Savant Series

After almost two decades of pushing the parameters of Abstract Expressionism to include structured series with geometric as well as organic layers, Charles Strong returned to a more "classical," intuitively-based abstraction from 1984-89.  These were the Savants, a series inspired by the idiot savant syndrome.  He was fascinated by this disorder, marveling at the similar way artists work; impulsively tapping into a subconscious insight that would be lost if it were closely examined, deconstructed, or controlled.

Savant, Diamonds on the Soles of His Shoes, 1987, oil and acrylic on canvas, 67" x 93"

Beginning this series as he habitually did, with a myriad of drawings and small studies, he returned again to oil paints, surrending himself to instinct, working quickly, and achieving a rich, gutsy feeling.  He felt he was intuitively filtering what he had learned over the years; the result was a stunning series of works that recalled the gritty strength of the best of Abstract Expressionist canvases from either coast, from any decade.

 

Savant, The Poet (Freckle-Face, Fox-head, Pod of the Broom), 1984, acrylic on canvas, 67" x 93"

Some of these paintings were quite large, expanded into diptychs not only to increase the scale, but to experiment with the idea of sequential possibilities.  He also dared to combine oil and acrylic media within the same work: he played with lights and darks, creating abstracted calligraphic idiograms built up on the canvas with acrylic washes (often laid out on the floor, plying the medium as if it were wet watercolor paper), finishing them off with oils for a rich surface texture.  he referred to these as "brush drawings."

 

Savant, Going it Alone, 1989, oil and acrylic on canvas, 67" x 93"

His broader color palette of recent years supported new strategies that enabled him to achieve paintings radiating with a freedom won from the merging of technical confidence and philosophical understanding: monumental in impact if not always in scale, they are proud, unapologetic works.  Critical response was swift and overwhemingly positive.  (1)

 

(1) Fire and Flux, An Undaunted Vision: The Art of Charles Strong, by Jo Farb Hernandez and Paul J. Karlstrom, with an Introduction by Steven A. Nash