Blind Contour Drawing #10 – “Nude with poppies” 1916 Vanessa Bell

Vanessa Bell was a pivotal player in British art as one of the earliest artists to work in abstraction in the UK.

Bell was a painter, interior designer, a founding member of the controversial Bloomsbury Group and the elder sister of Virginia Woolf.

She was educated at home as was customary, in languages, mathematics, history and drawing. She studied painting at the Royal Academy in 1901.

After the deaths of her parents, she sold the family home and moved to Bloomsbury with her sister and 2 brothers. There they met with the artists, writers and intellectuals who would come to form the Bloomsbury Group.

She married Clive Bell one of the members in 1907 and they had two sons. The couple had an open marriage, Bell had affairs with art critic Roger Fry and with the painter Duncan Grant, with whom she had a daughter.

Many members of the group moved to the Sussex countryside shortly before the outbreak of WWI and settled near Firle, East Sussex, where she painted.

Her early work was fairly conventional. It was England’s first Post-Impressionist exhibition, in 1910, that proved most influential to her career. She was exposed to the works of Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. She began to work with bright colours and bold designs and by 1914 was painting completely abstract paintings.

In 1912, she exhibited alongside Picasso and Matisse in the 2nd Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London. Bell co-founded The Omega Workshop, an artists’ co-operative for decorative arts that operated between 1913 and 1919. Bell was an innovator in design. Their products ranged from furniture to stained glass and mosaics, as well as textiles, which Bell patterned in vibrant hues that opposed restrained Victorian designs. Bell created the original book jacket designs for the many of her sister’s novels and essays.

She had her first solo exhibition at the Omega Workshops in 1916, and another at London’s Independent Gallery in 1922. She exhibited her work internationally in Paris, Zurich and Venice.

Though privileged, Bell, like her sister, was devoted to her work, painting nearly every day except for a period of mourning following the death of her son.

Bell’s reputation as an artist has long been overshadowed by her unconventional family and romantic life. She was a radical innovator in the use of abstraction, colour and form and recently her work has begun to be recognized for her tremendous contribution to British art.


Born:May 30 1879
Died: April 7 1961


Blind Contour Drawing #9 “Maman” Louise Bourgeois 1999

Louise Bourgeois was a French-American sculptor, painter, printmaker and pioneering installation artist.

Her work was heavily influenced by traumatic events from her childhood, especially her father’s numerous affairs. She used objects such as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain.

Her often sexually explicit subject matter and her focus on three-dimensional form were rare for women artists in her time. She worked with plethora of materials including, wood, marble, bronze, latex, plaster, and rubber.

Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. Her family lived in an apartment above the gallery where her parents sold antique tapestries that they restored. She worked with her mother, Josephine, by washing, mending, sewing and drawing.

She had a wide-ranging education and studied math and philosophy at the Sorbonne. After her mother’s death, in 1932 she began studying art.

In 1938, she began exhibiting her work at the Salon d’Automne and opened her own gallery in a sectioned-off area of her father’s showroom. There she met art historian Robert Goldwater, whom she married. The couple moved to New York City in 1938.

Bourgeois enrolled at the Art Students League and focused her attention on printmaking and painting, while raising their 3 young children.

Goldwater introduced her to New York artists, critics and dealers. In 1953, MoMA bought one of her works for their collection and in the late ‘40’s & ‘50’s she had several solo shows in New York galleries.

In 1954, she joined the American Abstract Artists Group and made the transition from wood and upright structures to marble, plaster and bronze. She often employed mythology and archetypal imagery exploring themes like fear, vulnerability and loss of control. This transition was a turning point in her career.

Her husband died in 1973, the same year she began teaching at various institutions in New York City. She continued to exhibit and in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and began presenting performance pieces.

She became politically active as a socialist and a feminist and joined the Fight Censorship Group, which defended the use of sexually explicit imagery in art.

In 1982, she was the first female artist to have a retrospective at MoMA and in 1993 she represented the US in the Venice Biennale.

There are countless books and articles written about this incredible woman. Painter, printmaker, illustrator and of course sculptor and installation artist. At 98 and in the last year of her life, she used her art to speak up for LGBT equality. Her work was always centered upon the reconstruction of memory and she helped inform the Feminist art movement. She continues to influence feminist-inspired work and installation art world wide.

Born: December 25, 1911 – Paris

Died: May 31, 2010 – New York


Maman (1999)

The original piece was made of stainless steel. There are 6 bronze casts. It is over 30 feet tall and includes a sack containing gray and white marble eggs.

The spider first appears in Bourgeois’s work in the 1940s. The spider is a positive and loving symbol of her mother.

“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. . . Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

Part of the permanent collections of the Tate Modern, UK, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan, the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, South Korea, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas, USA and the Qatar National Convention Center, Doha, Qatar. “Maman” has also toured the world.

My photograph of “Maman” at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain


Blind contour drawing #7 “Les Faucheurs” Natalia Goncharova 1907

Natalia Goncharova is one of the most highly regarded Russian painters of the 20th century. She was bold, confident and passionate about her country.

Goncharova worked in various styles of the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century but what remained constant was the influence of traditional Russian folk art and icon painting.

She came from a prosperous family of architects and spent much time of her growing up at her grandmother’s country estate. She decided to attend university, which at the time was not a common path for women and mid way through her schooling, in 1901, she transferred to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

There she met her lifelong love and fellow artist, Mikhail Larionov. The couple explored different visual styles and ideology, eventually pioneering an art movement called Rayonism. Drawing from Russian thoughts around Futurism, they created a painting style that expressed energy and movement like rays of light.

The couple started an artist collective called ‘Donkey’s Tail’, which included Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich.

She was invited to show work in Paris at the Salon d’Automne in 1906 and subsequently helped arrange a reciprocal show in Russia bringing Gauguin, van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse to her home country for the first time.

Her paintings portrayed peasants at work, cutting hay, shaving ice, washing, and weaving. She gave her subjects, mostly women almost religious statue and strength. She paired the secular with the religious and was criticized for it. Much of her work was considered blasphemy by the church which only added to the controversy around her as she was unmarried and living with a man.

In 1910, two nudes and a painting called The God(dess) of Fertility were declared pornographic and confiscated by the police. She was put on trial for pornography, yet was acquitted. Goncharova and Larinov set a precedent for performance art that was not further developed until the 1970s. Together, the artists would appear naked in public with their bodies painted! She often wore men’s clothing, loved tattoos and sometimes went topless in public with designs painted on her breasts.

By 1913 she was invited to go to Paris to design costumes and staging of a production of the Ballets Russes. It was a huge success but just after the premiere, WWI began. She served in the army and was influenced by her travels to Rome and to Spain, where she met Picasso. After the war she continued to work with ballet and theatre productions and kept up with her painting.

She became secluded in her Paris apartment not able to return to Russia due to the Russian Revolution and not feeling part of the city’s art scene.

During World War II she traveled and designed for ten ballets in South Africa, and, after the war, divided her time and work between London and Paris. During the 1950’s, she suffered from severe arthritis and had to tie her brush to her hand but she continued to paint and sought inspiration from current events. Her later work is an exploration of abstraction, including a series dedicated to the Russian satellite, Sputnik.

Her work was rediscovered in 1954 and in 1961, a year before her death the British Arts Council mounted a retrospective of her work and Larionov’s work that included paintings and theatre designs.


Born: June 21, 1881 – Nagaevo, Tula Province, Russia

Died: October 17, 1962 – Paris, France


Blind Contour Drawing #6 – “Meeting” Remedios Varo 1959

Even though she died before it began, I feel that Remedios Varo was a pioneer to the Feminist art movement that began in the late 1960’s.

Remedios Varo whose full name was María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga was born in the town of Anglès in Girona, Spain. She was encouraged by her family to pursue art from an early age and when the family moved to Madrid she attended the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando at the age of fifteen.  At the Academy, she worked with other great Spanish painters like Salvador Dalí.

She married one of her classmates, Gerardo Lizárraga and the two left to live in Paris in 1931.  They returned after a year and moved to Barcelona where they began working in advertising.

In 1935, the couple separated and she joined a group of Surrealists artists. She began to develop her own style and felt more aligned to a group known as ‘Logicofobista’, whose aim was to represent the mental state of the internal soul in a Surrealist style. She created her painting ‘L´Agent Double’ (Double Agent), a painting that defined her style.

At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, her opposition to the Fascists led her to meet the French poet Benjamin Péret who she married in 1937.  The couple fled to Paris in 1937 where she immersed herself in the Surrealist scene. In 1938, Varo displayed her piece, ‘Il est tard’ (He is late), at the International Surrealism Exposition.

In 1941, when the Nazis invaded France, they fled to Mexico.  They initially thought that they would only stay in there during the war but she spent most of the rest of her life there. Péret returned to Paris in 1947 and Varo continued to support herself as an advertising artist in Venezuela.  She returned to Mexico and met Austrian politician Walter Gruen, with whom she would spend the rest of her life. He convinced her to give up drawing and to dedicate herself instead to painting.

Varo’s work was extremely varied but by 1949, she had discovered her mature style of painting. She often used oil paints on masonite panels and she used very fine, over-lapping brushstrokes. Her paintings were inspired by personal childhood memories. Her work was highly mystical but she often included scientific iconography in her work.

Varo surrounded herself with a group of likeminded women like Leonora Carrington and Kati Horna who were also interested in alchemy and the occult. The three, sometimes referred to as ‘the three witches,’ focussed on achieving a higher spiritual life and were sensitive to feminine consciousness.  They were determined to fight for the freedom of women from repressive patriarchal hierarchies and Varo repeated motifs of the cage and the tower in her work to illustrate the struggle.  Their relationship was also important as it reflected the need for female artists to create supportive networks.

In 1955, Varo presented some of her work at a collective exhibition at the Diana Gallery in Mexico, and the following year she held a solo exhibition. During her time in Mexico, she also met famous native Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In 1963 she died of a heart attack in Mexico.

It was not until the last 13 years of her life, finally free of ongoing financial constraints that she was able to paint prolifically.


Born 1908 Anglès, Spain

Died 1963 Mexico


Blind Contour Drawing #5 – a portion of “La Vie En Rose” Joan Mitchell 1979

Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh were Joan Mitchell’s gods and she is my goddess.

Mitchell’s abrupt mannerism led many to interpret her work as expressions of anger and violence.  However, Mitchell had a life long adoration of painting and was inspired by landscape, nature and poetry.  She felt that poetry was the art form most analogous to her own.

Mitchell was influenced by her mother who was a poet, writer and editor.  Her father was a successful doctor and often took her and her sister to museums.  She perused her love of art by attending the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 to study painting.  After her studies, she moved to New York City where she was first introduced to the ideas the New York School, which was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists.  On a travelling fellowship from school, she left for Paris a year later.

Back in NY City by 1949, she quickly immersed in the local Abstract Expressionist scene. She gathered at the Cedar Street Tavern with other artists and poets and became friends with painters such as de Kooning and Kline. She was one of the few women artists asked to join the exclusive Artists’ Club in Greenwich Village.  In 1951, she was included in their seminal 9th Street: Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, curated by Leo Castelli.

The success of her first solo exhibition at The New Gallery in 1952 led to yearly exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Mitchell’s early success in the 1950s was striking at a time when few women artists were recognized.

Mitchell had synesthesia which is a “neurological condition in which a person experiences “crossed” responses to stimuli. It occurs when stimulation of one sensory or pathway (i.e.hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (i.e. vision).”  She didn’t know she suffered from it and often thought she was crazy, to the point of being suicidal. Painting made life bearable and by the mid 1950’s she fully embraced the idea that the canvas was hers to express her emotions.

Her work became more confident and she developed the qualities that would continue to define her paintings.  Her use of colour, her hand done marks and the tension she created between bold and subtle elements.  She was a careful and slow painter even though her work often looks so spontaneous.

In 1959 she moved to France permanently which was a bold move considering New York’s prominence in the art scene.  She fell in love with a French Canadian painter, Jean-Paul Riopelle. They had a stormy yet artistic relationship for 24 years. Painting was how Mitchell confronted and dealt with the circumstances of her life.  She created the painting “La vie en rose” after Riopelle left, Rose had been her nickname from him.

She referred to herself as the “last Abstract Expressionist,” and she continued to create abstract paintings until her death in 1992.


Born: February 12, 1925 – Chicago, Illinois
Died: October 30, 1992 – Vetheuil, France



Blind contour drawing #4 – “Motifs in a Garage” 1950  Hortense Mattice Gordon

Gordon was the eldest member and one of only two women belonging to the Canadian abstract artist collective called the Painters Eleven.  Ray Mead considered her to be his mentor.
She knew she wanted to be an artist at an early age and attended Saturday morning art classes while in high school. At the age of 17, Gordon moved from her family home in Hamilton to live with relatives on a 200-acre fruit farm near Chatham, Ontario.  Along with her cousins, she studied and painted china.  Her work became popular so she rented a studio to sell the china she painted and to teach locals. She was a keen student and spent much time with her cousins visiting galleries and studying art in all forms.

In 1916, her father died and when she returned home for the funeral, she was asked by John Gordon to consider teaching at the Hamilton Art School. She took the position in 1918 and a few years later she married Gordon who was a fellow artist and the administrator for the school. They often traveled to Paris in the summers, where she explored and studied the European masters and the new and exciting ideas of Fauvism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism.

Gordon was a remarkable teacher.  She worked hard during the Depression to incorporate more technical and applied arts into the curriculum and struck up relationships with businesses to help get her students hired.  She was also dedicated to several art organizations and societies promoting women in the arts.

While teaching and being heavily involved in the administration of the school, Gordon found the time to paint. Her interests moved from figurative to landscape and still life.  She began to incorporate much of the ideas she was witnessing in Paris into the treatment of her work. After the death of her husband in 1940, Gordon’s style became much less inhibited.  He was almost 20 years her senior and his alcoholism and conservative views about art strained their personal and working relationship.

She created the opportunity to study with Hans Hofmann between 1941 and 1945 at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. His influence and friendship pushed her to try non-objective painting. Here Gordon found her voice. She studied Cubism and began to paint expressive sharp angles and bold colourful shapes.

Her new style gained her recognition on a national scale. She was named honorary president of the Contemporary Artists of Hamilton in 1948 and soon after joined the Painters Eleven.  This was a collective of Canadian abstract artists including Jack Bush, Oscar Cahen, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Jock MacDonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town and Walter Yarwood.  The group was formed in 1953 and formally disbanded in 1960.  She was delighted to meet with other painters because she felt isolated in Hamilton with the new path she was exploring.  Within this group, she was inspired to create more non-objective art and she was given the opportunity to participate in high-profile exhibitions in New York and Toronto. She became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Gordon exhibited for over 50 years in Canada and the U.S. but never lived to see her art in a public institution .


Quote from Hofmann:

“Hortense Gordon was indeed an extraordinary person – always directed toward the future and progress in life and art, and determined to do her very best in her work, and the results and consequences have been remarkable and beautiful.  She never stood still, never looked back and never ceased to give to others, a truly creative artist with a deep faith in the ability of her students.”


Born Nov 24 1886

Died Nov 6 1961


Blind contour drawing #2 – “Ses Peintures, Ses Objets, Ses Tissus Simultanes, Ses Modes, Twenty Color Plates C.1912-25” Sonia Delaunay

Orphism – huh?  Painters, Sonia Delaunay and her husband Robert reintroduced colour into Cubism and turned their focus to pure abstraction.  They used strong colour and geometric shapes.  The result was a fresh painting style that was later called orphism.  The term was coined by the French poet Apollinaire and the movement is perceived as key in the transition from Cubism to Abstract art.

Delaunay was born in the Ukraine, in 1885, to factory workers and at the age of 5 she was placed in the care of a wealthy relative in St.Petersburg.  She was given a good education and studied art in Paris.  To avoid returning home and to help her friend hide his homosexuality, she married an art dealer in 1908.  She was painting at this point and met her 2nd husband, artist Robert Delaunay, in a group show.  She married Robert in 1910.

The couple formed a creative partnership pioneering the orphism movement, exploring the use of colour and the science behind colour combinations.

Sonia saw to their financial security during their marriage.  She painted very little after they had their son and returned her full time attention to painting only after Robert died in 1941.  During their marriage, she turned to applied arts to support the household.

Using the colour theories that she practiced with Robert, she began to work with fabric.  Her first project with a quilt that she made for her son combining features from Cubist paintings and Russian folk art.  She opened a fashion shop in Paris in 1921 which quickly attracted glamorous customers such as Coco Chanel and Greta Garbo.  Her fabric designs became very popular and she eventually started her own company with Jacques Heim in 1924.  She also began a relationship with the Holland-based department store Metz & Co. that lasted 3 decades.   A growing interest in the Dada art movement led to a fashion collaboration with poet Tristan Tzara, creating “dress-poems” with designs featuring colour combinations inspired by his words.

Sonia Delaunay’s exploration of expressive colour in the field of textile design differentiates her significantly from other members of the contemporary avant-garde. Besides designing, making, and selling garments in her own fashion boutique, she was responsible for costume design in performing arts including theatre and dance.

Delaunay’s textile designs extended the range of her influence into fashion, home decor and the theatre. She championed the idea that art had a place in regular life.  However, her work in the applied arts delayed appreciation for her work as an artist and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that museums began to hold retrospectives of this extrordinary woman’s work.

“…the infinite combinations of color have a poetry and a language much more expressive than the old methods.”

Born: November 14, 1885 – Odessa, Ukraine

Died: December 5, 1979 – Paris, France


Blind contouring drawing #1 – “Deer Skull with Pedernal” 1936 Georgia O’Keeffe


In 1946, Georgia O’Keeffe was the first woman artist to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

She was born in 1887 in Wisconsin and died at age 98 in her beloved “home” in New Mexico.

Luckily, she was raised in a family that valued education for girls and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905.  She supported herself as a teacher.

Around 1915, O’Keeffe read two influential works,  Dow’s theory of self-exploration through art and Kandinsky’s essay “On the Spiritual in Art.”  She began to experiment with natural forms, such as ferns, clouds and waves, and she started a small series of charcoal drawings that simplified these forms into abstracted combinations of shapes and lines.

She sent a collection of these drawings to a friend in New York asking that they not be shared.  Her friend showed the drawings to photographer and owner of Gallery 291, Alfred Stieglitz.  He showed the work in his gallery without O’Keeffe’s knowledge.

They were very favourably received and she decided to move to New York. Her friendship with Stieglitz later led to their marriage.  However, it seems that her first love was with the landscape of Southwestern U.S.  For most of their marriage she lived and worked in New Mexico and he in New York and showing her work.

For many years the 300 or so portrait and nude photos of O’Keeffe that Stieglitz took were more well known than the painter’s own work but by the late 1920s, O’Keeffe was recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the time.  Her art began to command high prices.

She was not part of any “school” or style.  She dressed almost exclusively in black.

“I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to and say what I wanted to when I painted as that seemed to be the only thing I could do that didn’t concern anybody but myself – that was nobody’s business but my own.”

Producing a substantial body of work over seven decades, she sought to capture the emotion and power of objects through abstracting the natural world.  A prolific artist, she produced more than 2000 works over the course of her career. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe is the first museum in the U.S. dedicated to a female artist, and its research centre sponsors fellowships for scholars of modern American art.

Born Nov 15 1887 Wisconsin
Died 1986 New Mexico