A Life in Art
by Justin Spring
Yale University Press, $35, 383 pp.
Fairfield Porter (1907-75), Justin Spring argues in this new biography of the painter, art critic, and poet, has not been given his due and will not be appreciated until his work in all media-"an essentially diaristic project in which the artist perpetually sought to define his relation to the world"-is taken into account. This book makes an excellent start.
A good painter, an accomplished art critic, and a published poet, Porter maintained a stubborn allegiance to representational painting at a time when American art was deeply committed to abstract expressionism. This has always pushed him to the sidelines, but it also has enhanced a reading of Porter as a strong-minded painter who pursued his own artistic vision. At his best, he communicated a profound attachment to the here and now-an almost philosophic meditation on the nature of reality. He painted the emptiness of occupied rooms, objects left in disarray, moments between activities, and the silence of people alone and in groups.
Directly descended from the late-nineteenth-century domestic scenes of the French Intimist painters Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, which Porter first saw at an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938 and admired all his life, his paintings are in a certain sense antimodern, as was Porter himself. Porter’s antipathy to technology is a theme in Spring’s book. He quotes a wonderful description of life in the...