Not until the 1950s and ’60s—that is, near the end of his life—did Milton Avery paint landscapes in the same radically simplified style as his interiors, reshaping the contours of rocks, waves, and beaches to conjure up living, organic shapes.
From Picasso, Avery learned how to distort the contours of his figures so they seemed both flat and massive; from Matisse, how to apply paint in layers of thinly brushed, saturated color to achieve maximum luminosity. Jagged Wave combines the two approaches, its flat grey sky extending over the black sea and cream-colored stretch of beach, its white breakers straining to reach the horizon line—tensed fingers rising up and falling back again. Such dynamism contrasts eerily with the ominous smoothness of the dark sea beyond. Avery’s glowing colors and delicately balanced masses sometimes verge on prettiness. Not here.