Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Pat Passlof, 1928-2011

This tribute, published in November 2011 as “Integrity and Finesse: Pat Passlof, 1928-2011,” is reposted as admirers prepare for the artist’s memorial celebration Sunday, November 18 at the College of Staten Island Library at11.30 AM.  Passlof was a veteran, devoted and beloved instructor on the college’s art program.   Donations in her memory are being accepted by the Library Fund for Art and Photography as well as the Tenenbaum Materials Scholarship Fund.  For more information, 718 982 2545


Pat Passlof, Eighth House #4, 2004. Oil on linen, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Pat Passlof, Eighth House #4, 2004. Oil on linen, 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Elizabeth Harris Gallery

The world has lost a truly remarkable painter in Pat Passlof, who died on Sunday on the eve of a new exhibition of her work. Equally it has lost a very special human being.  A kindly curmudgeon, old school in the depth of her solidarity with others and the forthrightness of criticism when it needed to be expressed, Passlof was utterly indefatigable in her generosity, whether as a teacher, a widow, a Tai Chi companion, or indeed a painter.  We sometimes forget how generous painting can be because the making of it has such antisocial requirements.  In Passlof’s case, generosity comes across in the way her images are constituted equally of integrity and finesse: brimful of beauty, but uncompromising in rigor and resolution.  Her art and life were a yin and yang balance of opposites.

Pat Passlof was born in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1928.  She sought out the tutelage of Willem de Kooning, enrolling at Black Mountain College expressly to study with him, then presenting herself as a private student and assistant in his studio back in New York.  It was through de Kooning that she met her husband Milton Resnick.  One of the contradictions of Pat’s life was that she could be devoted to Milton’s art and ideas – and later his legacy – to the self-effacement of her own artistic achievements while also being a pioneer in the feminist art movement.  With Sylvia Sleigh and Ce Roser, Passlof was one of the originating artists in the landmark feminist exhibition, “Women Choosing Women,” organized by Lucy Lippard at the New York Cultural Center in 1973.

When, as gallery director of the New York Studio School, I approached Pat with the idea of doing a show of her work I was steered instead in the direction of Milton’s last works which the School was incredibly privileged to present (the guest curator was Mor Pipman) but it was a source of regret not to have shown Pat’s figure drawings, along with Milton’s, which had been my original preference.  The artists went back to drawing from the figure late in pioneering careers as abstract painters, with startling results.

I was able, however, to express my feelings for Passlof’s mature abstract paintings in a catalog essay for the Elizabeth Harris Gallery in 2005.  My concluding paragraphs are offered here by way of tribute:

However much her gestures and textures are emotionally articulate, and her surfaces are rich and resonant, Passlof is not an expressionist in the traditional sense of emoting through paint, of the brush being some kind of a geyser to her soul. Patterning, in particular, militates against any kind of self-satisfied ejaculatory mark.  And yet, equally, she is no slave of systems: grids, patterns, and repetitions have nothing to do with the formalist’s color field or the minimalist addiction to the serial.  Her painting is an assured, fluent balance of gesture and composition.

The grid has the effect of decelerating gesture, passifying it through deliberation, context, ordering.  It also, of course, slows down the way we absorb these images, although ironically, in the very act of doing so, it forces us to savor interconnection and wholeness—that’s to say, has us take in the image as a unity

The great formal achievement of these lush, resonant paintings is that they set up a rapprochment between expressivity and decoration without allowing one to compromise the other.  Gesture is a conduit for energy, and keeps the surfaces lively, while pattern aligns emotion to a spiritually enlarging conception of form.

Passlof died after a lengthy battle with cancer, in her 83rd year. Her funeral service will be held at the Boe Fook Funeral Home on Canal Street (entrance 5 Ludlow Street) on Friday, November 18 at 10 AM.

And her exhibition at Elizabeth Harris Gallery opens Saturday, November 19, 3-6 pm at 529 West 20th Street, and continues through December 23.


Pat Passlof in her studio on Manhattan's Lower East Side. (c) Alice Sebrell

(c) Alice Sebrell. Click to enlarge

  • Sheilah Rechtschaffer

    I’m reading DeKooning biography and again and again the memories of Pat
    and her remarkable paintings jump into my mind. A pioneer and inspiration.

  • Brenda Goodman

    pat lived a couple blocks from us when we were living on the bowery. we would see he often doing her tai chi in the mornings and around the neighborhood. it was always good seeing her out and about. i received the invitation for her show yesterday and saw david’s tribute today. i am very saddened. pat was a good-hearted, generous soul and a terrific painter.

  • Jimmy Wright

    Pat Passlof and Milton Resnick were my neighbors when I lived at 119 Bowery in the mid-70’s. In the early 80’s (after I had moved to Freeman Alley) Pat attended all our neighborhood association meetings when residents were fighting the terrible decline of Roosevelt Park and the neighborhood. Sorry I never took her up on the invitations to join her for morning Tai Chi in Roosevelt Park.

  • Elisabeth Condon

    In the 1990s I once spoke with Pat on the phone, when she began to reminisce. Gruffly, she stated painters in her day didn’t need cd players, heat, or even hot water to paint. Curiosity (could I, two generations behind, paint in silence every day, or go without heat longer than a few hours in winter?) vied with admiration for her grit, reflected in the unrelenting surfaces and patterns of her paintings.

  • Paul Behnke

    There’s a good chapter of Pat’s memories in the Resnick book Out of the Picture…

  • Elaine Smollin

    Pat was a painter to ardently admire- for all of us younger painters who came of age, who are much indebted to her passion and brillance- we will miss you, Pat. Recently, she described her involvement with her Centaur paintings to me as “figures of myth with no narrative”!
    Thank you, Pat, for your lovely, pointed humor and dazzling gifts.

  • rosalyn drexler

    Dearest artist and friend…Farewell

  • David Brody

    It was my incredible luck to have Pat as my teacher in 7th grade and beyond. Talk about influence. The drawings of skulls, guillotines, the sort of things I had been impressing my friends with, she dismissed forever on the first day of art class with one seen-it-all sigh.

    One time, in frustration, or defiance, I grabbed three or four brushes with different colors of oil paint and started smearing them around. “Now you’re painting,” she said. She let me cut my classes and paint all day.

    In my 20s I lived on Staten Island and would hang out with her when she taught her classes there. By then I was a confirmed abstract painter, and I lapped up those New York School and Black Mountain stories, straight from the horse’s mouth. I heard about all the other students leaving de Kooning’s class. I argued with her about Ouspensky. She told me Monet was better than Cezanne. About now, 25 years later, I am finally ready for her next lesson.

  • Margaret Randall

    Yes, dearest artist and friend! Pat was an important part of my life. I am so grateful we got to share a quiet breakfast when I was in the city earlier this year. True to her indomitable style, she never mentioned the cancer. More recently, in NYC again, my visit happened to coincide with the opening of Milton’s work at Chaim & Reid. I waited for Pat to arrive, left her a note when I had to leave for another engagement. And that was it, until the telephone call last week telling me she is gone. Many memories of our lives in the late fifties in NYC floating back to the surface. A great woman has left us, but she left us a lot.

  • Rachel Youens

    I began to know Pat around 1999, after she had telephoned me in response to a short essay I wrote on her current exhibit. She was stern, kind and funny. She understood how to bind people together within a milieu; sharing her legacy, embodied in her anecdotes, her aesthetics and her convictions, with us. The effect of talking to Pat always strengthened my spine and my spirit.

  • Ula Einstein

    I did not know much about Pat at all…just so moved reading your expressions, David C. and all the comments. stirs the soul. and always a great reminder of this huge web of life and influence we are all part of…

  • geoffrey dorfman

    As I said from the rostrum at her funeral, Pat was a marvelous writer, a natural; she ushered her gifts towards painting, which is where her heart truly lay, but she probably could have excelled in anything she set her precise mind to. Here’s her description of the gorge above her property in the Catskills: (a little taste:)

    Absurd as sunsets and autumn foliage, Bear Cliff has been attempted by nearly everyone who wielded a brush in the ‘tradition’; all with an inexplicable urge to people its stark heights with gamboling children and ladies with parasols. Does this impulse reflect upon the abstraction question? In fact, the precipitous tilts and chasms of this masonry beach at the brink do not tolerate careless moves: many have fallen. The same cataclysm that fractured the columns of the mountain to its roots hurled boulders about its crest. They remain in a blast of silence, poised in freeze-frame positions; white silhouettes against the basin of Shawangunk valley, where distant reflections on steel, glass, water, glint and twinkle like real stars in an upside-down heaven. It is still more difficult to believe that, today, sun pours through cloud-sieve in palpable rays, vertical pillars holding up grand old dome — vast and empty at the moment. A small, silent plane unexpectedly flexes its six-foot wingspan; the red head of a turkey vulture catches the light. We are looking down at hawks, squinting into haze and steady wind which erodes sun-bleached quartz conglomerate and stunts pitch pines. The warm updraft at the edge brushes our cheeks.
    — Pat Passlof, New Observations #34, Copyright 1985. ISSN #0737-5387

    Published by New Observations Ltd., 144 Greene St. NY, NY, 10012
    Guest Editor: Shoshona Kalisch
    Publisher: Lucio Pozzi

  • Leon Hollins III

    It’s always sad to lose jewels such as Ms. Passlof.

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