Aline Porter and Eliot Porter
September 9th - October 28th, 2017
The history of art, music and literature is filled with passionate love affairs between creative spirits. In understanding relationships for artistic couples, hints may be found in their work. Such is the premise behind this exhibit of Aline and Eliot Porter’s work, both artists in their own right while also influencing and supporting each other’s work. This exhibition honors the artistic visions of Aline and Eliot Porter, partners in life and art.
Aline Kilham was born in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1909. She came from an artistic family: her mother a painter, her father an architect. In 1928 she received a scholarship to study painting in Paris with André Lhote at his Acadamié were she stayed for two years. Her brother, Peter Kilham, an artist and inventor, introduced her to Eliot Porter while Eliot was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They married in 1936 and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1938 at the advice of her brother Peter who had recommended Santa Fe because of its artistic community and traditions. The Porters returned east during the war years, and then in 1946 moved permanently to Tesuque, New Mexico.
In 1979 Aline was given a one-person show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. Betty Parsons wrote, “These flowers, so radiant with the passion of the spirit rise from the canvas like the secrets of Eros.”
During her lifetime, along with her paintings, Aline was recognized for her exquisitely constructed boxes. Her box compositions contained very personal objects and found “treasures” from both the Porter’s summer home at Great Spruce Head Island, Maine, and their home in New Mexico.
In 1998 the Munson Gallery in Santa Fe hosted a benefit exhibition of Aline Porter’s paintings for the Museum of New Mexico Foundation to establish a fund for the purchase of art by women.
In the exhibition catalogue, Robert Ewing, former director of the Fine Arts Museum, Santa Fe, wrote the following,
“The paintings of Aline Porter are as fresh and appealing as a carefully arranged bouquet from her Tesuque garden. She was surrounded in life by artists ranging from her husband, Eliot Porter, the extraordinary photographer, and his brother Fairfield, to her great friend, Georgia O’Keeffe. Porter could have borrowed O’Keeffe’s life dictum, “Take a space and fill it in a beautiful way,” to characterize her paintings, her meticulously constructed box assemblages, her doll houses, and indeed her home hidden away on a verdant lane in Tesuque. That home was as carefully composed as one of her lyrical paintings, with such visual surprises as the floor of one small room painted shocking pink.
Aline Porter’s work was obviously done for her private enjoyment, but she was persuaded to show her paintings and constructions by gallery owners as important as New York’s Betty Parsons who said of her work, “Aline Porter animates a flower with inner light and power. The paintings sing with the bloom of life.” The redoubtable Agnes Martin, who shows us the power of reduction in her famous “stripe” paintings, placed her Aline Porter painting were she could enjoy it everyday, Indeed, Aline Porter’s paintings give us the same pleasure as a vase or a pot of flowers and are always a delight to the eye and a refreshment for the senses.”
Eliot Porter (1901 – 1990)
In December of 1938 Alfred Stieglitz presented an exhibit of Porter’s black & white photographs at An American Place. After the exhibit Stieglitz wrote,
“My dear Eliot Porter: Still I must thank you for having given me the opportunity to live with your spirit in the form of those photographs that for three weeks were on our walls. – And “our” includes yours. – Some of your photographs are the first I have ever seen which made me feel “there is my own spirit” – quite an unbelievable experience for one like myself.”
The exhibit was a turning point in Porter’s life. He left a profession in scientific research at Harvard, relocated to Santa Fe, and devoted the rest of his life to photography. The importance of Eliot and Aline’s relationship in life and art can be read in this reflection from Eliot,
In retrospect, from my experience it appears highly desirable to order one’s life in accord with inner yearnings no matter how impractical they may seem and not to be bound to an unfitting vocation by practical considerations. Nevertheless I would not have been able to make the change, regardless of how urgent the need, had I not had the support of a sympathetic wife, who, being an artist herself, understood my concerns.
We can look at Eliot Porter’s work and life and realize that Porter, with quiet determination, and sometimes being the lone voice, represents the long struggle for color photography to be recognized and accepted as an art form. While he produced full bodies of work in both black and white and color until the late 1950s, he began to see the world more in color than in black and white. His commitment to color was furthered by his relationship with his brother, the painter and art critic, Fairfield Porter and his wife, Aline. She suggested to him that his photographs of the natural world made her think of Thoreau’s writings. Eliot began an in depth project putting his images together with Thoreau’s words. In 1962 the Sierra Club published In Wildness is the Preservation of the World, their first book of color photography. The book and Porter’s vision changed our way of seeing the world forever. It also was a shocking revelation for the photography world – it was an art book of color photography.
Creativity in couples is not always easy, as many women artists experience, often taking a backseat to their husbands place in the art world. Traditionally it was the raising of children and other family responsibilities that had fallen on women. However, in relationships based on mutual respect and understanding, those responsibilities become choices and compromise and sacrifice are made consciously. In the Porter’s case, Aline put her painting aside for many years, returning to her artistic endeavors when their children were grown.
This exhibit is a tribute to Aline Porter, her artistic vision, and the Porter’s relationship. As long time admirers of Aline’s work, we are honored and excited to be sharing these works with our community.