Vivian Springford ( 1914 - 2003)


Vivian Springford
American, b. 1914

Vivian Springford, an artist best known for her “Black Paintings” of the 1950s-early 60s, and later, her vivid stained color field paintings, is having a second coming. The reclusive painter began as a portraitist before being sucked into the orbit of the New York School. She later became close friends and studio-mates with the Asian artist Walasse Ting, while helping him to translate his poetry. Through Ting, Springford met, and became close friends with such artists as Pierre Alechinsky, Sam Francis, and Karel Appel. The confluence of these various inspirations is apparent in her work. Ting introduced her to Asian art and philosophy, which had an enormous influence on Springford, as evident in the delicate, calligraphic feel in her scribblings. These early “black paintings” are filled with movement and expressiveness, but also seem referential. They seem to not only relate to personal, immediate experience, but also to allude to age-old symbols and philosophies.

Springford’s stain paintings are expansive, and often seem to blossom out from one central point on the canvas, radiating into translucence. They’re scale is ambiguous--they feel both cosmic and microscopic at the same time. The varying densities of color make them feel as if they are pushing outward and evolving even as you stand in front of them. Springford’s layers and structures, be they celestial or cellular, are light and ethereal but are also grounded in the physical patterns of the universe or the human body. There is a quiet dynamism in Springford’s work that is undeniable, and an impressive use of color that manages to create depth without weight.

Springford was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended the Spence School in New York City. Her artistic education came predominantly from the Art Students League. The infamous art critic Harold Rosenberg helped Springford get her first show in 1960 at the Great Jones Gallery in New York.

After the 1960s, Springford became quite private with her work, and only participated in a few group exhibitions, despite her prior success. Later in her life, she suffered from macular degeneration, which left her legally blind by the mid 1980s. Living in a small New York midtown hotel, she was rediscovered when a social worker introduced her body of work to a New York art gallery owner, who began exhibiting her paintings in 1998.

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