Stephen S. Pace: An Abstract Expressionist who moved beyond the brand

In her blog, A Year of Positive Thinking, Mira Schor writes this week that Abstract Expressionism became a brand that many of the artists were simply unable to move beyond. Stephen S. Pace was part of the NYC Ab Ex scene, but eventually moved to Maine where his story went in a dramatically different, more generous, outward-looking direction. On September 23, he died of pneumonia at 91.

 Stephen S. Pace, untitled, 1962, oil on canvas, 64 x 78.” Image courtesy Katharina Rich Perlow gallery.

Stephen S. Pace, “Pea Pickers, 1963, oil on canvas, 61 x 80.” Image courtesy Katharina Rich Perlow gallery.
Racing Home #2, 1987, oil on canvas, 52 x 72.” Image courtesy Maine Masters Curriculum Guide.
Loading the Baithouse, 1989, oil on canvas,  60 x 72.” Image courtesy Maine Masters Curriculum Guide.
At the Lily Pond, 2003, oil on canvas, 42 x 60.” Image courtesy Maine Masters Curriculum Guide.

 From Roberta Smith’s obituary in the NYTimes:

Stephen S. Pace, whose exuberant style applied Abstract Expressionist scale and directness to figurative painting, died on Sept. 23 in an assisted-living center in Harmony, Ind. He was 91 and until two years ago had divided his time between homes in Manhattan and Stonington, Me. The cause was pneumonia, said Katharina Rich Perlow, his New York dealer since 1985.

After his stint in the army, Pace used his GI Bill tuition benefits to study in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he met Milton Avery, one of his strongest influences and closest friends. From there he moved to New York where his landscape and figurative work gave way to large-scale gestural abstraction. Through his friendship with Milton Avery, Pace met artists such as Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollack and Willem deKooning and many others who studied with him at the Hans Hofmann School. He met and married his lifelong partner, Palmina, an art buyer for the McCann Erickson advertising agency, and in 1950-51 traveled to Paris and Italy. Pace used the last eleven months of his GI Bill funds to study at Hofmann�s schools in New York and Provincetown. His large Abstract Expressionist paintings were exhibited in major galleries in New York, including seven Whitney Annual and Biennials.

In 1960, the Paces began to spend summers in rural Pennsylvania where he returned to figurative painting. Eventually they started taking long camping vacations in Maine, and in 1972, bought a house in Stonington, a small fishing village on Deer Isle. Summers in Maine provided plenty of subject matter for new work–landscapes, seascapes and images of the locals.

 The Stephen Pace House hosts an artists’ residency program for alumni of the Maine College of Art.

After spending more than fifty years between Maine and New York, the Paces returned to his boyhood home in Southern Indiana where he worked in a studio on the campus of the University of Southern Indiana. They donated their Maine home and many of the paintings in it to the Maine College of art. Pace also donated work to the Evansville Museum and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

(Biography via the Maine Masters Project, a video series that documents Maine�s important but less recognized visual artists)

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