Larry Day, Landscape for St. John of the Cross

Larry Day: Landscape for St. John of the Cross (1955) Oil on canvas
Landscape for St. John of the Cross
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Promised gift of Anita and Armand Mednick
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 of the Church. 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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  • 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