Victor Atkins still gets occasional messages from owners of his paintings — or from their insurance brokers. Often, they’re trying to determine the value of the abstract expressionist paintings he was creating in the 1980s.
They might be asking the wrong guy.
In that period the New York artist often threw claw hammers at his own paintings in fits of despair.
“There was always this thing out there that was just unreachable. But I went after it, because I wanted something really important to do,” says Atkins, sitting in his studio at the Crane Arts building in Kensington. “It’s kind of an old story in the art world, but eventually I felt like I was making paintings that people bought because it matched their couch. It was strictly a business, and I lost the joy in it.”
Atkins disappeared from the art scene but has now reemerged in Philly with his first new collection since 1988. The new show, “Come and Play,” will open on Friday at the White Stone Gallery in Fishtown.
The 15 new works range from 8-inch details to massive 7-foot canvases.
“I don’t know how to explain this, but I just woke up in the middle of night and I knew I needed to paint again,” he says.
The new paintings are still in the abstract expressionist mode of Atkins’ youth. But the architectural rigidity of his early paintings has been nixed, making way for bold splashes of color and playful anthropomorphic characters that one might expect to find in a children’s story. And Atkins indeed wants to weave a narrative for the viewer – a story of renewal and insuppressible inner exuberance.
“I never gave myself much freedom before – much room to really mess up and make a fool of myself,” he says. “But I finally allowed myself to go there, and now I just feel like, yeah, okay, I’ve discovered something that will speak to people. It will also turn a lot of other people off, but I just care less about that now.”
‘Come and Play’: New Works by Victor Atkins
Opening reception May 2, 6 p.m.
Exhibit through June 12
White Stone Gallery
1817 Frankford Ave.