Larry Day, Landscape for St. John of the Cross

Larry Day: Landscape for St. John of the Cross (1955) Oil on canvas
Title
Landscape for St. John of the Cross
Date
1955
Medium
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of Anita and Armand Mednick, 2020
Dimensions
48 x 60 in.

Although Larry Day is best known for the figurative works he made from the 1960s through the 1990s, he enjoyed success as an abstract painter in the 1950s. After serving in the army in World War II, Day attended Temple University's Tyler School of Art and graduated in 1949. He soon made the acquaintance of John Ferren, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Mercedes Matter and began to show his paintings in Philadelphia and New York. His first exhibitions took place at the Dubin Gallery in Philadelphia and Parma Gallery in New York, known for showing the New York School.

In his abstract work, Day applied paint in a gestural manner that nonetheless retained a strong quality of line. The primacy of line would remain constant throughout his career. Here, his palette is dominated by earth tones with splashes of bright color.

The title, Landscape for St. John of the Cross, makes reference to a work of spiritual literature: The Ascent of Mount Carmel (c. 1585) by St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic and doctor. The Ascent of Mount Carmel describes the journey of the soul to spiritual wholeness through good work and union with the divine. Day's large painting, and the related smaller work and drawing, are inspired by Paul Cézanne's mountain landscapes.

For Day, abstraction was an examination of the elements that define two-dimensional representation: gesture, line, composition, and color. His interest in "paintings about paintings" did not cease when he turned to figurative representation; his exploration occurred through different interrogations of his ability to portray the world around him.

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  • I sense in this painting the emphasis on gestural methods of the 1950's yet I see too the sense of restraint and compositional organization that is a hallmark of his work later too. Larry was a remarkable painter and teacher.

    Bill White
  • Larry was a special mentor to me starting at PCA as a freshman in 1963 when I encountered a large figure painting of his in the Faculty show and I couldn't understand why one of the figures had the remains of a changed position of her arm visible so I sought him out and asked about it He was generous with me as a naive freshman and what he did was ask me questions and before long I had a clue as to how to interpret his choice It was to remind us that what we were seeing was a painting as a fiction. So by showing that the arm was moved it emphasized the fact that it was a painting I stayed in touch with Larry until the end of his life

    Bill White
  • Very happy to find this early work by Larry Day. There is a strong group of artists absorbing and working through Abstract Expressionism via contact with New York artists--including Paul Keene, Sanford Greenberg and Doris Staffel. I'd love to see an exhibition exploring AbEx work made in Philadelphia in the 1950s

    Ron
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