Dorothy Fratt (1923-2017) : Life. Colour. Happiness.
First European exhibition of a major artist. Portrait of a painter and a woman, all in colour…
When Light tranmutes into Colours
Encounter with an exceptional colourist: the American Dorothy Fratt. Her huge canvases transcend flat colours and surfaces that evolve into moving and three-dimensional shapes. It's a free dive into an incredibly rich and abundant world. Teeming. Powerful. And gay. Incredible energy, full of light and life.
Born in Washington, DC in 1923, it is there, in two of the city’s most famous art schools that she is educated and her works exhibited very early on. Washington, in the 1950s, is, artistically, what is called the Washington Art School: a group of artists experimenting along the same lines as painters in New York claiming, at the same time, to be followers of abstract expressionism, in particular in its most colourful aspect (Color Field Painting). Inspired by European modernism, this style is distinguished by large fields of solid colour on one unified, cohesive flat surface. The action, the brushstrokes are secondary, the focus being on the consistency of form and process on very large works. They develop a distinct formal language, exploring the effects on the viewer of interactions between solid flat colours and effects of material and tones. Depth is thus abolished since no perspective is possible and the entire canvas develops on a single field, eliminating all imagery: in the so-called Color Field Painting movement, as a bit later in the so-called Washington Color School movement, the work disregards form to lead to a kind of meditative contemplation. But above all, colour is liberated from its traditional and auxiliary functions. It no longer serves to delimit or confine but becomes free. Independent. It exists for and by itself. It becomes the subject itself. It is.
Represented by artists who would later become symbolic of the movement such as Sam Francis, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, the Washington group had a definitive influence on Pratt, even though she started pursuing and developing her own style and personal approach to both painting and colour in 1958, when she left Washington to settle in Arizona.
‘Each painting is a journey and an adventure. I don't understand the process completely. Perhaps no one can.’ Dorothy Fratt
Unfortunately, Dorothy Fratt was a woman... which, I am sure, explains her belated and hesitant international recognition, unlike that of her male peers, whether or not they are grouped in one or another movement stemming from American abstract expressionism. And while recognized and admired by peers and influential critics and collectors, her immense talent and stunning mastery of shapes and colours have not yet achieved the status and admiration they deserve. Patience ... it will come. The photographs, which reduce the paintings to two dimensions and utterly ignore the rich play of material and surface, do not do justice to the depth and organic thickness of her canvases. To grasp them fully, one must lose oneself in them, enter into a long and deep dialogue with them, in front of them: then, and only then will one hear their many voices. Their song, subtle and powerful, like a wave coming from the depths that suddenly rises and upsets the deceptive tranquillity of apparently simple and inert forms. Then... then you see, eyes now open, with the soul and the body, a whole universe of emotions and words, a breath, deep and full. Extraordinary energy. They seem to be laughing, in large bursts of colour, and chatting among themselves under the cymas of MUSEUMART.PLUS where I discovered them, after the last visitor had left the premises. Surely they are talking to their neighbours, the big Outrenoirs in the Soulages room? There are no doors between the exhibition rooms in this museum; the works, the flow, the energy circulate freely: the visitors will too, when daytime returns. They are waiting for you, do not disappoint them! It's an adventure that you will not return from unscathed, and that's a good thing.
Works. Light. Joy
The numerous works by Dorothy Fratt in the Biedermann collection are the focus of the major exhibition presented by MUSEUMART.PLUS this year and that runs until January 2019: ‘colourful. farbenfroh’. A journey to discover an exceptional painter and personality. This rite of passage starts with a world of colours, pure. And then, the colours melt and incarnate into a powerful wave of energy that transcends the works and the premises in one dominant element: Light. In all its prisms and aspects. Pure energy, in the form of waves and vibrations. Some almost imperceptible, others almost deafening as they become loud and obvious. There is music and rhythm in her paintings. Emotions and memories. Landscapes. Feelings. Communication, too. But always, always, light.
I was not in the least surprised to learn that the painter spent most of her adult and artistic life in the very special light of the south-western United States. I had seen it, I had felt it so deeply, this light: transcribed, spread out, mixed. Conveyed in an almost natural stream of undiluted pigments flowing through her canvases. There are painters of light as there are of twilight and hazy skies. Dorothy Fratt is one of light: she belongs to this universe of primary and bold nuances, mineral landscapes, scorching sun and insolent life. And gay. And powerful. Intensely beautiful.