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Edward Corbett


Taos #8

Charcoal and pastel on paper
35.75 x 29.5 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Abstract expressionism generally conjures images of explosive, large-scale canvases dripping with paint, epitomized by the works of Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock. In this context, the quiet reveries of Edward Corbett seem an anomaly. A pioneering force in the West Coast branch of the movement, Corbett was highly unusual in his concentration on exquisitely subtle drawings in the early 1950s. Certainly, none of the artists associated with abstract expressionism explored the velvety medium of charcoal as thoroughly as he did.

Corbett was a master of the enigmatic. Between 1950 and 1955, while living first in San Francisco and then in Taos, he produced a series of smoky charcoal-and-pastel drawings, some suggesting mist-enshrouded landscapes, others evoking ghostly, half-seen presences. Charcoal’s capacity to register the slightest tonal gradations was well suited to Corbett’s penumbral aesthetic. In Taos #8 his technique draws upon a close study of Leonardo’s sfumato, in which light and shade blend imperceptibly in the manner of smoke. This drawing is suffused with warm pastel to produce a range of chromatic “blacks,” an effect that his close friend Ad Reinhardt would later acknowledge as a crucial catalyst for his own famous black-on-black paintings.

Like many of the charcoal drawings Corbett created in the Southwest, Taos #8 conveys a feel for the horizons and vast distances of the desert landscape. Breadth had been a primary theme in his earlier San Francisco work, but here the presentation is more emphatically horizontal. In his poetry and personal notes, Corbett often wrote of his love for the desert, its shifting light, spatial grandeur, and eloquent silence. Despite these influences, he insisted that his images not be understood as landscapes in a literal sense, but rather as poetic renditions of imagined or remembered experiences in nature.

Susan Landauer

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