George Vranesh’s superb color abstractions embody the spirit of midcentury style. Vast landscapes, city streets, and domestic scenes illustrate his deep understanding of modernist compositional balance. Though he was born in 1926, Vranesh’s aesthetic affinities lie with an earlier generation of painters, that of Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Ralston Crawford, and Will Barnet. In the mid-1950s he studied under Barnet at the Art Students League, honing the nuances of color harmonies that hover between abstraction and representation.
An inveterate traveler, Vranesh sketched from life wherever he went. Perhaps his most formative adventures were the summers between 1959 and 1965, which he spent aboard a salmon cannery ship in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. Vranesh reveled in the sublime panoramas of the arctic seas and rugged coasts. Sketches made on these trips became his Alaskan Horizons series of boldly abstracted landscapes. These take their color scheme of red, blue, white, and black from the traditional art of native Alaskans. Vranesh had completed a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Iowa and admired the straightforward color and subtle symbolic systems of Native American art, an interest he held in common with many painters of his generation. Works such as Sea and Terror Bay 2 transform Alaskan vistas into boldly colored organic abstractions informed by this attention to native cultures.
An entirely different seascape inspired another large series of paintings in Vranesh’s oeuvre. Though he was based in New York, he spent summers throughout his later career in Newport, Rhode Island, where carefree hours spent at the nearby harbor and seaside begat paintings infused with the joy of the warmer months. Sea and sky blues dance across these compositions with pink, yellow, and sand, each color placed in perfect harmony with the next. Vranesh worked in both organic and geometric abstraction, evoking in turn the sinuous curves of ocean waves and the fractured light of a bright, hot day. These, like all of his works, are grounded in an active examination of the natural world and organized according to the artist’s keen compositional sense. Considered both abstractly and figuratively, Vranesh’s paintings offer layered, symbolic images that communicate the subtleties of his kaleidoscopic modernism.