REVIEW: Milton Avery: American Colourist, Royal Academy of Arts

As the title suggests, this is an exhibition that is filled with vibrant colour that dazzles – but more attention could have been paid to the way in which he worked.

Husband and Wife, 1945 by Milton Avery. © 2022 Milton Avery Trust/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London

Milton Avery is not an artist that I was particularly familiar with before entering this delightfully colourful exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts – and emerging from it I feel as though I didn’t quite get to know more about the way in which he worked as much as I was hoping to do. This exhibition allows the paintings to do all of the talking and it does give you a sense of progression throughout of the artist’s developing and constantly changing style.

Whether it is portraits (which are stripped of any sentimentality – which can make them seem bleak and soulless on first gazing at them) or capturing human life, there is constantly a sense of playfulness about his work it has to be said – as you can see from pieces such as his 1945 work Husband and Wife – the way in which he uses shape to create people and unconventional use of colour makes him utterly unique.

Aside from brief pieces of information greeting you into each room, it feels as though the artist himself remains a slight mystery (and i have had to go and do a little bit of research on him to get a real sense of what I had seen in font of me). Yes, it is clear why artists such as Mark Rothko were inspired by him – there is a boldness to his work that makes it eye catching – particularly with works such as Reclining Blonde and The Seine which while understated in contrast with other pieces on display have a real beauty to them that is impressive to behold. However, it would have been nice to have a deeper understanding of his own influences that this exhibition doesn’t seem to explore effectively for someone who is a newcomer to his work at least.

This being said, I loved the way in which the exhibition captures the unpredictability of his work – you are never quite sure what you are going to see next. While some pieces have a distinctly unfinished quality about them that suggests he was in a hurry to complete, there are plenty on display that are a pleasure to look at – in particular I loved the contrasting perspectives of excursion on the Thames – created in 1952 and 1953, both are the same image but with slightly adjusted perspective that is intriguing to look at.

As an artist Milton Avery is certainly one who is difficult to define which makes him unique and distinctive as this exhibition proves – but I do feel more depth was required throughout this exhibition to do him justice as he deserves. Colourful and entertaining – but just lacking that finesse to make it truly satisfying.

By Emma Clarendon

Milton Avery: American Colourist is on display at the Royal Academy of Arts until the 16th October.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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