"Fenton is the type of artist who would readily admit his debt to Mark Rothko whom he knew well and whose work he greatly admires. If some of his paintings bring to mind Ad Reinhardt's black paintings or elements of Barnett Newman's "silent" masterpiece, there is a relationship, but in my view, a spiritual one and not based on any formal, assessable, plastic values. Beyond this, it is clear that Fenton is his own man, producing work that is uniquely his. Fenton's vision is a hunger - not an appetite - for that undefinable visual expression that has been the goal of all committed painters."
- Vincent Melzac, Former CEO of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1976
Fenton's quiet and contemplative nonobjective paintings and drawings were widely recognized for their demanding yet understated means of revealing a serious and sober essence. He identified greatly with Mark Rothko, a friend, as well as Adolph Gottlieb and Jack Tworkov, with whom he had studied privately. Fenton painted in New York City in the late 50's as the explosion of Abstract Expressionism turned into a rebellion against gestural, emotional painting.
More concerned about his art than his posture, he expanded upon a tradition in painting with influences as diverse as Whistler and Turner, as well as Ad Reinhardt and Joseph Albers.
Alan Fenton was born in Cleveland in 1927, studied at the Cleveland School of Art, The Arts Students League, The New School, and at NYU, earning his BFA at Pratt Institute, where he later taught painting for many years. At seventeen, Fenton served in the Merchant Marines where he began a career as a professional boxer, a skill he had honed on the streets.
He moved successfully through the graphic design business en route to becoming a painter in New York at the height of the art revolution of the fifties and sixties. Fenton enjoyed success with his subtle washes and pencil drawings as well as large abstract canvases in acrylic, landing one-man shows at the prestigious Pace Gallery in New York, The New York Cultural Center Museum, The Barbara Fielder Gallery in Washington, et al.
In his introduction to Fenton's exhibition catalogue for his one-man show at the Phillips Collection in Washington, Vincent Melzac wrote, ''Fenton is his own man, producing work that is uniquely his...in his work one feels that Fenton is testing the accepted and pushing for a newer and richer visual experience.''
In the late 60's he turned his artistic vision and business savvy towards developing creative environments where ''good and beautiful people'' could live and work together. His first endeavor was to turn the Tiffany Glass Building on lower Park Avenue into an artistic community where notable photographers, painters, and filmmakers moved in, setting the stage for a modern, hip, yet warm and friendly working space for the community which he had nurtured. He later developed the first live/work loft in Cleveland, where Fenton resided during his last years.
Fenton said about his own work, ''All that happens in my work is natural and human, hard and soft, large and small, heaven and earth. All this with the image of man, (my glow) forms a system to attain the sublime. All of these paradoxes form a triad that is the way of everything. The line is the 'hard', the formless form and the imageless image is the 'soft'. They are inseparable, one cannot exist without the other.''
Fenton's work resides at The Hirschhorn Museum of Art, the Smithosian American Art Museum, the Phillips Collection, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Smithsonian, and countless others as well as in private collections.