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Milton Resnick, Untitled
Signed and dated 63 verso
Oil on paper laid on canvas
42 1/2 x 42 5/8 inches
Rachmiel (Milton) Resnick was born in Bratslav, Ukraine, to two wealthy Jewish parents. The city of Bratslav was terrorized by the gangs in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. This forced the Resnick family to emigrate to America in 1922, when Milton Resnick was only 5 years old. The family moved to Brooklyn, New York, and Resnick spent the next ten years there. It was here where a teacher nicknamed him “Milton,” a name that stuck.
Resnick’s father opposed him studying art, so he left home to pursue it. He began to study commercial art at Pratt Institute. At the recommendation of a professor, Milton Resnick transferred to the American Artists School in 1933 and graduated in 1937. He worked as an elevator boy during his time here, to pay for his tuition. During this time he met Willem de Kooning, who would become a long-time friend and member of the New York art scene.
In 1939, Milton Resnick enrolled in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He worked in the Easel and Mural Division of the WPA. It was here he met many other artists, such as John Graham and Arshile Gorky.
He was then drafted into the army in 1940 and discharged in 1945 after serving in many countries including Iceland and Germany. When drafted, he left some of his art with De Kooning for safekeeping. But much of the Milton Resnick art created before joining the army was lost or destroyed.
Milton Resnick then traveled to France in 1946, where he spent two years painting in Paris as part of the G.I. Bill. The city was a hub for post-war French art. Here, Milton Resnick observed several artists, including Matisse and Picasso. Milton Resnick’s art studio was next door to abstract painter and photographer Wols. He also spent time with French sculptors Giacometti, Gruber, and Brâncuşi.
Returning to New York City in 1949, Milton Resnick became a founding member of “The Club,” a collection of abstract impressionists. This group included his longtime friend De Kooning, as well as other notable artists. Including Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Milton Resnick art was shown as part of the 9th Street Art Exhibition in 1951 curated by the collective. But, due to some unfortunate circumstances, he did not have a solo show until 1955. Because of this, a lot of his earlier artwork was not well acknowledged, and his career took off much later.
Milton Resnick art was often seen as being part of the second wave of abstract expressionism. Partly because of his time spent serving in the military and in France, while his contemporaries built their profiles in New York. His work only became popular around the same time as public focus turned to minimalism and pop art trends. This shifting nature of public interest meant that his work was not quite as popular as the art from the first wave abstract impressionists. This lack of acknowledgment was something that Milton Resnick allegedly struggled with.
Early Milton Resnick artwork used somewhat aggressive, interlocking forms, considered muscular and chunky. By the early 1960s, this had shifted to looser images that appeared less anxious. His art transitioned into almost completely monochrome canvases, covered with thick layers of paint. Larger paintings by Milton Resnick could weigh up to hundreds of pounds, from all the paint. Some of these layered, monochrome paintings foreshadowed the minimalist era. It was during this time that he began to experiment with larger artwork. The painting – Swan (1961) was on a 25 foot-long canvas.
Resnick married Pat Passlof around this time, in 1961. Passlof was a student of De Kooning’s in the 1940s and some say De Kooning introduced the pair. Their marriage lasted 44 years, up until the death of Milton Resnick. The couple never had children but did have a godson.
Resnick bought an abandoned synagogue in 1976, which he used as his studio. The space was unique, as many artists at the time did not have such a large studio space. This sizable space allowed Resnick to create his larger artwork. The studio was on the lower East Side, near the studio (another abandoned synagogue, bought by the couple in 1963) of his wife.
Over the course of his life, artist Milton Resnick had 25 solo art shows in New York, and others throughout the country. He also taught in several different schools throughout the country in the 1970s and 80s, including the New York Studio School.
In the 1980s, Milton Resnick art included abstract figures. Usually people with no notable features, and sometimes also repeating cross motifs. There was minimal symmetry or order in his art, and it often featured no specific narrative or ideas. Many of his later paintings were on mold-made paper. He also created over 140 small works on stiff cardboard during this period. Throughout his lifetime, he created over 8,000 pieces of artwork. Many of those works are still in existence today. Resnick also became interested in written poetry in the 1990s. The poetry was a main focus of his, up until the time of his death.
The artist ended his own life on March 12, 2004. He was outlived by his wife, Passlof, who died in 2011.