Esteban Vicente and Collage
Permanent Collection Exhibition
November 8, 2014 to October 25, 2015
Esteban Vicente’s death in 2001 at the age of 97 marked the passing of one of the last surviving members of the first generation of New York School Abstract-Expressionist painters. He arrived in the United States in 1936, schooled in the old world academic tradition of his native Spain and fresh from a stay in 1920s Paris. Yet his openness to new influences and to new friendships, including those with artists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, assured his crucial role in the evolution of Abstract-Expressionist dialogue in the 1940s and 50s New York.
In 1949, while a visiting professor at Berkeley, he found himself without a studio and began to work in collage, tearing and pasting papers on board. For Vicente, the new medium became endlessly absorbing and what was initially a temporary diversion became a life-long pursuit. “I think of collage not as a separate, limited medium,” he said, “but simply as another mode of painting.” The cut or torn papers could be easily moved, introducing a freedom not found in painting, and Vicente shifted between paint and collage throughout his career always aware of the possibilities of experiment and innovation. He occasionally used found materials, as in the consumer product labels in Untitled (1956); normally he hand-painted the collage papers, also trying spray-painting these elements, as seen in Black Susan (1968). All referred to the flatness of the picture plane and the loose gestures of Abstract Expressionism. “It’s quicker,” he said in a 1968 interview, “it’s more, how should I say, experimental in a sense, in that you can play around with form and color and reach certain discoveries in a much easier way—not easy but less painful—because when you paint in oil you have to [mix] your material; in collage the material is given, is there already.”