Myron Stout was a modest, almost ascetic man, who hung out with the Ab-Exers in New York and Provincetown while remaining true to his pared-down esthetic of simple organic forms brought as close as possible to perfection. Like Arp and Brancusi in sculpture, Stout, with his small (some less than 2 inches square) yet powerful black-and-white pencil drawings of enigmatic symbol-like shapes--a closed horseshoe was one of his favorites--understood the satisfaction to be derived from refining abstract form to the utmost. Stout was known to work on drawings on and off for years, his exacting standards resulting in a relatively limited output. One gets the feeling he stopped working on a piece only because he'd taken it as far as he could go, not because he ever considered it "finished." There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that tells of the then 74-year-old Stout sneaking into the Whitney Museum with a pencil and making subtle changes to the drawings in his 1980 retrospective.
Sketchier and a little more off-the-cuff (as much as Stout was ever off-the-cuff), the studies for drawings that made up this exhibition give insight into Stout's painstaking technique. Not quite the little jewels his "finished" drawings are, they may be of interest only to devout Stoutophiles--but then we are many, finding charm in the erasures and overdrawing that marked his process.
It appears that Stout worked from the edges of his paper inward, and in his drawings there is only figure and ground--no shading, no illusion, just a shape, the color defined by the white of the paper, and delineated by the rich graphite surrounding it. His work was frequently included in exhibitions with the word "geometric" in the title, yet, except for his strong sense of balance, there's nothing strictly mathematical about it. He never used a ruler or a template, and the pleasure Of his work is in the minuscule irregularities that lend warmth to his images. While Stout eschewed the splashy gestures of expressionism, there is a deep, almost lyrical sensuality not only in his shapes, but in the sumptuous metallic texture of the graphite. Although we know his drawings are the result of intense long-term concentration, they do not look labored; instead, like all good art, they seem effortless, as if they sprang into the world on their own, as natural as an egg.
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