Untitled, Janet Sobel
United States (born Ukraine), 1894-1968
Oil and enamel on canvas, 1946-1948
Museum purchase with funds provided by Suzanne Figi and Mrs. Norton S. Walbridge
© San Diego Museum of Art
The Ukrainian-born Sobel immigrated to New York with her
parents when she was fourteen years old. She married and had five children
before becoming a painter at the age of forty-three. Sobel was an entirely
self-taught artist. Her first paintings, produced in the late 1930s, depicted
figures rendered in a primitive style. By the early
1940s she had begun to combine figures in a field composed of skeins of color
dripped onto the canvas to create an allover, abstract pattern. During the
years immediately following the war Sobel dropped the figure from some of her
paintings altogether and produced completely abstract works such as
Bill Leonard, the host of WCBS radio’s This Is New York, referred to Sobel as “one of America’s most talked about surrealist painters.” Anticipating the paintings of Jackson Pollock by several years, Sobel’s allover drip paintings were considered part of the subconscious gestures referred to in the Surrealist lexicon as “automatism.”
Sobel’s son, who was an art student, brought his mother’s paintings to the attention of Max Ernst, who in turn showed them to his wife, Peggy Guggenheim. Through the exhibitions she presented at her Art of This Century gallery in New York, Guggenheim profoundly influenced the direction of contemporary American art. She included Sobel in a group show in 1944 and gave her a one-person exhibition in 1946. Pollock and art critic Clement Greenberg saw the later exhibition with William Rubin, who recorded its impact. He recalls Greenberg admitting that both he and Pollock had “admired these pictures rather furtively.” They were “the first really ‘all-over’ [paintings he] had ever seen,” and he found their effect “strangely pleasing.” Rubin also recollected Pollock’s later admission “that these pictures had made an impression on him.”
Not only did Sobel’s allover drip style foreshadow Pollock’s work, but her choice of material and manner of applying it did as well. As Pollock would later do, Sobel painted with the surplus enamel that was readily available after the war and worked with her paintings laid flat on the floor. Untitled is one of Sobel’s groundbreaking works of the mid- to late 1940s, which rank among the very first Abstract Expressionist paintings.
(For Grades K-2)
What colors do you see in this painting?
Which colors are primary colors? (red, blue) Secondary? (orange, green)
What types of lines do you see? Straight? Squiggly?
What sort of mood do you think the artist was in when she painted this? Why do you think this?