Esteban Vicente Description
Esteban Vicente (1903–2001) was a first-generation abstract expressionist artist whose work represents some of the most brilliant experimentations with color and space in post-war American painting.
Born 1903 in Turegano, Spain, Vicente arrived in New York in 1936, a time when social realism and American scene painting dominated the art scene. Vicente, however, looked to the work of American modernists Milton Avery, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, and Joseph Stella for inspiration. Their explorations of abstract form had a profound effect on his work. Vicente also held high regard for Hans Hofmann, especially his emphasis on the personal characteristics that painted forms and colors on canvas could convey.
During the 1950s, Vicente explored collage, integrating the analytical cubism of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris into works that were highly keyed and animated. He also admired the way Willem de Kooning would destroy and rebuild his work, and collage allowed Vicente to explore this idea through placing and replacing forms on cardboard or canvas. Later in the decade, Vicente fully embraced the tenets of abstract expressionism. His abstract vocabulary predates the luminous floating forms of his friend Mark Rothko. Although highly independent in his own work, Vicente had frequent exchanges with members of the New York School, including Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler.
From the 1960s to the end of his career, Vicente explored a mode of expression that integrated abstraction, movement, and color. His mature paintings employ subtle gradations of hue and startling juxtapositions; they are masterpieces of suggestion, nuance and drama. Vicente's luminous and subtle color transitions were achieved by staining the canvas with layers of translucent pigment akin to color field painting. Such works, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Frank, "embodied the essential paradox of human life, in that it was a material means to a spiritual realm. The flow of radiant light through pigment [transports] the viewer to a state of luminous calm."1
Vicente continued to work and teach into his late nineties, creating some of his most resonant and powerful work in his final years. In 1991, he was awarded Spain's highest achievement in the arts, the Gold Medal of Honor in the Fine Arts, which was presented by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.
Vicente's work is held in major museum collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Gallery, London, England; Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.