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