March Avery: An Artist's Life

March Avery: An Artist's Life

05/02/2024     General, Modern & Contemporary Art, General Paintings

NEW YORK, NY -- March Avery was seemingly born to make art, and was practically born making art. “I think I was painting in utero,” Avery has professed, having begun to paint and draw as at early as the age of two. In 1963, by her (very) early 30s, galleries were already holding solo exhibitions of her work.

The daughter of the renowned artists Milton and Sally Avery, March Avery did not receive formal artistic training, nor did her parents actively instruct her or provide any sort of art lessons. For March, it hardly seems to have mattered. “A little girl sees her mother cooking, she cooks. I saw my mother painting, so I painted.” An innate sense of color theory and composition was apparently passed down to March from her parents, and the youngest Avery received all the training she would need simply by observing and participating as the family created. March would be the sitter for a great number of Milton’s works, and the family would often take turns posing for each other, painting and drawing every day.

Like the work of father Milton and mother Sally, Avery favors a balanced and simplified composition, setting a scene with minimal elements. Avery’s focus is on color and emotion. As coined by art historian Robert Hobbs, March Avery paints in “Avery Style.” Compositions are bold in their flatness, with loose handling that has a softness like an old family photo. Warm colors capture quiet scenes from the artist’s life. Yet while immersed in the private lives of her family and her, Avery was aware of the larger art world around her.

The last half of the 20th Century saw abstract painting as the overwhelmingly dominant force in the New York art scene, and thus the world, and Avery shares much with the New York School of abstract painters. The “Push and Pull” concept famously championed by Hans Hofmann; reconsidering color planes and how they react to each other within a composition, was passed down to his many students, including Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner, among many others. Of course March Avery did not study under Hofmann, yet apparently arrived at the “Push and Pull” concept on her own. Somewhat akin to Fairfield Porter and Will Barnet, Avery found her own way as a representational painter during a time in New York when abstraction was king. While all three artists are unique in their own right, they all took cues from abstract painting, making those concepts work in their representational images.

Left-right: Portrait of Sally Avery, Lot 591 / Person with a Plant, Lot 592 / Lifeguard. Lot 593.

In June 2021, Doyle set a World Auction Record for March Avery when Afternoon in Italy, 1971-72, achieved a record $37,800. Featured in the May 8 auction of Post-War & Contemporary Art are three March Avery paintings, all from the same collection, with two works from 1963 and one from 1977. Each embraces Avery’s grand sense of color and innate ability to compose a scene of intrigue.

Portrait of Sally Avery (Lot 591) draws as much from the work of her father as it does from Color Field painting. The flattened fields of color, a fuchsia floor meeting a drab green wall vibrate against each other, pushing us towards the sitter – mother Sally, sitting quite properly in a rocking chair, with an orange top that radiates against its background. Sally’s eyes are light grey – an odd and somewhat cartoonish choice that leaves the viewer wondering if the sitter’s lack of pupils was simply a choice of minimalism, or if there is a deeper, emotional reason.

Person with a Plant (Lot 592) is among Avery’s more elaborate compositions. The spindly blue-green plant balances against the intertwined floral pattern of the figure’s shirt. The figure’s facial features are a ghostly white, in negative space and almost vanishing into the peach-colored skin, pushing us back into the intricacy of the counterbalanced floral elements.

Lifeguard (Lot 593) finds the sitter resting casually on his white wood lookout chair. Youthful yet stoic, again Avery’s choices to reduce her compositions to its bare essentials provide a sense of mystery and drama, even in a cheerful summer scene. With each element a solid block of color, the opposing fields of green – sea and sky – provide a backdrop that allows the lifeguard’s orange singlet and tufts of yellow-blonde hair to draw us in.

These quiet, introspective moments document the life and experiences of March Avery, and of the Avery family; all created in concert with one another. Avery’s works are largely autobiographical; the works are private and sensitive like a journal entry. Now in her early 90s, Avery paints daily in her Greenwich Village studio, continuing a creative practice that has been ongoing for essentially the entirety of her life.

“It never occurred to me that I’d be anything else.”

Post-War & Contemporary Art

Auction Wednesday, May 8, 2024 at 11am
Exhibition May 4 - 6

The May 8 auction features three exceptional works by March Avery from a Main Line Collector.

View Lots
Angelo Madrigale

Angelo Madrigale

SVP / Director of Paintings / Director of Contemporary Art