Like Jackson Pollock, he laid his generous expanses of canvas on the ground and threw his entire body into working on them. Like Franz Kline, he incorporated broad, calligraphic brushstrokes into his compositions. But unlike his artistic peers, Strautmanis made paintings that possessed an almost violent, explosive charge, tempered only by his exquisite sense of color, which he used with richness and nuance. Terms like “engulfing” or “overwhelming” are perhaps more accurate than “large-scale” in conveying the size and force of his compositions.
For Strautmanis, a painting was not only an object but also an act, a real-time accumulation of all of the movements and energy that the artist expended in its making. The process of painting was like a performance for him, in which he would physically engage with the canvas through a series of gestures, actions, and postures. He would often begin by pouring copious quantities of paint directly onto the canvas. Working as regularly with brooms as with paintbrushes, he would then push these pools of paint around, alternating massive, sweeping bands of paint with sections that appear calm and controlled.
Five paintings that Strautmanis created in the early 1970s—a period of flux and high spirits for the artist—are currently on view at Allan Stone Projects in New York. In Lure (1972), an even lack of color frames the edges of the composition, whose center bursts with splats, splatters, and brushstrokes that appear almost raked into its surface. The surface of One Time Only (1974) is dominated by a great burst of crimson, which the artist dragged out to its rightmost edge in luscious, snaking bands. Though he is no longer alive, these marks prove his once vigorous presence. It’s as if they say: I was here.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory