Joseph Glasco was not one to discuss his artistic process — not with his closest friends, nor gallerists, nor advisors.
Not even curator and confidant Marti Mayo.
That didn’t detract from any of the hours they spent talking art — his explaining “why he did what he did when he did it,” she recalled, as well as his influences, his successes, his failures, his growth, and how his time on the East End shaped them all.
The summers of the early 1950s and the late 1980s bracket Glasco’s career in a way Mayo never realized until she began curating “Joseph Glasco: East End Echoes” for the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs. The decades are mirror visits — each spent living and working among like-minded creatives — and inadvertent muses for the artist’s most significant work of his career.
“Joe did what he needed to do to make art, and that’s the way he lived his life,” Mayo said. “He was his own master. He followed his own song.”
After serving in the Army Air Force during World War II, the East Texan briefly studied art in Los Angeles and Mexico before setting his sights on New York in 1948. He enrolled in the Art Students League, immersing himself in European modernism and abstract expressionism, aligning himself with those who would lead the new movement — most notably Jackson Pollock, Alfonso Ossorio, Lee Krasner and Ted Dragon.
“He really was at home, for the first time ever, in New York with this crew. And this crew migrated in the summer to East Hampton,” Mayo said. “It was a very, very important time for him, in terms of how to be an artist, how to think as an artist, how to see as an artist.”
By 1951 — the first summer Glasco spent amidst the artist community in East Hampton — he had established himself as a young talent in his own right. The year before, he had his first solo show at Klaus Perls Gallery and, soon after, found representation with Catherine Viviano Gallery. He sold his first painting to Ossorio and met “the love of his life,” writer William Goyen, according to Mayo.
The following year, Ossorio invited the group to his Wainscott estate, known as “The Creeks,” cementing their tight-knit friendship.
“Being around those artists, being a part of the milieu was very important. Joe was really young then, he was in his early- to mid-20s,” Mayo said. “He was fresh from the war, fresh from small attempts at school in Mexico and California, but he really found his home at the Art Students League.
“I don’t think he spent a lot of time restauranting and playing around in the nightclubs,” she continued. “I think they had conversation, they entertained at home, and I think they worked and talked about art. He was able to really sink in. Joe spent a lot of time alone working and these were not times alone, but they were times spent in the company of people who he respected, even loved, and was able to talk about art with — and talk about life in a way that made sense to him.”
From The Creeks, Goyen worked on his third novel while Glasco painted, creating canvases that would prove to be critical in the development of his career, explained Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House.
“He had a show at the MoMA when he was 25 years old,” she said. “This is amazing, and that kind of early success can sometimes have a negative effect on people. They are afraid of being trapped, and this is certainly true of Lee Krasner. When she would do a series of things, she would have to break from it, because she did not want to have a signature style, and I think that was true in Joe’s case, as well.”
Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, Glasco entered a transitional phase, moving from representational work to abstract. In the throes of his self-discovery and experimentation, he found encouragement from filmmaker and painter Julian Schnabel, who forged a fast friendship with the artist after meeting in Texas and invited him out to Montauk starting in the late 1980s.
“The work he created there, they’re the expression of both a structure and a glory in the viscosity of the paint. They’re just beautiful,” Mayo said. “And I know he thought these works and drawings — along with a series of very large paintings, which are much too large for the Pollock-Krasner House to show — were the best work he had ever done. And he said that to me toward the end of his life more than once.”
When Mayo considers Glasco’s lifelong body of work, she can’t help but miss the man behind the canvases — and their unlikely friendship that formed at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, where she was tasked with curating a retrospective of his work.
It was the first he had ever had, and he struggled to relinquish control.
“He was a bit older than me, 20 years older, a different generation. He was very much a Southern gentleman, if you will,” Mayo said. “Well brought up, but he was also very much an eccentric. That was very clear from the beginning. He also knew exactly what he thought and exactly which direction he was going in at the moment.
“He was very specific, determined and it became a real push-pull in terms of what we would show and what we wouldn’t show,” she continued. “It wasn’t necessarily his choice, but he certainly did his best to influence my choices. He’s a very strong personality.”
The show opened in 1986 and, 10 years later, Glasco died of heart failure at age 71. In his will, he left Mayo as the art advisor to his estate.
“Doing this exhibition has been both a treat and a little bit sad because I really haven’t worked this intensely with the work, or written this much about it in a long time,” she said. “So it was a really wonderful opportunity to reacquaint myself with the work, as we went through it and chose what to put in the show.
“And I could hear Joe in my ear the whole time, and I would find myself worrying, ‘Would he like this one? What would he think if we did that?’ It was like he was sitting on my shoulder, truly. And it was a nice thing, to reacquaint myself with an old friend.”
Guest curator Marti Mayo will give a gallery talk on the exhibition “Joseph Glasco: East End Echoes” during an opening reception on Sunday, May 26, at 5 p.m. at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, located at 830 Springs-Fireplace Road in Springs. The show will remain on view through July 27. For more information, visit pkhouse.org.