“Housebound: Fairfield Porter And His Circle Of Poets And Painters” is an exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum that presents paintings and poems that bring in sharp focus the many connections between the works and the artists who created them.
Nearly 40 paintings by Porter, Robert Dash, Jane Freilicher, Alex Katz and Larry Rivers will be on view. Poems by Anne Porter and New York School poets John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler are accessible from SQR codes on the labels of specific works. Paintings by Porter from the late 1940s and ’50s such as Anne Reading to Laurence, 1947, show intimate scenes in the Porter household, while others illustrate direct inspiration of one artist to another, such as Sketch for a Portrait of Jimmy Schuyler, 1962 , and Jane and Elizabeth, 1967, depicting Freilicher and her young daughter. Portraits by artists inspired by their writer friends include Rivers’s lithograph, “Untitled (John Ashbery),” 1984, and Alex Katz, “Untitled (Portrait of Kenneth Koch),” c 1970.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Parrish presents an illustrated talk with chief curator Alicia G. Longwell, Ph.D. and Karin Roffman, author of a biography of poet John Ashbery — a close friend of Porter’s and frequent guest at the artist’s Southampton home. The live stream talk is scheduled for Friday, October 30, at 5 p.m. as part of the museum’s “Friday Nights Live!” series. The public is invited to take part in a live chat following the presentation. Log in information is at parrishart.org.
“I’m delighted that Karin Roffman will join me for this conversation about painters and poets and the ways in which their domestic surroundings can both nurture and reflect their artistic choices,” said Longwell. “Her deep knowledge of Ashbery’s life and work, including his enduring friendship with Porter, will be the focus of this illuminating talk.”
Porter (American, 1907–1975), the poet Anne Porter, and their children moved in 1949 from New York to a rambling 19th century captain’s house in Southampton Village. From the 1950s through the ’70s, the couple’s friends gravitated there for weekends or extended stays, chronicling their social mores and shared sensibilities in words and paint. Ashbery was a frequent visitor, along with fellow poets Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler; as well as painters including Robert Dash, Jane Freilicher, Alex Katz, Larry Rivers, and Jane Wilson. Roffman’s book, “The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life,” reveals how Ashbery’s poetry arose in part, from those lifelong friendships with Porter and others who congregated at his home, notably Freilicher, O’Hara, Koch, and Schuyler. The exhibition at the Parrish reveals the reciprocity of inspiration: Ashbery’s typed manuscript of his poem Pyrography is the surface for Rivers’s drawing of the poet at the typewriter
Karin Roffman has published essays on John Ashbery and 20th and 21st century writers and artists in Raritan, Modern Fiction Studies, Artforum, Rain Taxi, Yale Review and others. Her first book, “From the Modernist Annex: American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries” (2010) won the University of Alabama Press’s American Literature Elizabeth Agee Manuscript Prize. She is currently a senior lecturer in humanities, English and American studies at Yale University, where she is creating, “John Ashbery’s Nest,” a website and virtual tour of Ashbery’s Hudson house in collaboration with Monica Ong Reed and the Yale Digital Humanities Lab. Roffman has previously taught at West Point and Bard College.
In 1979, the estate of Fairfield Porter recognized the bond between the artist and the Parrish Art Museum by donating some 250 works, which became The Fairfield Porter Collection and Archive.
Porter painted what was familiar to him — family, friends and the places he lived and visited, including Southampton and a family-owned island off the coast of Maine, where he summered since childhood. An artist who steadfastly maintained a figurative vision, Porter knew and admired many Abstract Expressionist artists on the East End, especially Willem de Kooning.
“The realist thinks he knows ahead of time what reality is, and the abstract artist what art is,” Porter once wrote, “but it is in its formality that realist art excels, and the best abstract art communicates an overwhelming sense of reality.”
“Housebound: Fairfield Porter and his Circle of Poets and Painters” will be on view at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, through January 31. Visit parrishart.org for details.