Into the Collection Spotlight

Joseph Stapleton (1921-1994) Thinking of Duke Ellington, 1979 India ink on paper, 17 x 14 in.

By Liam Conner, class of ’25

Joseph Stapleton was one of the many artists who populated New York City following the wars of the early 20th century. As a member of Abstract Expressionism’s “second generation,” Stapleton and others were heavily influenced by international culture, social movements, and artistic creativity. As shown in Stapleton’s Thinking of Duke Ellington, the seemingly spontaneous and erratic brush strokes combined with what seems to be text throughout the border work to create a portrait of Duke Ellington like none other. Painted approximately five years after The Duke’s death, the work expresses his longstanding legacy through its aberration from form. Ellington’s music throughout his career was revolutionary, and this image articulates that with its quick and almost swing-like strokes that hop around the canvas. Heavily influenced by Japanese calligraphy, Stapleton unconventionally incorporates themes from throughout the world in the same way that Duke Ellington wrote music with Latin and European cultures in mind. Stapleton’s interpretation of the great composer in Thinking of Duke Ellington provides a look not only at his own era but also at the impact of Duke Ellington and his legacy on the greater artistic community.

Sources:

Duke Ellington: American Musician. See https://www.britannica.com/biography/Duke-Ellington#ref344119. Accessed 9/23/2022.

New in Artstor—Nearly 300 Self-portraits by Joseph Stapleton: A Unique Offering from a Second Generation Abstract Expressionist. See https://www.artstor.org/2019/11/05/new-in-artstor-nearly-300-self-portraits-by-joseph-stapleton/. Accessed 9/23/2022.

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