One Piece at a Time

Jules Olitski’s “Heat Resistance”

Olitski: Romantic mist with a hard edge at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

By - Jul 10th, 2012 03:59 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Go to an art museum, pick a work, stand before it for a long time. Tell us what you see. TCD’s ongoing One Piece at a Time series began with that thought in 2010. TCD senior editor Tom Strini handled the OPAAT duties in 2010 and 2011. This summer, we have a variation. In the winter and spring, Strini worked with a class of graduate students in art at UWM. They did the One Piece drill at the Milwaukee Art Museum, wrote draft essays, then survived a writer’s boot camp with Strini. We’re publishing the results, one piece at a time. Here’s the first.


Jules Olitski (American, 1922–2007) Heat Resistance, 1968 Acrylic on canvas 92 3/8 x 63 5/8 in. (234.63 x 161.61 cm) Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit M1980.192 Photo credit John R. Glembin

Where does one color begin and another end?

One can get lost in the overall field of mist in Jules Olitski’s big vertical landscape. The atmospheric Heat Resistance stands approximately seven feet tall and five feet wide, an acrylic painting on stretched canvas in a thin gold frame.

Closer examination reveals a speckled effect caused by what one can imagine to be the flicking of his brush in large gestures over the unprimed canvas. Multiple, apparently spontaneous small spots or blotches cover the entire canvas. These spots of colors overlap and intermingle with the color of the canvas and one another, creating the illusion that the canvas is a part of the warm and “feminine” color palette.

Heat Resistance demonstrates masterful transitions between pink, blue, orange and yellow-green. They all read as the same intensity of the color of the unprimed canvas. None of them speak above the others, due to the subtle shifts and lack of contrast. The central light, a warm blue tilted ellipse, starts from the bottom left corner and ends at the top right. The blue area radiates outward and weaves slightly into the warm pastel pink in the upper left-hand corner and the yellow-green in the lower right-hand. Jules Olitski is a romantic painter of atmospheric spaces that captures a true sense of beauty through the understanding of color, and how acrylic paints sit on the surface of an unprimed canvas.

On the right corner, a hard geometric line sits on the edge, both interrupting and stabilizing the space of the painting. A physical approach in the application of a cool white fills only a small percentage of the piece, but does so with a decisive vertical and rectangular orange stroke over the white on the upper right edge. A thin line of blue brackets off  the outer edge. It appears as if Olitski accidently leaned Heat Resistance against another wet canvas. However, he reminds the viewer of the two dimensional nature of the canvas by placing a hard edge on the field of mist.



Display image on the Arts and Culture Page: Detail from upper right of painting.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *