«Cape Cod Museum of Art May 27 - August 27, 2006 WILLIAM H. LITTLEFIELD 1902 - 1969 A RETROSPECTIVE Cape Cod Museum of Art May 27 - August 27, 2006 ...»
Littleﬁeld enrolled in evening classes for the spring term of 1953 at the New School for Social Research in New York. It was there he met artist Vince Grimaldi, who was the only other student in Paul Zucker’s “Style thru the Ages” class. On Thursday evenings Littleﬁeld studied “Woodblocks in Color” with Louis Schanker, one of the Whitney Dissenters and author of Line-Form-Color. Schanker’s inﬂuence is Untitled, March 25, 1953 clearly seen in Littleﬁeld’s untitled color color woodblock print on paper, 13 x 10 Signed lower right and dated lower left print dated 3/23/53 and was probably the Private Collection inspiration for his color forms as seen in the production of numerous mixed media paintings of oil and sand, and the collages created in the 1950’s. Even Littleﬁeld’s class notes for Rudolf Arnheim’s “Psychology of Art” course demonstrate his fascination with color forms, texture, and collage. By the mid-Fifties, Littleﬁeld had reinvented himself as an Abstract Expressionist and showed his recent works at both the Regina and Brodley galleries in 1955. He was also included in the prestigious “New York Painting and Sculpture Fourth Annual”at the Stable Gallery.
Littleﬁeld, who had written and published throughout his lifetime, began submitting a weekly art criticism column, “Art Corner,” for the Falmouth Enterprise in August of 1959. Never one to keep his opinions to himself, Bill garnered many enemies over the years with his poison pen, but his columns were anxiously anticipated by friend and foe alike. Littleﬁeld maintained a constant debate and dialogue concerning his views about Abstract Expressionism and his relationship to The Club. Although most of his writings that took on the views of such critics as Thomas Hess and Harold Rosenberg were rejected, one of Littleﬁeld’s polemics with Hans Hofmann was published in Philip Pavia’s It Is #5 ( Spring 1960 ). In response to Hofmann’s article “Space and Pictorial Life,” Littleﬁeld argues that “ The pattern of reciprocal relations arranged on a ﬂat surface in a certain order called Color Structure is a simultaneous harmony and contrast of polarities or of complementary oppositions of colors, shapes, areas and textures. The colors are harmonized and contrasted in respect to light-dark, hot-cold and non-saturated implications. The shapes and areas are similarly related in respect to small-large in scale, scope and extent, with a similar equipoise in textural handling. For examples, the relation of Light Red...Dark Red: a harmony of red and a contrast of light versus dark” and gives numerous examples culminating with “ the maximum potential is one which also includes large versus small: Rough Neutral Hot light Red... Smooth Saturated Cold Dark Red.” Hofmann’s response dismisses Littleﬁeld’s Color Structure as “ a non-enlightening, sterile method” and “old academy”which sparked a continuing debate living on through Hofmann’s students.
Littleﬁeld devoted much of his remaining time to exhibition hanging, judging, and administration of the Cape Cod Art Association. An exhibition of works on paper experimenting with monotype, ink, and liquitex was held at the Cape Cod Conservatory of Art and Music in the winter of 1969. William Littleﬁeld’s body was discovered on July 5, 1969, in his studio ﬁlled with over 3,000 paintings, collages, watercolors, drawings, and prints. At the time of his death, Littleﬁeld’s work was included in numerous private collections and represented in the Worcester Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the university museums of Harvard, Smith, and Vassar; the Addison Gallery; and the Museum of Modern Art.
Artists speak to us from their unconscious mind.Often times, an artist is communicating from sources that run deep and difﬁcult even for them to access themselves. Some artists are content to let their unconscious speak. Others— and Littleﬁeld may be one of them—look at their own work and seek to know more.
Littleﬁeld and the I Ching, or Book of Changes by Miriam Zolin The I Ching (or Book of Changes) has only recently made its way to the West, but has been a deeply embedded aspect of Chinese culture since long before the time of Confucius.
Use of the I Ching relies on the reader throwing yarrow sticks or coins and considering the way they fall. The patterns created by the falling sticks or coins will then, analysed, translate to a six-line hexagram, whose interpretation can then be read in the Book of Changes. Interpretations combine sometimes cryptic information about possible directions for change, suggested action, a commentary on the state of play and advice about how to achieve a desired outcome. This ancient treatise has been used for centuries and in many cultures as an oracle, and a guidebook for those who seek answers. Jung, who was keenly interested in the unconscious mind, was enthusiastic about the wisdom of the I Ching—to such an extent that he is responsible for arranging the best-known WHERE IDEAS UNLOCK THE FUTURE, February 27, 1956 WHERE IDEAS UNLOCK THE FUTURE mixed media on paper, 5 1/2 x 4 1/4 ( reverse side ) Monogrammed and dated lower left and again on the reverse Private Collection and most-read English translation of the book. Jung’s work with what he called Synchronicity—acausal connectedness— made the I Ching, for him, a book that merited exploration. In his preface to the translation, he makes much of the part chance plays in nature and how Western thought is not open to this in the way that is required for the enlightened seeking of truth. And there is a link here, too.
Synchronicity plays a part in the chance brush strokes, the accidental shapes and the serendipitous connections that are made during the process of creating art.
In A Metaphysical Vein, January 11, 1956 mixed media on panel, 23 x 18 As its name in English suggests, an Signed and dated lower left and again on the reverse Private Collection
important focus of the I Ching is change:
change is a powerful force, takes many forms, and can arrive from a number of different directions. Any artist will tell you that a critical aspect of creating art is knowing when to make changes to a piece and when to refrain from doing so. The Book of Changes is where a seeking artist might turn for some insight into their own work’s directions, and it appears that Littleﬁeld may have done just that.
These I Ching hexagrams are what we see on the reverse of some of Littleﬁeld’s work. On the reverse of WHERE IDEAS UNLOCK THE FUTURE for example, the hexagram 53 Gradual Progress is named. What is In A Metaphysical Vein ( reverse side ) puzzling at ﬁrst is that when we consult the Book of Changes the name shown on the painting does not match the lines of the hexagram.
The hexagram that actually appears on the reverse of the picture is explained in the Wilhelm / Baynes I Ching as 54 The Marrying Maiden, and not 53 Gradual Progress.
After all, these hexagrams were probably not sought, transcribed, or annotated for those of us looking at these pieces today. We come to them out of context and after the painter himself is able to explain them to us. More likely, Littleﬁeld sought the wisdom of the I Ching for himself and perhaps to access some deeper understanding of his work. Various notes from the artist give us clues.
On the back of WHERE IDEAS UNLOCK THE FUTURE’, again, there are a number of hexagrams listed, in addition to the one whose lines have actually been transcribed.
One of the hexagrams named here is 37 Family (The Clan). Yet, see that Littleﬁeld has added his own focus into the name of the hexagram. His note says 37 Family (Clan of Painters). In other places, too, he seems to be seeking wisdom and guidance about his work. On the reverse of another work, Unknown Depths, one of the hexagrams named (but not transcribed) is 22 Grace. Littleﬁeld has added his own comment ‘no changes’. Had he been seeking the wisdom of the I Ching in relation to this work, and thrown coins that produced a hexagram whose interpretation warranted no changes to the work ?
Again, on the piece In a Metaphysical Vein we see clues that Littleﬁeld was thinking about his body of work and the particular painting when he sought the wisdom of the I Ching. The notes on the painting show hexagram 45 Gathering Together, under the title “Present state of work” and then hexagrams 36 Darkening of Light and 33 Retreat under the title ‘This painting’.
Where hexagrams appear on the back of Littleﬁeld’s work, they are dated, probably showing when he sought (and found) the hexagrams he lists alongside the dates.
In each case, the dates on the hexagrams are later than the dates of the paintings, which suggests he came back days, months, or years after completing a painting to revisit it through the I Ching. What we don’t know is whether the I Ching’s hexagrams—and the interpretations that came with them—ever prompted Littleﬁeld to make changes to existing work. Perhaps they did, or perhaps the artist simply used this ancient path into the unconscious mind to freshen his vision and give him a newly focused way to look at his own work.
Dream Of Adonis, March 9, 1930 oil on paper ( mounted on panel ), 23 x 18 signed and dated upper left and signed titled and dated 1933 on the reverse Private Collection A Squash And Two Apples, September 3, 1931 oil on canvas, 9 x 14 Signed and dated upper left and again with title on the reverse Private Collection
James R. Bakker is a private art consultant and independent curator specializing in American paintings and prints. He graduated from Phillips Academy at Andover and attended Harvard University where he developed an interest in the ﬁne arts. Bakker is a trustee and past President of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, President of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum,chair of their Collections Committee and serves on the Town of Provincetown Art Commission.
He has curated numerous exhibitions including Provincetown Portraits– The First Eighty Years,1995; Teachers- Artists with Schools in Provincetown, 1996; Frank Carson– 1881-1968: A Retrospective, 1997; Jewels in the Collection, 1998 and Bernard Simon– 1896-1980: A Retrospective, 2004 at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. He also curated Memories of Provincetown– The Helen and Napi Van Dereck Collection at the CCMA, 2003 and Picturing Provincetown at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, 2004.
Miriam Zolin is an Australian writer who works in both ﬁction and non-ﬁction, with an eclectic range of interests. She graduated from the University of New England (NSW, Australia) in 1987, and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in Applied Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. Zolin has had a novel and a number of short stories published as well as feature articles, CD liner notes and interviews with Australian and US-based jazz musicians.
She is interested in the commonality between the visual arts, writing and music. Her interest in the I-Ching dates back to the 1970’s and relates to this exploration of the creative process and the universal questions that artists of all types ask and attempt to answer. Recently, Zolin has spent considerable time in Provincetown, MA and has become exposed anew to the rich world of the visual artist and the creative process from which it arises.
Photography by James Zimmerman, Michael Giaquinto, and Arthur Hughes