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Max Cole

American, b. 1937


Acrylic and ink on canvas
79.625 x 92.625 x 1.5 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Max Cole spent her youth in a score of locations in the American West before earning her MFA in painting at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1964. She then taught in various colleges and universities until 1978, when she moved to New York and dedicated herself full-time to painting. She destroyed much of her early work, sometimes out of dissatisfaction, sometimes simply in order to reuse the canvas. The concept of a piece, she has said, matters much more than its physical existence.

Axias is an example of her signature style of pure linear abstraction. Multiple straight, closely placed black lines run horizontally across the visual field. Between them, myriad tiny vertical strokes protrude, creating the impression of gray bands. Cole’s “black” paintings are often critically linked with pre-Columbian black pottery as well as with the monochrome paintings of Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko. (Later, she would adopt various unorthodox color combinations.)

Cole disavows comparisons with Agnes Martin and other minimalists. Her painting technique is additive, not reductive, and her work evokes a mysterious fullness and presence. Although the compositions may appear system based and serially produced, like Josef Albers’s nested squares, they are in fact freehand and intuitive. For Cole, artistic value lies largely in the meditative process that gives rise to it, suggestive of a larger soul-calming intention.

Richard Vine

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