Monthly Archives: May 2015

Excellent reviews for Walter Quirt | Revolutions Unseen in the Daily

Hosted by Frederick Holmes and Company: Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, “Revolutions Unseen” is an exhibition of Walter Quirt’s art that spans from 1939 to 1964. The evolution of his pieces through these years leaves the viewer with no question why Quirt is considered one of America’s most seminal modernist painters.

Quirt’s pieces guide the viewer through nearly 30 years of his artistic evolution, which began with surrealist paintings focused on color to elicit emotion in the viewer. As his work progressed, he focused more on texture and the pieces leaning more heavily on large gestural strokes. But throughout his entire artistic career, Quirt put meaning behind every piece, no matter the form it took.

Visitors walk into the gallery and are immediately entranced by vibrant colors and intricate linework. When examined further, icons in the images meant to evoke emotion reveal themselves to have religious connotations, despite Quirt having been an atheist. Quirt’s intentions are obvious, attempting to get an emotional response from the viewer through these designs.

One such painting, titled “The Damned,” depicts seven people within the colorful design, each one representative of one of the seven deadly sins.

In this gallery, viewers go through the evolution from radical social surrealist art to larger gestural paintings focused on emotion. It is rare to see such a large exhibition of intact work on display.

To the casual observer, the artwork looks like a child’s coloring book where, instead of filling the sections in with a realistic color, the most expressive and brightest hues available were chosen. Visitors feel like they have walked into candy land as their eyes are immediately filled with all the colors of the rainbow.

As the viewer walks through the first level of the gallery, their gaze is caught by beautiful sweeps of color, accented with black to reveal figures, yet connecting them into the backdrop cohesively as if in a Gotye music video. Next are colorful paintings with random shapes, lines, and angles, like a puzzle forced together to create a completely new image that does not match the box.

Ascend up the stairs to the upper balcony and you progress through Quirt’s life. Just at the top of the stairs, his art is already evolving. The images become less bright, letting the texture of the piece and the overlapping of the brushstrokes take main stage instead of the color of his earlier works.

In this gallery, there are three horses, titled “Horse,” “Creation Horse,” and “Untitled Horse II.” They span from 1959 to 1961, and in that short time, the evolution of Quirt’s work is clear.

Quirt’s work was a protest in a world surrounded by the chaos of World War II. But rather than compromise his style for success, he stayed an underrated artist until now.

“Quirt did not change who he was to satiate the art world,” said Travis Wilson, curator of the exhibition.

In his time, Quirt experienced firsthand that to be an artist of principle, the price was obscurity. Quirt accepted this fate fully and willingly. Indeed, this is depicted in much of his work.“People may not relate to the style or media used,” Wilson said, “but they will connect with the substance behind the art, the idea to defend the art you are making.”This exhibition is free for all to see. The exhibit will remain open through May 31.The verdict: Don’t let this exhibit go ‘unseen.’

Seattle Times Review of Walter Quirt | Revolutions Unseen

By Nancy Worssam


‘Walter Quirt: Revolutions Unseen’

Through May 31, Frederick Holmes and Company, 309 Occidental Ave S, Seattle (206-682-0166 or

Special to The Seattle Times

If you’ve never heard of Walter Quirt, you are not alone. Yet he is a monumental modernist American painter, viewed as revolutionary at his peak and admired by the likes of fellow artists Romare Bearden and Stuart Davis, whose laudatory letters are included in this exhibition.

But because Quirt refused to compromise his leftist views, the federal government viewed him as a possibly dangerous malcontent. He continued to paint, but he paid dearly for his political stance.

Today his work is in the collections of such institutions as the museums of modern art in New York and San Francisco, the Smithsonian, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Seattle’s own University of Washington Henry Art Gallery, yet Quirt’s name is still not well known. The current exhibition at the Frederick Holmes Gallery, created in collaboration with Wilson Art Service, is a chance to appreciate his enormous talent.

The Michigan-born Quirt (1902-1968) began his painting career in the 1930s as a Social Realist railing against the inequities of capitalism, the outrageous treatment of black Americans and the suffering brought on by the Depression. He viewed his art as a propaganda weapon. Injustice haunted him. He was compelled to fight it.

By the late 1930s, his work underwent a monumental change probably precipitated by his withdrawal from the Communist Party and experience with Freudian analysis. He was still interested in issues of human justice but now he wanted to set free the subconscious, to find the universal symbols through which he could express his beliefs and incorporate them within his work. Thus began his Abstract Surrealist period.

Around 1941, the grand dame of contemporary painting, Peggy Guggenheim, came to his studio to offer him a one-man exhibition — if he’d paint what she deemed important. His response: “I didn’t ask for a solo show, and I didn’t invite you to my studio.” Here was a painter unwilling to sell his soul, even for enormous potential reward.

A number of the paintings in the Holmes exhibit exemplify his Abstract Surrealist period. In the 1942 work “Nature’s Children,” the canvas is broken into small bits of vibrant color, some representing geometric forms; others depicting faces, hands; sinuous curves. It’s a riot of color that takes reality and twists and distorts it.

So, too, does the 1943 painting “The Crucified.” Again his canvas is filled with color and meaningful icons and designs. Within that heterogeneous mass, the viewer can distinguish the cross and the crucified Christ as well as the mourners, but it’s the color and the swirling mass of bits and pieces that first capture attention.

Natures' Children 1942 Oil on Canvas 40 x 48 inches
Natures’ Children 1942 Oil on Canvas 40 x 48 inches

Totally different are Quirt’s three abstract oil paintings of horses from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Gone are the surrealist elements. Here, the masterful use of line and color is commanding.

His career was constantly evolving, and this evolution is wonderfully captured in this exhibition showing work from the 1930s to the mid-’60s. Quirt was an artist breaking new ground with art designed to serve society. As he said, “The great artist is the one who faithfully follows his impulses, who vigorously and courageously peels off layer after layer of restrictions, prohibitions, and inhibitions. This takes courage, for it automatically means suffering.”