Detail of the painting MDR (2000), alkyd, oil, acrylic on canvas.

Pat Lipsky

B.F.A. '63

Detail of the painting MDR (2000), alkyd, oil, acrylic on canvas.

Nuances of Color

By Grace Sachi Troxell, M.F.A. '21

Growing up in Brooklyn, Pat Lipsky (B.F.A. '63) was introduced to art at an early age. She remembers seeing pictures by Monet and Manet at the Brooklyn Museum as a child and being fascinated both by the differences in their work and the one letter difference in their names. Lipsky encountered the first abstract image that really impressed her at the Museum of Modern Art — Robert Delaunay's Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon, 1913. From this painting, she learned that color could be employed not only in the service of representation but also on its own, expressively. After a summer of painting five days a week in a class taught by Moses Soyer at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, Lipsky wrote on the back of one of her paintings: "The year I decided to become an artist." She was 16.

As an undergraduate at Cornell, Lipsky returned to New York City on the weekends and visited galleries at the recommendation of Professor Alan Solomon, one of her early mentors, who was also a curator at the Jewish Museum. She saw her first Rothko painting during one of these weekend trips, and while taking a comparative literature class in the English department, she was introduced to the work of Proust. Both Rothko and Proust would prove to be enduring influences.

After graduation, Lipsky moved to New York City and began her M.F.A. program at Hunter College. There, she studied with sculptor Tony Smith and stayed for four years, instead of the usual two, in order to fully soak up the environment. She also began painting abstractly during this time. In 1969, within a year of receiving her degree, Lipsky showed her work in a group exhibition organized by Larry Aldrich, called Lyrical Abstraction, which appeared at the Aldrich Museum in Connecticut before it traveled to the Whitney Museum in 1971. She had her first solo exhibition in 1970 at the prestigious André Emmerich Gallery in New York. Lipsky entered the art world at a time when there was deep interest in abstract color-field painting, and she quickly became a prominent figure in that realm. 

photo of a woman leaning over mixing paint

Lipsky mixing paint in a barn/studio in Hoosick Falls, New York, in 1971.

Pat Lipsy in her 1974 loft

Lipsky working in a barn/studio in Hoosick Falls, New York, in 1971.

"I'm a colorist, I would say. My special ability is in color. I have an affinity with color that transcends anything else," Lipsky remarked about the focus of her work. Her series Black Paintings, made between 1990 and 1999, is monumental in scale. At eight feet tall, these diamond-shaped paintings lusciously explore the nuances of color, as different shades of black are placed beside each other in an organic grid configuration.

One of the paintings in the series, In Memoriam C.G., is a tribute to her dear friend and creative influence, Clement Greenberg. Lipsky fondly recalled Greenberg telling her that "people who are interested in color find each other." These two color explorers met when Greenberg came by the Emmerich Gallery in 1970 to see Lipsky's first show while it was being installed. Their friendship took shape in the early '80s, as Greenberg visited Lipsky's studio to see her work, and the pair hosted the lecture and discussion series The Importance of Taste in Art for NYU in 1984. They remained friends until Greenberg's death in 1994.

In collaboration with Lipsky, composer Theodore Wiprud created a percussion work inspired by the Black Paintings series. The collaboration culminated in three performances of the production Dark Love in New York City in February 1999, accompanied by a viewing at The Kitchen of the largest artworks from the Black Paintings series — Dark Love (1993), History (1993–97), and In Memoriam C.G. (1994–99) — which had never before been seen together.  

Wiprud wrote in the program for the performances: "Pat Lipsky's Black Paintings are extraordinary to me because they open themselves to the viewer over time and convey such powerful emotion in purely abstract terms. In both ways they work like music, and from the first time I saw them, I began thinking of how they might sound."

Lipsky's work is in numerous collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Brooklyn Museum; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Walker Art Center; and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell, among others. Her work has been written about in publications such as Art News, Art in America, Arts, the New York Times, and the New Yorker

The Boston Globe reviewed Lipsky's Twenty Years, a retrospective of her painting from the late '90s through 2015 when it was exhibited at ACME Fine Art in Boston. Reviewer Cate McQuaid wrote: "None of the proportions are the same. Nor are any two passages of any one color. Lipsky is primarily a colorist; she builds her hues up, using up to 50 undercoats. Color relationships shift. Some ping, others throb. Everything is just off-balance enough to make you wobble — which you can see Lipsky's hand-painted edges do, if you look with care. These are breathing, organic works, dressed in the clothing of geometric abstraction."

Thinking back to her time at Cornell, Lipsky recalled a moment from her first-year orientation that has stayed with her to this day. She was told: "We're going to teach you how to think. We're going to teach you how to be discerning. We're going to teach you how to look at information and find out what the truth is." Lipsky has forged a momentous career — and a remarkable body of work — out of her deep and ongoing engagement with the truth of color, painting, and aesthetic experience.

Pat Lipsky standing next to painting "Builder" in Chelsea studio in 2000.

Pat Lipsky in her Chelsea studio, working on the painting Builder (1999) from a small version on the wall. photo / provided



Early Wave Paintings (1969–70)

Painting titled Spiked Red

Spiked Red (1969), acrylic on canvas, 87-1/4" x 117-1/4", courtesy of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas.

Spiked Red (1969), 87-1/4" x 117-1/4"

colorful wave painting

Springs Fireplace (1969), acrylic on canvas, 62-3/8" x 94-1/2", collection of the artist.

Springs Fireplace (1969), 62-3/8" x 94-1/2"

colorful wave painting

Sandwich (1969), acrylic on canvas, 86" x 116-7/8", courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Sandwich (1969), 86" x 116-7/8"

colorful wave painting

Blue Green (1969), acrylic on canvas, 70" x 118", courtesy of Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida.

Blue Green (1969), 70" x 118"

wave painting

Orange Top (1970), acrylic on canvas, 96" x 113-5/8", courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California.

Orange Top (1970), 96" x 113-5/8"

In the Studio: Early Wave Paintings

paintings piled in the studio

Canvases at Lipsky's East 11th Street studio, fall 1969.

Canvases in studio (1969)

woman in front of a wave painting

Lipsky with paintings at her East 11th Street studio, fall 1969.

Lipsky with paintings (1969)

3 people stretching a painting

Lebron Art Handler’s team stretching Lipsky's paintings for her exhibition at Emmerich Gallery in May 1970.

Lebron Art Handler’s team stretching paintings (1970)

Variations on a Theme (1974–76)

grid and triangle painting

French Painting (1975), polymer on canvas, 76" x 112-7/8".

French Painting (1975),
76" x 112-7/8"

grid triangle colorful painting

Playing Field (1975), polymer on canvas, 78-1/2" x 59-3/8", private collection.

Playing Field (1975),
78-1/2" x 59-3/8"

colorful grid painting

Sixth Avenue (1975), polymer on canvas, 77" x 118-1/8", private collection. 

Sixth Avenue (1975),
77" x 118-1/8"

seafoam green grid painting

For Leslie (1974), polymer on canvas, 98-5/16" x 183", collection of the artist.

For Leslie (1974),
98-5/16" x 183"

color grid

Episcopalian Pandemonium (1976), polymer on canvas, 67-3/4" x 119-3/4", collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Episcopalian Pandemonium (1976), 67-3/4" x 119-3/4"

Exhibition: Variations on a Theme

four people in front of a painting

Helen Frankenthaler visits Pat Lipsky's 1975 exhibition. photo / Thomas Victor

Helen Frankenthaler at Lipsky's 1975 exhibition

black and white photo of woman in front of painting

Lipsky with French Painting, exhibited at the Emmerich Gallery in 1975, photo taken for the SoHo Weekly News. photo / Thomas Victor

Lipsky with French Painting (1975)

woman kneeling in front of a painting

Lipsky in front of French Painting in 1975, photo taken for the SoHo Weekly News. photo / Thomas Victor

Lipsky & French Painting (1975)

woman standing next to a large painting

Lipsky with Baths of Caracalla, during the 1975 exhibition New Paintings at the Andre Emmerich Gallery. photo / Thomas Victor

Lipsky with Baths of Caracalla (1975)

Close-Value Paintings (1990–99)

Pat Lipsky, Au Coin de la Rue (1991-95), oil on linen, 68-3/4” x 67-1/2”.

Au Coin de la Rue (1991–95), oil on linen, 68-3/4" x 67-1/2". 

Au Coin de la Rue (1991–95),
68-3/4" x 67-1/2"

Pat Lipsky, Untitled, oil on linen, 36” x 24”, Clement Greenberg Collection, Portland Art Museum.

Untitled (1993), oil on linen, 36" x 24", Portland Art Museum, Clement Greenberg Collection.

Untitled (1993),
36"x 24"

yellow diamond painting

Albers (1992), oil on linen, 66-1/2" x 66-1/2", collection of the artist.


Albers (1992),
66-1/2" x 66-1/2"

bronze grid diamond painting

Tryst (1993), oil on linen, 97" x 97", collection of the artist.

Tryst (1993),
97" x 97"

black diamond painting

Dark Love (1993), oil on linen, 96" x 96", collection of the artist.

Dark Love (1993),
96" x 96"

black diamond painting

History (1994), oil on linen, 96" x 96", collection of the artist.

History (1994),
96" x 96"

In Memoriam C.G. (1994), oil on linen, 96" x 96".

In Memoriam C.G. (1994–99), oil on linen, 96" x 96", collection of the artist.

In Memoriam C.G. (1994–99),
96" x 96"

In Situ: Close-Value Paintings

Pat Lipsky standing in between a square-shaped painting and a diamond-shaped painting at The Black Paintings (1998) exhibition in New York City.

The Black Paintings exhibition (1998),
Lori Bookstein Fine Art

The Black Paintings exhibition (1998),
Lori Bookstein Fine Art

In Memoriam C.G. (1994), oil on linen, installation view of the exhibition The Black Paintings (1998).

In Memoriam C.G. (1994–99), oil on linen, 96" x 96", artist's studio, New York City.

In Memoriam C.G. (1994–99),
artist's studio, 96" x 96"

Pat Lipsky with assistant and painting Tryst in her studio, 2020.

Pat Lipsky shown in front of her painting Tryst (1993) in her studio with an assistant in 2020.

Tryst (1993),
artist's studio (2020)

Shifting Gears (1999–2000)

abstract color painting

Builder (1999), oil, alkyd, acrylic on canvas, 41-7/8" x 80-1/8", permanent collection of the U.S. Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan, Art In Embassies, U.S. Department of State.

Builder (1999), 41-7/8" x 80-1/8"

abstract color painting

Are You Here? (1999), collage, acrylic, alkyd on canvas, 60" x 75-5/8", private collection.

Are You Here? (1999), 60" x 75-5/8"

abstract color painting

George (1999), acrylic, oil, alkyd on canvas, 41-7/8" x 65-1/8", private collection.

George (1999), 41-7/8" x 65-1/8"

abstract color painting

MDR (2000), alkyd, oil, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 88", collection of Alan Dinsfriend, Boston.

MDR (2000), 60" x 88"

abstract color painting

Bourges (2000), alkyd, oil, acrylic on canvas, 64" x 75", collection of the artist.

Bourges (2000), 64" x 75"

Column Paintings (2005–08)

Cobalt (2007) painting from the series Column Paintings (2005-08)

Cobalt (2007), oil on linen, 81" x 63-3/8", collection of the artist. 

Cobalt (2007),
81" x 63-3/8"

stripe paintings

Proust's Sea (2006), oil on linen, 81-3/4" x 62-3/8", collection of the artist. 

Proust's Sea (2006),
81-3/4" x 62-3/8"

stripe paintings, black and blue and green

June 6 (2006–07), oil on canvas, 27" x 30", private collection. 

June 6 (2006–07),
27" x 30"

stripe paintings

Homage to Bellini (2006), oil on canvas, 81-3/4" x 62", collection of the artist.

Homage to Bellini (2006),
81-3/4" x 62"

stripe paintings, black and blue and green

Oceans (2005–06), oil on canvas, 47-1/2" x 160-1/8", collection of Bridget Moore.

Oceans (2005–06),
47-1/2" x 160-1/8"

On Display: Column Paintings

Installation view of artworks from Pat Lipsky's Column Paintings series.

Blue and White (2005), Oceans (2005-06), Homage to Bellini ( 2006), installation view of the exhibition Color Paintings (2006), Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York City. 

Color Paintings exhibition,
installation view (2006)

Installation view of Proust's Sea from Pat Lipsky's Column Paintings series.

Proust’s Sea (2006), oil on linen, 81-3/4" x 62-3/8", installation view of the exhibition Color Paintings (2006), Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York City.

Proust’s Sea, installation view (2006),
81-3/4" x 62-3/8"

installation of 3 stripe paintings

Oceans (2005–2006), triptych, 47-1/2" x 160-1/8", installation view of the exhibition Color Paintings (2006), Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York City. 

Oceans triptych, installation view (2006),
47-1/2" x 160-1/8"

Installation view of Pat Lipsky's Twenty Years exhibition at Acme Fine Art.

Close Up (Delft) (2007), oil on linen, 48" × 31-3/4", installation view of the exhibition Pat Lipsky: Twenty Years (2015), Acme Fine Art, Boston.

Pat Lipsky: Twenty Years exhibition,
installation view (2015)

painting installed in a dining room with grand doors and windows

Torah (2006), oil on canvas, 77" × 56-1/2", installation view at Embassy of the United States in The Hague (2011–14).

Torah (2006), installation view,
77" × 56-1/2"