Jules Olitski

Solomon’s Mirror No. 2


Not on display

Jules Olitski 1922–2007
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 2418 × 4575 mm
Purchased 1997


In 1972 Olitski returned to the smaller canvases and degree of impasto that had characterised his works of the 1950s. He roughened the canvas surfaces with gel and then, using a roller or squeegee, applied paint thickened with gel and, occasionally, small beads of synthetic resin. Sometimes he brushed or sprayed greyed or monotone colours on top. In his essay for Olitski's 1978 exhibition at the Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, Neil Marshall wrote of the artist's return to impasto:

It is Olitski's achievement to have arrived at a pictorial structure that is also a plastic structure. The peculiar pictorial logic of bas-relief is brought into a new relationship with the colour, and a kind of imagery is created that depends on the relations of colour with a plastic structure apparently independent of it. These relations constitute the structural logic of the pictures reproduced here.
Olitski was very much concerned with sculpture during this period in his career. He had been given his first sculpture exhibition in 1969 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The use of very thick impasto became a marked feature of Olitski's paintings of the 1980s and 1990s. As such, Solomon's Mirror No.2 is a work that both looks back to his Paris-inspired phase and anticipates later developments in his career.

Further reading:
Neil Marshall, Jules Olitski: New Paintings at the Andre Emmerich Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1978

Terry Riggs
October 1997

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of cotton duck fabric attached to an expandable turn-buckle stretcher with wire staples. The stretcher is comprised of twenty nine members in total, which can be separated into three sections (the sections are bolted together). The cotton was primed with a single layer of white acrylic emulsion primer, which covers the stretched face of the canvas and the turn over folds of the left and bottom edges. It can, therefore, be concluded that the painting was originally stretched on a larger format and at some point was cropped down on these two edges to the present dimensions.

The paint layers are also bound in an acrylic emulsion, with the noticeable addition of numerous granular inclusions in much of the top layer of paint, in which they appear well dispersed and well adhered. Analysis of these inclusions suggested a silica-based product, bound in an acrylic emulsion medium. The palette is rather limited to opaque, creamy colours, apart from the occasional use of brighter colours, for example the narrow pink band along the top edge, beneath which is a thin layer of deep red and small areas of a deep blue along the right hand edge.

The paint is generally opaque and exhibits a reasonable gloss. It has been applied in a very loose manner, probably by a mixture of brush, palette knife and trowel. Very high impasto is achieved in several areas (often up to about 20 cm in height), but these thick areas exhibit very high flexibility and therefore present little risk of cracking. These areas appear to consist of several thin layers as opposed to fewer thick layers, resulting in a soundly constructed painting. Each layer was probably applied over the preceding one after a minimum amount of time. The presence of many large burst air bubbles over all of the painting's surface is indicative of aggressive mixing of the colours prior to application. The painting is not varnished.

The painting is framed with four narrow wooden battens nailed to the edges of the painting with round headed nails. To enable the attachment of these wooden battens to the left and bottom edges, the paint has been scraped right back to the canvas. However, thick layers of paint continue right to the edge of the excess canvas attached to the rear of the stretcher.

Tom Learner
October 1997

Tom Learner
August 1997

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