Fairfield Porter: An Introduction

porterFairfield 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. portrait_image_114902

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,”

porter the long fieldUpon 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.


Wikipedia:  Fairfield Porter (June 10, 1907 – September 18, 1975) was an American painter and art critic.[1] He was the fourth of five children of James Porter, an architect, and Ruth Furness Porter, a poet from a literary family.[2] He was the brother of photographer Eliot Porter and the brother-in-law of federal Reclamation Commissioner Michael W. Straus.
Mary Ryan Gallery: Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) is widely regarded as one of the most important American realist painters of the 20th century. At a time when abstract expressionism dominated the canon, Porter stood apart by focusing on representational imagery and exploring elements of Impressionism, such as light and color throughout his practice. Porter was undoubtedly influenced by his contemporaries, incorporating the ideas and techniques of artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline in his own work.


porter 2
porter Jane and Elizabeth
porter the screened porch

2 thoughts on “Fairfield Porter: An Introduction

  1. Love the essay and especially the paintings you show of Fairfield Porter. I’ve long been a fan. Thanks for reminding me of him. I’m also entranced with your work, especially of the sea and clouds.

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