Power Boothe and the Post-War Era

Art collectors, curators and specialists often utilize imperfect terms and categories to encapsulate moments in art history, so that we can better discuss them.  Within the post-War era we have categories such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Performance Art and Happenings, and Minimalism. When using terms to describe a particular artist, you can never be spot-on accurate.  With that said, Power Boothe (American, b. 1948) is probably best described as a Minimalist.

Toward the end of World War II, several New York-based artists found their mature voices in an expressive style derived from European Surrealism and pure abstraction. The two terms for this type of painting are Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting. At the risk of drastic oversimplification, I will say that the movement had two leading artists with very different directions of painting technique. Willem de Kooning created energetic all-over abstractions that were arrived at slowly and deliberately, with steps forward and backward until the desired composition emerged. Jackson Pollock's approach was quite different, involving less contact with the surface of the support, and much pouring, dripping and true action in the process. The innovation and clear separation from all art that came before brought global attention to this new generation of modernist artists. However, toward the end of the 1950s, younger artists felt divorced from the expressionist styles of their senior counterparts. Even de Kooning drifted back to his Women paintings from the pure abstract works.

Still working in an expressionist style, younger artists began making figurative paintings. Jim Dine and Larry Rivers drew inspiration from everyday objects like toothbrushes, shoes and tools. Robert Rauschenberg incorporated found objects, such as the quilt from his bed, while Jasper Johns created a sculpture of Ballantine Ale cans. Claes Oldenburg created environments with detritus found on the street, and in so doing moved off of the wall and into the interior of the room.

This was a leap from earlier generations, but one that can be tied back to Pollock’s paintings. The younger generation did not see Pollock’s painting surface as a two-dimensional plane, but rather a window into a space as vast as the universe. Through this interpretation artists like Oldenburg took the art off the wall and beyond. Allan Kaprow staged Performance Art -- loosely scripted Happenings involving players, objects and the environment as a whole.

As the 1960s rolled in, the Pop imagery became cleaner. The hand of the artist became less evident in paintings, and the essence of line and plane became subject rather than sub-structure. Minimalist artists, pioneered by Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Walter de Maria, Dan Flavin and others moved the perception of art to new understandings.

Power Boothe does not neatly fit into the file for Minimalist artists. In his oils, you see brush strokes, and in his drawings, varied pencil techniques that show his hand. But in the body of work as a whole, you see staccato rhythms and a consistency that draws you into the patterns while engaging your curiosity through the subtle variations. Not unlike the works of Agnes Martin, Boothe allows the viewer to identify with the creator of the work and not see it as a manufactured product void of life. In this way he shares the aesthetic of Minimalism, but also offers a connection to the painterly artists who followed other avenues.

The Doyle+Design auction on November 9 offers a group of works by Power Boothe. The examples are wide in range, yet all hold to a common thread very much the artist’s own.  View the works.

Portrait of specialist Harold E.  Porcher
VP/Director, Modern & Post-War Art
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