Summertime in Italy (with Lines)
© Dedalus Foundation/ Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY
Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell fuses exterior observation with interior reflection in his lithograph Summertime in Italy (with Lines), 1966. As a founding member of The New York School, or the Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell was interested in the subconscious associations with abstract shapes, but also in their formal qualities.
In the summer of 1960, Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler, his wife at the time and one of the leading artists working in abstraction in the twentieth century, rented a villa in Alassio, Italy. The warm ochres of the hills, white sand beaches, and rich blues of the sky meeting the water directly inspired the Summertime in Italy series. Triangular forms stabilize a two-dimensional composition, drawing the eye to the center of the picture plane. The addition of twisting lines, in the case of this lithograph, brings to mind a hand-drawn Penrose triangle, an illusionistic trick. It also recalls photographs taken in Italy by Motherwell and Frankenthaler of the pinwheel umbrellas and beach chairs found waterside in Alassio.
The artist spent long hours observing nature, particularly coastal landscapes. Born in the Pacific Northwest, his early landscape studies were influenced by the golden hills of California against the cerulean blue of the Pacific. Later, his chromatic range expanded as he lived and worked in East Hampton, Provincetown, and the coasts of France and Italy. Summertime in Italy (with Lines) marks the start of Motherwell’s mature phase: he explored these forms and colors based on his trip to Italy, simultaneous with his exploration of pendulous black and white forms for the Elegy series for which he is best known.