Goodbye Shirley Jaffe - The Painter of Flat Abstractions
Sep 30, 2016
The abstract art community lost a lovely and inventive painter this week. Shirley Jaffe was born in New Jersey and studied art in New York, at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. She passed away in Paris last Thursday, 29 September, three days before her 93rd birthday. Jaffe is known for her unique style of large, colorful, flat, hard edge abstract paintings. She exhibited in solo and group exhibitions all over the world and her work is included in the permanent collections of many museums.
A Life in Paris
In 1949, Jaffe was living in Washington D.C. when her husband was discharged from the military. He was offered free college tuition as part of the G.I. Bill and decided to use it to study at the Sorbonne. So he and Shirley moved to Paris, and stayed. Shirley became absorbed in the French art scene, attending gallery exhibitions and meeting artists wherever she could. Moved by the energy and emotion of the time she developed a style in line with what the abstract expressionists were doing, painting colorful, gestural, painterly, emotional canvases.
Shirley Jaffe - Sailing, 1985, oil on canvas
Gradually she came to feel that her style was no longer suitable for what she was trying to express. While searching for a new direction she became inspired by the work of Matisse, especially his abstract cutouts. Building from the flatness and hard edges of Matisse, Jaffe added her unique color palette and a language of quasi-geometric, quasi-organic forms. Over the decades that evolution resulted in a highly individual, sumptuous aesthetic that is both idiosyncratic and familiar.
Shirley Jaffe - The Black Line, 1974, oil on canvas
Abandoning the dominant trends of her time was no concern for Jaffe, who already felt a little like an outsider as an American living in Paris. She noted that trends come and go, and that fame is fleeting. She believed that it was far more important for her to discover her individuality, to push her style forward into the future and to stay fresh. That freshness is evident in every phase of her oeuvre, lending her paintings the quality of being simultaneously timeless and contemporary.
Shirley Jaffe - Ibadon Falls, 1959, oil on canvas
In a 2004 interview for BOMB Magazine, talking about the evolution of how she had come to approach her abstract compositions, Jaffe said: “I am interested in non-centrality, coexistence, constant invention-making movements that are not repetitious but function together as a whole. There is always an element of non-belonging that holds everything together in tension. I don’t want a lyrical beauty. One could say I want to capture an unborn reality.”
Shirley Jaffe - The Gray Phantom, 2009, oil on canvas
Goodbye, Shirley Jaffe. We are grateful for everything you captured, and for your sincerity, your passion and your beautiful work. You will be missed.
Featured image: Shirley Jaffe - The First Diagonal, 1973, oil on canvas
By Phillip Barcio