While we’re looking at the Figurative Expressionists in Provincetown there were a few artists whose names weren’t mentioned, although they had significant impact on the cultural scene. Like the aforementioned artists Christopher Lane was unique member of a group of modernist painters who completely altered the idea and process of what a painting becomes. They addressed a painting as an extension of the human condition through an unconscious process that becomes not an ideology but an empirical representation of life itself. The paintings of Lane and his contemporaries, reveal the artist to be a harbinger of spirit and what philosopher Gilles Deleuze defined as transcendental empiricism. The work of these artists was functional and practical, rather than a mere “wall decoration.”
Christopher Lane’s early work can be considered to fit within the zeitgeist of late 1950s and 60s Figurative Expressionism. This is best illustrated in colorful and expressive works like Homage to Antonin Artaud (1964), a surreal fantastical painting that explores subconsciousness and archetypical imagery. Lane was very close friends with many of the artists who are considered the seminal East Coast Figurative Expressionists of the New York and Provincetown school. It is surprising that Lane was never an original member of the Rhino Horn Group.
Lane was born in New York City in 1937. He graduated from the high school of Music and Art in New York and studied painting at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont from 1955 to 1957. After college Lane traveled to the West Coast, where he studied the art of brush calligraphy, and in the same year he traveled to Mexico City to study at the Escuela Esmeralda de Pintura et Sculptura. In the summer of 1958, Lane journeyed to Provincetown, where he met and befriended fellow artists Jay Milder, Bob Thompson, Emilio Cruz, Mimi Gross, Mary Frank, and Irving Marantz.
Lane reflected on the period:
“It was very excting as there were many artists I met there and who became close friends of mine. In particular Bob Thompson and Jay Milder. Ptown was full of artistic energy and artists hung out with each other and looking at each other’s paintings. A lot of socializing. A very creative environment to be in. Artists like Jan Müller were exhibiting their work at the Sun Gallery.”
While he was inspired by the Figurative Expressionists he met, Lane certainly did not care about the work of Warhol and other Pop artists, nor the work of Pollack and de Kooning; he took an interest in some of the Minimal Art that was being done, especially the paintings of Agnes Martin. In the fall of 1958, Lane shared a studio with Jay Milder on Monroe Street on New York’s Lower East Side. He frequently showed at the City Gallery, which Milder and Red Grooms had founded, and was an integral part in the downtown loft scene.
In addition to praise from his contemporaries, Lane was revered by some of the art world’s most influential individuals. He worked in Paris from 1959 to 1962, and met many of the European avant-garde artists there especially Alberto Giacometti who was impressed by Lane’s work during a studio visit. In 1961, Lane traveled from Paris to London, and there he met Helen Lessore, a distinguished art critic and Director of the Beaux Arts Gallery. Lessore offered Lane his first one-man exhibition in 1962 at her gallery in London. Then, in 1964, while living in New York, Lane walked into the office of Frank O’Hara, the Curator of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), with a little red satchel filled with 13 small paintings.
As the story goes: Christopher Lane walked into the MoMA to see renowned curator Dorothy Miller. Instead he was escorted out by security. He then, called the museum from a payphone outside and did not reach Miller, but O’Hara instead. He said to O’Hara, “My name is Christopher Lane I just got back from Paris…I wonder if I could show you 13 paintings.” They were in a red satchel. He went up to see O’Hara, they looked at the paintings and O’hara asked him to leave them with him. Lane went back to Paris and hadn’t heard from O’hara for some time. O’Hara was impressed enough to include Lane’s work in a 1964 group show called “Landscapes by Eight Americans,” which traveled extensively throughout the United States as well as to the Spoleto Festival in Spoleto, Italy.
His career continued to elevate and his work was exhibited in the United States and internationally. He devoted many long hours and years in his studio working on monumental works such as an eighteen-foot triptych (from 1977-79), which earned him a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) in 1982. Prominent collectors purchased Lane’s work and he was making a nice life for himself through his painting. His work was reviewed and discussed by the influential American art historian Peter Selz for the publication Art in America in 1983. He has also been written up in ARTnews, Art Week, The LA Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The London Observer, The London Times, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and Vogue Magazine.
In 2009, after an extended series of unfortunate events and personal illness, Christopher Lane began to work again, creating small drawings on paper that were called “Calligraphicscapes.” These drawings had a topographical quality with subject matter that included cliffs, mountains, oceans, and small worlds. He focused on the meditative and spiritual movements of water in his 2010 “Currents of the World” pen and ink drawings.
Lane expresses that “this work relates to a series of paintings I did from 1974 to 1977 called “Traces” which was also based on water. I was interested in how water in an ocean or lake is visible and then disappears and becomes invisible.”
Christopher Lane currently lives and works in San Francisco.