Kenyon College

Emma Amour


Jules Olitski

Emma Amour. 1964.
Acrylic on Canvas.
Courtesy of the Gund Art Foundation.


Mesmerized since his youth by the rich chiaroscuro of Rembrandt van Rijn, Jules Olitski emulates the old master’s tonal nuance in Emma Amour. He transitions seamlessly between opulent jewel tones, teasing light and shadow from the canvas’ emerald depths. Adapting Helen Frankenthaler’s stain method, he used large rollers to apply acrylic stain to this unprimed canvas. The composition’s ragged edges stop short of the canvas border, resisting the midcentury taste for hard-edged outlines and surface sheen. Olitski felt that a painting’s structure should be “born of the flow of color feeling,” and attempted to capture color’s natural evolution within a composition. He sought to eliminate calculation and judgment from his artistic process, and even spent six months painting blindfolded in an effort to work more intuitively. Emma Amour, from 1964, anticipates a turning point in Olitski’s career. Within the year, he began misting canvases with a spray gun. The device allowed him to realize his decades-long dream—to “simply spray a color that hangs like a cloud, but does not lose its shape.”

Virginia McBride ‘15