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Raymond Spillenger: A Painter’s Afterlife

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Charles McGrath profiles the late New York School painter Raymond Spillenger.

McGrath writes that "Spillenger, who died in November at the age of 89, was among the very last of the first- and second-generation Abstract Expressionists. There can’t be many others remaining, and few more obscure than Mr. Spillenger, who left scant traces… When Mr. Spillenger’s two sons, Paul and Clyde, started cleaning out his apartment a few months ago, they found the remnants of a career even they hadn’t fully comprehended: hundreds of paintings and drawings stacked against the wall or stuffed under the bed, works that probably no one except their father had ever looked at. By most standards, including his own, Mr. Spillenger was a failure, and yet his failure is just as revealing as success, a lesson in the elusiveness of art world fame… There were the paintings from the ‘50s and ‘60s, in what now seems a familiar Abstract Expressionist mode (riffs on de Kooning, really); there are later works, some of them much larger, often in a thick, muddy palette that is now flaking off the canvas, as if in exhaustion; and there are those final drawings, done when Mr. Spillenger no longer had anything to prove and suggesting something like recovered joy, physical pleasure in the act of looking and painting."

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