Shirley Jaffe. Form as Experiment
Born in New Jersey in 1923 as Shirley Sternstein, in 1949, the artist, now Mrs Jaffe, moved to Paris. Following her short marriage to the journalist Irving Jaffe, the painter decided to remain in France. Having soon established herself in the city, she held regular contact with the American “art expats” Norman Bluhm, Sam Francis, and Joan Mitchell, who all relocated to Paris. Her work dating from this period may be attributed to Abstract Expressionism, a form that sought to draw exclusively from its own resources and which consisted primarily of wildly applied fields of colour and gestures. Although, for the art market at the time, this amounted to a success formula Jaffe nevertheless decided to strike out in a different direction.
A Ford Foundation scholarship facilitated her relocation to West Berlin for a year in 1963. Life in the then divided city—a divided world—together with the death of John F. Kennedy in the same year and various other new influences, such as the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, brought a shift in her stylistic direction. She drew inspiration, from the European abstraction of Wassily Kandinsky and of Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Over the course of her stay in Berlin, her colour fields acquired more monochromatic and geometric forms; like Lego pieces or brightly coloured paper snippets, they dance here and there, fluttering through the abstract-expressive passages of her canvases.