Judith Rothschild: Image and Abstractionby Rachel Youens
This small retrospective highlights a selection of works that span the 50-year career of Judith Rothschild, from early gouaches and paintings that were exhibited during her 20s to a selection of later paintings.
As a student of Hans Hofmann, Rothschild’s early works reflect a young woman who was immersed in the vanguard of abstraction at a pivotal moment, just as it was becoming airborne; the strengths of this show reside in small gouaches whose contemplative equilibrium allude to a distillation of experience. They are filled with floating ellipses, and geometries which float on warm, white grounds, sliced by the thinnest of black lines. The artist’s decisions seem to be effortlessly on course, a well-tempered performance affecting a sense of self-containment and openness. Other early works based on organic forms are inventively constructed, with deep reds and earth tones, and creamy white shapes contain the surprises of unpredictable variety within the frame. One can say of these works that “the fullness of color equals fullness of their form.” Other works derive from Picasso and reflect the struggles she shared with her contemporaries to assimilate his insights.
Judith Rothschild’s considered approach to the problems of reconstructing perception was on the way toward becoming an active voice within the dialogue of vanguard artists in New York City during the ‘40s. Her one person show at Jane Street Gallery provided her entrance into a group called American Abstract Artists, which in turn introduced her to Duchamp, Mondrian, and Leger, and to uptown circles. Rothschild’s biography is embedded not only in the work shown in this retrospective, but in the work that was never made. It writes a feminist parable about the choices of a free will sublimated in the bucket seat of love. Soon after her one person show in New York, she moved to California as a newlywed to an aspiring writer. Her husband apparently sought to purify his wife from New York influence. Rothschild remained responsible toward her work and her ambitions, producing a painting like “Weirs” (1949) two years later which transforms the emotive line of her earlier work into architectonics, yet it is still full of breath.
Rothschild connected with artistic contacts on both coasts, but became caught up in questioning the “Humanism” of Abstraction. Being on the other side of a continent has its benefits, although she must have struggled with the loss of Hofmann’s powerful assertions and Mondrian’s sublime idealism. After Rothschild returned to New York in 1969, her work continued to mature, regaining a sense of graphic monumentality. Cut-outs and visual notes taken from outdoor urban markets were brought together in works that are somber and remain experiencial at their source. “Gothic Studies" is a most beautiful cut-out/carving.” Its lyrical and concise curvature bursts with energy, and yet is somber and full of music.
Rachel Youens is a painter, writer, and teacher who lives in Brooklyn.