Mary Abbott is most readily identified with the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, and her best work is characterized by her towering canvases, vivid color, and sweeping gestural brushstrokes.
Abbott was raised in New York and Washington, D.C. In the early 1940s, while she was modeling for “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazaar,” her interest in art led her to study at the Art Students League. Separating from her husband in 1946, she lived on 10th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village near other Abstract Expressionists. In 1948, she studied at an experimental art school, founded by Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and other Abstract Expressionist artists. Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and Marc Rothko became her mentors as she moved into the heart of the New York avant-garde. She became a lifelong friend of William de Kooning. She also became a member of the Club where she, Perle Fine, and Elaine de Kooning were the only female members.
Another considerable influence on her artistic development came from time spent in the Caribbean islands. Between 1950 and 1958, Abbott wintered in Haiti and St. Croix where she fell in love with the terrain and the people. Daily hikes and sketching trips allowed her to immerse herself in the exotic environs, becoming at times one with the abstract splendor of the jungle and highland rain forests. This experience informed her work back in her New York studio. A 1950 ink drawing of a Haitian village reflected her love of Haiti as well as her early veneration for Pablo Picasso. Some of these Caribbean works were exhibited in Chicago in 2013.
In the late 1950s, Abbott began embedding text into her gestural paintings in collaboration with New York poet Barbara Guest. In her 1959 “Le chant de rossignol – for Joseph Cornell” she obscured Guest’s floating text with densely packed, overlapping planes of white, black, and bright colors.
In the 1980s, Abbott turned to more representational depictions of flowers, which were partly inspired by her experiences taking peyote. While pretty, these works are not as compelling as her earlier bold abstraction. In 2016, Abbott was one of a dozen painters included in the exhibition “Women Abstract Expressionism” at the Denver Art Museum. Abbott received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Art Hamptons International Fine Art Fair.