Fairfield Porter is one of those painters I’d never heard of as a kid, but with whose work I became obsessed as soon as he was introduced to me in art school. There’s a directness to his work and a deceptive simplicity.
While primarily known today as a figurative painter, he was also an art critic. He wrote passionately in support of Abstract Expressionism, helping the public understand the complexity of abstraction. In the face of the cliche “my kid could do that,’ Porter suggested that we look at paintings and ask “does it have the density of experience,”
Upon a deeper look at Porter’s work, it’s no surprise he’s a champion of abstraction. His compositions — in their deceptive simplicity — employ many of the strategies and structures found within 20th c. abstraction.
Working primarily in three locations — his family home in Maine, New York City, and his home in Southhampton, NY — Porter is a documentarian of everyday life. Sometimes referred to as a painter of the suburbs, in addition to landscape his vision probes deeply into the everyday, especially the joys and complications of domestic life.
Porter’s domestic life was complicated, too. With four children, many houseguests, and friends who became long-term guests, there was tremendous activity. That one of the long term guests was also Porter’s sometimes lover, added to the intensity. For my money, the best biography of Porter is Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art by Justin Spring.