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In the Trees
Jackson Jesse Nash on Lee Krasner and grief.
There’s a coolness in the air that silks through the gaps in the flaking Victorian window frame, the portal to a world much larger than our one-room studio in Brighton. In the park across the street the leaves are turning. The sky is that strange white-gray that manages to look bright and dull at exactly the same time. When it rains in the late afternoon a sepia slash spreads underneath the near-black of heavy clouds. In the trees a murmuration of starlings cheerfully comes and goes; a pair of ugly, stagnant pigeons make the branches droop. I try to ignore the people gathering in the park despite the rain, push away my social distancing judgements, my anxieties.
In September 2019, I saw Lee Krasner’s work at the Barbican with my partner. No masks, no hand gel. Instead there were splashes of color, huge canvases of abstract work showcasing Krasner’s “all-over” technique. But there was unexpected realism too, portraiture we didn’t know would be there, Krasner able to portray reality and abstraction interchangeably.
I look her up, remembering a timeless inner peace in the gallery. Google returns Gothic Landscape on the Tate website. The display caption suggests we might see trees in the vertical lines and read the violence of the brushstrokes as grief. At first my mind makes only masked faces, then prison bars. I can’t help it. At the bottom a bulbous head – the only one unmasked – is working at home with a headset on and too many bored, closed eyes. The name Gothic Landscape makes me think of Daphne du Maurier and those menacing birds that were simply everywhere. I’m not making this sound very Chicken Soup, I know. I’m not going to pretend I felt instantly better and that everything is okay. But Gothic Landscape is still beautiful. Krasner’s roar of grief, if that’s what this is, gives me a moment that is somehow still amidst the swirling chaos of outside. I’ll gladly take even a moment right now, whether roaring or still, abstract or real. These things can exist all at once.
Jackson Nash is a British writer and researcher who identities as a queer trans man.
Lenore “Lee” Krasner (1908-1984) was an abstract expressionist painter with a specialty for collage. She was one of the only female artists to have a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art.