and to vastness of scale. Day approached
New York much as he did Craftsbury (Vermont), not
as part of the international art market, but as a
potential community for those with common interests.
On these terms the gallery succeeded, although it
never made money, and it became a co-op, the Blue
Mountain Gallery, in 1980.
In its matter-of-factness,
Day's work follows very much its own course. It reflects
most strongly the generous influence of Porter, who
encouraged free thinking and making connections between
science and art. It steers clear of both tightly rendered
realism and expressionist brushwork, even that of
some of the Stieglitz group to whom Day seems close.
For example, Day's large painting of 1961, Looking
Down From Jay Peak, with its accumulation of small
touches of color, resembles Marsden Hartley's treatment
is more physical. John Marin's brushstrokes, too,
are broader and more exuberant. Day's painterly calligraphy
is more akin to handwriting. Closely attentive, it
doesn't point to itself, but provides and informal
connective tissue for his images; it's where his lofty
spaces meet the earth. Day's work, it's of the clear,
objective kind, more in line with Martin Johnson Heade
than with Thomas Cole. His delight in painting comes
through the play of light over surfaces, like the
glass and steel of the World Trade Center.
Day once remarked that the tromp3-l'oeil effects
of Harnett were disturbing to him because they made
him mistrust reality. When he began to work from slides,
therefore, it was not with any interest in photo-realism
but because slides enabled him to make ambivalence,
concerned over losing direct contact with the richness
of his subject. After discussions with Fairfield Porter,
however, he concluded that no sacrifice was of his
own pleasure in drawing from direct observation. His
willingness to accept this loss of objectifying his
vision, he accepts the fact that he himself should
move out of the way.
The camera helps distance him, to keep him at
one remove form sensual contact with nature. His stance
is aloof. Day attributes to Marin's influence his
discovery that mountains could be heads, hips, or
breasts-that sensuousness could be safely projected
into those vast, distant forms. Hartley, a lonely
figure, also writes of a union of intimacy with remoteness
in a poem about finding mother-love in the granite
of his native state. The harshness of his paintings
reflects this struggle imposed by puritanical inhibitions.
But Day doesn't attempt to merge with his subjects.
His own mother died when, and he records an early
memory of struggling with the elderly aunt who raised
him, who was trying to force him to eat. His aloofness
in painting seems consistent with this effort to establish
control by abstaining, by finding sustenance in in
the abstractions of science. Some loosening of this
stance is evident in Day's recent works in oil, where
an expressionist spirit seems to have surfaced with
a more relaxed enjoyment of paint itself.
In the 1970's, though, Day progressively focused
on the process of vision, to the exclusion of self-expression.
He wanted his paintings to become something like cameras
in themselves, mechanisms for displaying the world
to the viewer. To this end he developed his first
paintings on curves, composed of two views of the
same vertical motif, set one above the other to create
and extended visual field-"to give a new space
for the subject," as he puts it. To record the
full height of a group of trees, for example, he took
two slides, one at ground level, the second with he
camber tilted upwards. He observed that the distortion
of the tilted view could be resolved if it was angled
forward in relation to the lower one, and that the
illusion of straightness was enhanced if the surface
were curved. The boxes on which his watercolors are
mounted thus create a continuos transition from ground
level into the upper "stories" of trees
or skyscrapers. Day creates not a window onto nature
but a special sort of viewing, apparatus for these
extremely vertical subjects.
Day's earliest boxes were six-feet tall and stood
on the floor; only gradually did he come to compress
their format and create boxes mounted on the wall.
In these days of digital technology, animation, and
virtual reality, his efforts to improve the spatial
illusions of painting seem quaint; their commonsense
practicality recalls the simplicity of his New England
lifestyle, rooted in nineteenth-century positivism.
Ironically, though, his pursuit of an enlarged space
leads not to our magical absorption into his paintings,
into landscape as a spectacle, but to our awareness
of them as strange, ungainly objects.
By calling attention to their own three-dimensional
form these handmade contraptions parallel the efforts
of Day's more well-known contemporaries in the 1960's,
such as as Donald Judd, to establish paintings as
objects. Like Judd's "specific objects,"
Day's boxes are resolutely grounded in the condition
of things. In a wonder photograph, one Day's large
boxes with a New York watercolor has been set in a
wintry Vermont landscape. Its scale and stance suggest
a human presence-one can't help but see in it an image
of Day himself. Like a stubborn individual, it relates
to the Vermont environment but remains resistant,
irreducible to it. The buildings echo the verticals
of the trees, like columns of a cathedral, as though
to make a place for the city in this natural context.
It points hopefully to some human resolution of the
perennial conflict of nature with technology.
Burlington VERMONT TIMES
Mickey Myers: a career exploring the richest forms
of human expression
By Dan Wolfe March 2, 2005
.....You take for example the exhibit we’ve
having right now – a retrospective of the work
of Lucien Day, an American Realist who lives in Craftsbury,
and who for 50 years was, and still in some ways is,
among the pivotal characters in American art –
just down the road in Craftsbury! It was one thing,
inviting Lucien to exhibit at HDAC. It was quite another
when all these artists – these famous New York
artists - started appearing out of the woodwork to
pay homage to him. They wanted to be a part of his
retrospective because of his importance in their lives.....