Spanierman Gallery is pleased to announce that it now represents the estate of Stephen Pace (1918–2010). Through his energetic abstractions combining drawing and staining, Pace was an important contributor to the Abstract Expressionist tradition in the 1950s. He turned in the next decade to an innovative and exuberant figurative approach, in which he derived inspiration from Fauvism, Post-Impressionism, as well as from his knowledge of principles of abstraction. Works from the artist’s second phase are featured in the gallery’s first exhibition of his art, on view from April 19 to May 11, 2011. In these images, Pace embraced his rural roots, drawing either from childhood memories or exploring more current subjects, such as his surroundings on Deer Isle, Maine, where he spent summers. Roberta Smith referenced these works in Pace’s obituary in the New York Times, stating: “the force of these images resides in their deft command of bodies in space balanced by saturated colors painted patchily on bare canvas.”
Stephen Pace was born in Charleston, Missouri, and grew up in Indiana, where his parents ran a grocery store and then a farm. He began drawing as a boy. At seventeen, he initiated formal training, receiving instruction from the W.P.A. painter Robert Lahr. During World War II, Pace served in England and France, where he painted views of combat and local scenery and designed posters for the army. On a visit to Paris, he became a frequent guest in the home of Gertrude Stein. After returning to the United States, Pace studied at the Institute of Fine Art in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, with funding provided by the G.I. Bill. Subsequently he attended New York’s Art Students League (1948–49), training under Cameron Booth and Morris Kantor. Milton Avery, whom Pace had met in Mexico, brought him into contact with Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and other artists working in innovative abstract styles. After a trip to Florence in 1950, and a period of study in Paris in 1951, Stephen Pace resumed his training in New York at Hans Hofmann’s school, which inspired him to develop a direct and vigorous Abstract Expressionist style. During this period, he participated in group shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum and had solo exhibitions at the Artists Gallery, the Poindexter Gallery, and the Howard Wise Gallery in New York and at venues in Provincetown, San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere. In 1961, the critic, Thomas B. Hess, deemed him a “brilliant member of the second generation of New York School painters that burst on the scene, in the early 1950s, fully made, as if from the forehead of the Statue of Liberty.”
In 1960, Pace began spending time at a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, where he and his wife were given a place to stay in exchange for maintaining the grounds. “Going to that place changed my life,” Stephen Pace recalled. Responding to his surroundings (“I want to paint with open lungs,” he said), he brought an abstract sensibility to the sights in nature and the people he observed, reducing forms to their essentials and creating unified arrangements of interlocked masses across the picture plane. His approach is reminiscent of that of his friend Avery as well as of Matisse and Bonnard, while his lithe brushwork evokes Chinese brush painting. (Pace depicted Avery in a number of his works and he, along with Rothko, were the only speakers at Avery’s memorial celebration in 1965.) Among the recurrent subjects in Pace’s art are horses, in which he returned to his boyhood recollections of the horses that were essential to plowing and harvesting on the farm while he was growing up, and the scenery in and near Deer Isle, where the Paces began spending summers in the 1950s and purchased a home in Stonington in 1971. Fishermen’s houses, lobstermen bringing in their catches, trees, and gardens are among the artist’s Maine subjects, while he also painted nudes with Matisse-like contour lines, simplified shapes, and a liberal use of color.
Stephen Pace taught at a number of institutions, including Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; Washington University, St. Louis; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; American University, Washington, D.C.; and University of California, Berkeley. Examples of his work belong to the country’s foremost public and corporate collections, including American University; AT&T; the Bristol-Myers-Squibb Collection; Brown University; the Chrysler Museum of Art; the Columbus Museum of Art; the Curie Institute (Paris); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Academy of Design; Oberlin College Art Museum; the Phillips Collection; the Portland Museum of Art (Maine); the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and Yale University Art Gallery.