By ELIZABETH SOBIESKI, September 2019
It’s just a half hour north by train from New York’s Grand Central Station to Jill Krutick’s studio, a spacious and tranquil light-filled world chockablock with color, color that tantalizes a viewer from all directions, color extruding from a myriad of arresting canvases. There is also something in shades of grey, large and looming, lumbering about the space. Krutick’s affable sheepdog, Rocket, serves as a sort of studio assistant, well not exactly, but he’s joyful company, and he somehow manages to not be bathed in oil and acrylic and to never damage those lyrical and luminous paintings coming from his master’s talented hand and eye and heart.
Jill Krutick is an abstract expressionist painter. Full of enthusiasm, she immediately shows me four canvases she is creating for her upcoming show at the Yellowstone Art Museum. They are vibrant and multi-hued and while the shapes are not confined to anything that dwells in the water, they are her new Trout series. She has depicted the essence of four types of fish: their iridescence, their scales, their power, their spirit. Here are paintings of a rainbow trout, a cutthroat trout, a brook trout and a brown trout. As they are abstract, only an experienced fisherman or fishmonger might realize what they are. One painting, that of the rainbow trout, could even pass for a fanciful watermelon. But that is no negation. Did I happen to mention that they are all breathtakingly beautiful?
A creamy-skinned, dimpled redhead, Krutick laughs readily. She shows me mock-ups for the Yellowstone show, as well as the actual canvases. Over the years, she has envisioned seven series that she continuously returns to; some are abstract landscapes, some are called Swirls, and others, square shapes within the bounds of the canvas, are referenced as Ice Cubes. Some are deeply textured through the incorporation of molding paste. One large textured work, The Way We Were, may soon be housed in the offices of a major media company on Times Square. Many paintings have captured what Krutick has experienced during her family’s usually ecologically-oriented travels, paintings that indirectly address the vanishing Great Barrier Reef, the splendid purity of Antarctica, and the wildlife of the Galapagos. Children’s books that she once read to Zoe and Wylie, now 23 and 20, have served as another inspiration. Chicka Chicka reminds her of a favorite: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Another is The Rainbow Fish, her painting named for the charming children’s book from Swiss author Marcus Pfister. She indicates a painting called Phoenix that inspired the title of her YAM show, Metamorphosis. The artist says, “Sometimes you start out with one idea and it becomes something completely different. With an abstract landscape, I know the general elements but sometimes it turns into a different painting, a mystery.”
Jill Krutick’s visits to Montana have encouraged her to capture the color and energy of that spectacular state, its mountains and skies and wildlife. She holds up two Montana sapphires, small stones in blue and orange tones, colors that are being incorporated into her palate. These colors will soon appear in a new painting, part of her Ice Cube series. The glorious and subtle black and white meditative work, Valley of the Stars, also seems to be a tribute to Montana, as are most definitely the intriguing and deep Montana Rivers and the golden and purple and green and lush Montana Hills 1 and 2. And isn’t that pink and purple painting I observe on a studio wall near her computer reminiscent of the colors of bitterroot?
Krutick is a born and raised New Yorker, and while I have experienced her work at New York and Florida galleries and in the rarified National Arts Club, I wondered if there is a link between New York art and the glorious state of Montana, or at least the Yellowstone Art Museum. And there is and Jill Krutick fits right into the New York/Montana connection. A couple, George and Elinor Poindexter, and their family, serious collectors as well as dealers of abstract expressionist and New York School art (there is much overlap) from the mid twentieth century, gifted much of their collection, nearly 400 individual pieces, to the YAM, thus making Billings a western repository for eastern art. (As well as a major repository for regional art.) Excellent works on canvas and paper by such stellar east coast artists as Jack Tworkov, Nell Blaine, Robert DeNiro Sr, and Teiji Takai are now part of the Yellowstone’s extensive Poindexter Collection.
And that New York art connection with Montana has grown even stronger during the last decade or so. In 2008, 2,500 post-60’s artworks from the legendary Manhattan-based collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, were donated to fifty institutions in each of the fifty states. In Montana, the Yellowstone Art Museum was selected as the recipient of the fifty pieces from the Vogels, inclusive of numerous abstract works.
Jill Krutick only became a full-time painter in 2011, and her progress has been spectacular. She’s a most unusual artist in that she is equally left and right brained. An artistic child, she painted and was a serious student of piano. When she considered becoming a professional pianist, she decided that it was too solitary an undertaking. And she looked upon her visual pursuits as a private passion; she always painted but didn’t display. She says, “I was extremely driven as a child to be independent.” She also loved numbers and was interested in business and graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics. Her bifurcated brain, though, initially led her to the business end of the music industry, prior to success after success on Wall Street. She remembers, “I needed a very stimulating environment. I spent 17 years there.”
Entertainment and leisure businesses became her professional forte. She helped take various leisure companies public, such as Vail Resorts and GameStop. And she was named Fortune Magazine’s #1 entertainment analyst in 2001 and Institutional Investor ranked her for multiple years in both the entertainment and leisure industries, leisure including cruise companies and toy companies. She remembers, “You had to understand the nuances of all these different companies, of which there were many.”
This was both a very amusing area of business, and a very demanding one, but all the while, Jill Krutick kept painting, taking courses at New York’s famed Art Students League. Dimples lighting up her face, she laughs, saying, “Something was bursting to get out.” She adds, “The art became sort of a recovery place because Wall Street was an insanely intense environment. When I started painting at night, it became a release.”
She moved to a position at Warner Music, a position that eventually offered more free time to spend with her attorney husband, Robert Berg, and their children. And her art. She says, “The job became more manageable. It was at that point a corporate job rather than Wall Street. Painting became a place to disappear. I think that’s why I have always painted with such beautiful colors. I just want to be in that happy place. That was my therapy and it grew into something obviously much more significant. I knew I had all of that bursting inside of me and I knew I saw the world through a creative eye, that I was attracted to different colors, shapes and images.”
And her painting became freer and freer. “I won’t paint in a style where it is confining, where it is constricting. It’s all very instinctive with natural movements.”
But she didn’t think art would become a new career, not until someone at a company called Partners International saw her work and asked if she could hang some pieces in their offices. Soon, various executives were purchasing Jill Krutick’s paintings right off the office walls. She says, “That is when I got the bug to maybe pursue this full time.”
Since 2011, Krutick has had about a dozen solo shows and participated in twice as many group shows. Her work is in the permanent collection of The Coral Springs Museum in Florida, which held a major solo exhibition of her paintings earlier this year. And her art is now on display internationally; several of her paintings were shown in Mallorca (Majorca), Spain, at the Museu de Porreres over the summer.
I have been following her unique career for a few years. I was first entranced by her paintings when I saw them at Manolis Projects in Miami, which is an enormous studio/gallery run by another talented abstract painter and former banker, J. Steven Manolis. I later met Jill and experienced a striking group show at the Georges Berges Gallery in New York’s SoHo, The Feminine Sublime, an exhibit that featured several contemporary women abstract painters. One of Krutick’s pieces was the one most apparent to passersby, the gallery’s catnip, the one closest to the storefront window. I asked how she was chosen for that show and she said the esteemed art critic Donald Kuspit, who was curating the show, had contacted her by email. She was very pleased to be part of this group of emerging female abstract artists. She says, “It is wonderful to see a shift and the opportunity to showcase work with fellow artists, other people from the community.”
There is a renaissance, a revived appreciation for abstract painting now. For a number of years, top tier museums and blue chip galleries have been flooded with installations, conceptual art and photography, painting being relegated to an also ran. But despite rumors to the contrary, and its displacement at a number of MFA programs, painting has never been dead and has instead reemerged triumphant. The 2019 Whitney Biennial abounded with paintings. The latest Armory Show and the Art Dealers Association of America fairs, as well as Art Basel and the Frieze Art Fairs in both Los Angeles and New York, featuring only the most esteemed international contemporary galleries, showed far more paintings than anything else. (Sculpture and ceramics are also more apparent than they have been in some years.) I noticed that Sarah Sze, the United States representative at the 2013 Venice Biennale and a MacArthur Fellow, celebrated for her installations and sculptures, is suddenly making and exhibiting abstract paintings. And the legendary figurative painter and portraitist, the nonagenarian Alex Katz, is showing new work that appears completely abstract, without a single canine or human, not even his familiar red-lipsticked and brunette-haired wife Ada.
Jill Krutick’s abstract expressionist artwork couldn’t be more current.
Along with jazz, abstract expressionism is considered a uniquely American-invented art form. Starting in the 1940s, this new and seemingly free-style and radical art movement grew more and more influential and New York became, and still is, the center of the art world. Such artists as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were legendary during their lifetimes. And new generations of artists continued to transform abstraction.
Today, the mid-century abstract expressionist women artists, who historically were relegated to second place behind their feisty hard-drinking male counterparts, are finally receiving well-earned appreciation. The prices for works by Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning are soaring; they are no longer considered just the wives of Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. The Denver Art Museum mounted a spectacular showing which I saw when it traveled to the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2017, featuring some of the more recognizable women like Krasner, de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, but also masterworks by lesser known but equally thrilling twentieth century abstract expressionist female artists including Judith Godwin, Perle Fine, Jay DeFeo and Grace Hartigan.
Before visiting Jill Krutick’s studio, I jotted down which artists I considered her painterly forebears. In my notes I had written, “Monet, Willem de Kooning, Richter, and Rothko”. I asked her to name her favorite artists and she listed the very same ones, with the additions of Van Gogh and Chagall. I showed her my notes and she seemed surprised. But while her painterly ancestry may be apparent, her paintings are stylistically unique to her.
Jill Krutick employs some time-honored techniques and materials, like brushes and palate knives, but takes advantage of such means of applying paint as squeegees, turkey basters, and various sized beaters.
She admits that some of her work comes readily, whereas other pieces are a struggle, taking months or even years to paint before she feels they are fully evolved, ready to emerge from the studio. She states that, “Many paintings are paintings over paintings over paintings.” She points to one luminescent piece called Stairway to Heaven, which she had originally started years ago and only recently completed to her satisfaction. She adds, “Some are easy and some are pain and torture.” But the torture and pain are not apparent to a beholder, only the incandescent beauty.
Looking around the sunny studio at her canvases, Jill Krutick says, “Everything gets named after the painting is done, as to what it means to me. Like the Phoenix was a very autobiographical painting that showed me going through the gauntlet and rising from the ashes of Wall Street to the world of art. It became the right name for that painting. Each painting to me always tells a story and that’s when I know a painting is complete, when I actually have crystallized whatever I am trying to accomplish.” She firmly believes, “It is the thing you have to get through to arrive at the freedom.” WM