Vivian Springford - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips
  • Essay

    Vivian Springford. Courtesy of Almine Rech and Vivian Springford 
    An active figure in the New York art world from the 1950s to the 1970s, Springford exhibited at venerable galleries and institutions such as the Great Jones Gallery, the Preston gallery, Women in the Arts, and the Visual Arts Coalition. As her work started to attract attention, Springford’s reclusive nature and struggle with macular degeneration led her to retreat from the public eye.

    As her work started to attract attention, Springford’s reclusive nature and struggle with macular degeneration led her to retreat from the public eye. For years, she painted alone in her Manhattan apartment, creating a trove of otherworldly abstractions that were discovered decades later and shown in 1998 by Gary Snyder who also mounted a memorial show for Springford in 2003, the year of her death at age 90. In 2018, a wider audience was introduced to the work through Almine Rech Gallery’s inaugural exhibition of the artist’s work in New York, which coincided with the announcement of their representation of the artist’s estate. 
    This show included 13 of her characteristic abstractions dating from 1968 to 1984, a body of work to which Untitled (Tanzania Series) belongs. Its bold concentric pooling of pigment is wholly representative of Springford’s signature “one-shot” paintings, which are created in a single attempt without edits or alteration. This work also exemplifies Springford's stylistic approach during this time, which was more similar to Color Field painting, while still displaying the influence of Chinese calligraphy and her interest in the immediacy of the medium. 


    detail of the present lot


    By the 1970’s, Springford had developed her distinctive technique for staining her raw canvases with thin washes of pinks, blues and greens, in a method that almost mimics the application of watercolor. The present work’s brilliant hues and organic pattern work in tandem with the delicacy and thoughtfulness of Asian artistry to form an awe-inspiring burst of passion. Created in the midst of her travels throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia in the early 1970s, this work is a gestural interpretation of her individual encounters with these surroundings. Springford notes


    Vivian Springford with the present lot in her studio. Courtesy of Almine Rech  and Vivian Springford Administration. 

    that her paintings were an “attempt to identify with the universal whole … I want to find my own small plot or pattern of energy that will express the inner me in terms of rhythmic movement and color. The expansive center of the universe, of the stars, and of nature is my constant challenge in abstract terms” [i]

    Bold in approach and vision, but timeless in appeal, Springford’s compositions are finally receiving long-overdue popular and critical acclaim. With more international exhibitions of her work on the horizon, Springford’s place in the cannon of postwar abstract painting is certainly being sealed.

    [i] Vivian Springford, quoted in The Woman in the Arts Foundation’s newsletter, March 1976

    • Provenance

      Gary Snyder Project Space, New York
      Acquired from the above by present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Vivian Springford

      Vivian Springford (b. 1913-2003) is associated with the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field movements of the 1950s-1970s in the United States. Springford retreated from public life in the 1980s as she lost her eyesight due to macular degeneration. Springford shared a studio with Chinese-American artist and poet Walasse Ting for nearly 10 years, and she would credit him with introducing her to Chinese calligraphy —a major influence on her early work. Her abstract style transformed over her career from gestural drip paintings to canvases stained with watery pools of color that call to mind fellow AbEx artists like Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis.

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Untitled (Tanzania Series)

signed, partially titled and dated "Springford - 1972 "Tanzania Series"" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
69 x 69 3/4 in. (175.3 x 177.2 cm)
Painted in 1972.

Full Cataloguing

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $106,250

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York

1 212 940 1250

20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 2 July 2020