BCD#14

Blind Contour Drawing #14 – “Holding Boots” – Annie Pootoogook 2003/04

Annie Pootoogook, was raised in Cape Dorset, an Inuit settlement located on Dorset Island at the southern tip of Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. Many members of her family, including her mother and grandmother were artists.

She began her art career in her late 20’s and immediately challenged people’s perceptions of Inuit art. A natural storyteller, Pootoogook created drawings of daily life. She once said she could only draw what she had lived. This included scenes of cozy domesticity watching Dr. Phil on TV, and of cutting up raw seal on the kitchen floor. It also included domestic violence, ATM cash machines, and alcoholism, which startled those who looked to Inuit art for wholesome Northern traditions.

Pootoogook worked out of the Kinngait Studios, a co-operative that supports and buys work from artists working in Cape Dorset. At first, there was almost no interest in her work. After sending some of her early work to the co-op’s sales team in Toronto, a stern note was sent back. “‘This stuff’s never going to sell,’ they said. ‘Stop doing it.’”

However, Pootoogook gained the attention of The Feheley Art Gallery and had a small exhibition in 2003. This was her first solo exhibition and extremely important for her career. The curators at Feheley were very supportive of her and her work despite criticism.

She gained attention internationally, when she won the Sobey award in 2006 and was invited to Germany’s famous Documenta 12 art show in 2007. She showed in major shows in the following years in North America and Australia. However, away from home and living in Montreal, she succumbed to alcoholism. She returned to Cape Dorset briefly but unfortunately it didn’t last. By 2010 she was living on the streets with a panhandler, William Watt. They continued an on-and-off relationship for the remaining years of her life.

Her life with Watt was hard. They camped in parks or under bridges. She began to complain to friends and family about the way he treated her. “One morning she came up to me,” her friend Ookik Nakashook remembers, and said ‘I am tired of being kicked out. Last night he kicked me out without boots so I had to go look for boots,’ said Nakashook. “That was during the winter. And I told her, ‘Don’t put up with that.’”

She stayed with Watt even though he continued to abuse her and take any money she made from her drawings. Tragically in 2016, her body was pulled from the Rideau River on the morning of Sept. 19, a short walk from the shelter where she had been living.

Shockingly, a comment from an Ottawa officer read “And of course this has nothing to do with missing or murdered Aboriginal women … it’s not a murder case, it’s [sic] could be a suicide, she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned who knows … typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not.”

An internal investigation was filed and the officer was suspended. Many feel that it is a minor punishment for obvious racism against this vibrantly talented woman.

The investigation into her death has recently been reopened.

The story of Annie Pootoogook’s life was coloured by despair and tragedy, but also by extraordinary talent, positivity, strength and creativity. The troubles that weighed on her in her last years were unimaginable, yet for a long time she was able to manage them, and even to make art from them. She took her experiences, whether joyful or difficult, and made them into a body of work that changed Canadian art.

Born: May 11, 1969 – Cape Dorset (Kinngait)
Died: September 19, 2016 (aged 47), Ottawa

BCD#13

Blind contour drawing #13 – “Judith Slaying Holofernes” – Artemisia Gentileschi 1620-21

In the last few decades, Gentileschi has been titled one of the most important Italian Baroque painters. The excellence of her work, her treatment of controversial subjects and the number of her paintings that have survived are some of the many reasons for that honour.

However, her work is still under appreciated, in the words of Mary D. Garrard, she “has suffered a scholarly neglect that is almost unthinkable for an artist of her caliber.”

She was born in Rome, her father Orazio Gentileschi was a painter and her mother, Prudentia Montone died when Gentileschi was young.

Even though she was not allowed to apprentice as a painter, her father saw her promise and trained her as an artist, eventually introducing her to the working artists of Rome. Later in life because of this introduction, she became a follower of Caravaggio and worked with him in Italy.

By the time she was seventeen, she had painted one of the works for which she is best known, her stunning interpretation of “Susanna and the Elders.” She was not allowed to attend any other form of schooling and didn’t learn to read and write until she was adult.

Gentileschi’s father painted frescos with the artist, Agostino Tassi, he asked him to teach his daughter perspective. During these lessons, Tassi raped Gentileschi. When her father found out, Tassi was arrested. At the age of 18, she was thrown into the middle of a trial that received unwanted publicity and ruined her reputation. Tassi was convicted, but released by the judge, who also ordered her to be tortured to prove she was being honest.

A month later, she married a painter from Florence named Pietro Antonio di Vicenzo Stiattesi. They relocated to Florence and had a daughter. Their relationship wasn’t a happy one, but it gave her an opportunity to flourish as an artist.

Some of Gentileschi’s surviving paintings focus on a female protagonist. The character of Judith appears a number of times in her art. In 1611, Gentileschi completed the famously gruesome “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” which shows Judith in the act of saving the Jewish people by killing Assyrian general Holofernes. Judith is slicing Holofernes’s throat while her handmaiden helps to hold him down. Many interpret this as a cathartic expression of her rage and violation.

Some time between 1626 and 1630, Gentileschi moved to Naples where she lived and painted until 1638. While there, she painted “Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting,” so unique because of its blending of art, muse and artist.

She reunited with her father in late 1638 on a joint painting commission for King Charles I of England to paint a ceiling for the Queen’s house. Sadly her father died in the following year, but she continued to work in England until 1642 and then returned to Naples.

Thirty four of her paintings survive today, as well as the near complete transcript of the rape trial, published in full in a book detailing her life. Because of the trial and her many paintings of powerful women struggling against male dominance, she was not popular with her male colleagues.

The cause and time of Artemisia’s death is not known, but she most likely died in 1652.

Several demeaning epitaphs were published about her in 1653. Art historian Charles Moffat believes she may have committed suicide, which would explain why the cause of her death was not recorded

Today, she remains an inspiration, not only for her powerful artwork, but for her ability to overcome the acts of abuse against her, her lack of education, the disrespect from her peers and the many prejudices of her time. Like most women who excelled at that time she caused mass controversy and hate. She was recognized as having genius, but she was seen as a monster because she was a woman pursuing a creative talent in a genre thought to be only for men.

Note: I was fortunate to see this work at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. I could barely look at it. It is difficult to articulate the power of this masterpiece.

Born: Rome 1593
Died: 1652?

BCD#12

Blind Contour Drawing #12 “Self Portrait with Loose Hair” 1947 – Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon has been celebrated worldwide as a symbol of Mexican national and Indigenous traditions but her work was largely over looked until the Feminist art movement of the 1970’s.

Kahlo spent most of her childhood and adult life at her family home now known and publicly accessible as the Frida Kahlo Museum. She suffered from polio as a child and nearly died in a bus accident as a teenager. Multiple fractures, a shattered pelvis, broken foot and dislocated shoulder from the accident plagued her with health issues for the rest of her life. She began to focus heavily on painting while recovering in a body cast and gave up her earlier ambitions of a higher education. She had 30 operations in her short lifetime.

In 1927, she joined the Mexican Communist Party and met muralist Diego Rivera. They married in 1928. Kahlo spent the late 1920s and early 1930s traveling in Mexico and the United States with Rivera while he was working.

During this time she developed her own style as an artist and drew her main inspiration from Mexican folk culture. She mostly painted small self-portraits. Her physical and emotional pain is depicted on canvases, as is her turbulent relationship with her husband, who she married twice. Life experience is a common theme in Kahlo’s work.

Her paintings raised the interest of Surrealist artist André Breton, who arranged for Kahlo to have her first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1938. The exhibition was a success and was followed by a show in Paris in 1939. The Louvre purchased a painting from Kahlo called “The Frame,” making her the first Mexican artist to be featured in their collection.

Throughout the 1940s, Kahlo continued to show in exhibitions in Mexico and the United States. Her health began to seriously decline and shortly after her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953, she died at the age of 47.

She was mainly known as Rivera’s wife until her work was “rediscovered” by art historians and political activists in the 1970’s. Since then she has become an international icon and celebrated by Mexicans, feminists and the LGBTQ movement.

By 1984, Kahlo’s reputation as an artist had grown to such extent that Mexico declared her works national cultural heritage. “Diego and I,” was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $1.4 million in 1990, the first Latin American artist to break the 1 million dollar threshold. In 2016, “Two Lovers in a Forest” sold for $8 million.

She is one of the most recognized artists in history and hopefully “Fridamania” carries with it her progressive values, strength and beauty.

Born – July 6, 1907 Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico
Died – July 13, 1954 Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico

 

BCD#9

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

BCD#7

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

BCD#6

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

BCD#5

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

BCD#4

 

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

BCD#3

Blind contour drawing #3 – “Listen” 1957 Lee Krasner

 

Lee Krasner had a career in art that lasted 55 years.

Krasner’s spunk was evident early in her life. As a teenager, she decided to become an artist, which was a daring choice for a young immigrant woman. She was accepted to the Washington Irving High School, the only New York City public high school at the time that allowed women to study art.

She continued to study art in post secondary first at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in 1926, and then at the Art Students League. Later at the prestigious National Academy of Design, it has been noted that her conservative teachers often reprimanded her for her independence, something they thought unsuitable for a woman. She studied to obtain a teaching certificate which was the only approved career path for a woman in the arts at the time. During her schooling, Krasner’s work ranged from realistic self-portraiture to surrealist experimentation. She supported herself by working in a factory, as a waitress, and also as an artist’s model.

She was lucky to get work as an artist in the Works Progress Administration of the Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP). This was a visual arts program within Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal (1933-43). These projects were ground breaking in the U.S. as it was the first time that many women artists received financial support to work. She quickly advanced to a supervisor role as an assistant on large public murals. Jackson Pollack served as one of her assistants during this period.

Krasner felt more at ease in more bohemian art circles during the 1930s and, like many of her peers, was drawn to Marxism. She studied with artist and theorist, Hans Hofmann who introduced her to the work of Picasso and Matisse. At this time, she began to explore an “all-over” style abstracting floral motifs and creating repetitive designs.   Hofmann gave her a the backhanded compliment that her work was so good “you would not know it was made by a woman artist.”

Krasner became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, a group formed in New York City in 1936 to promote and help the public appreciate abstract art.

In 1942, Krasner met Pollack, she visited his studio before an exhibit that they were part of and she subsequently introduced him to the New York art scene. The pair married in 1945 and she took on the duties of promoting and managing Pollack’s career.

There is so much controversy about Krasner’s life. Did she put her career on hold to support her husband? How much did she influence him?  Was her career sabotaged because of his? I’ve read and listened to some of her interviews about her life as an artist and her life as Jackson Pollack’s wife and I can’t help but conclude that this intelligent and creative woman made choices that felt right to her at the time. She never stopped creating during her 11-year marriage to Pollock. Of course she had to deal with his alcoholism and womanizing but I feel that she truly admired and supported his work as an artist.

They moved from Manhattan to the Springs, Long Island in the late 1940s where they set up Pollack in an old barn. She worked in a room upstairs in their home and created her Little Image series. She painted left to write like Hebrew writing in an attempt to reconnect to her Jewish heritage and her subconscious. She also began to experiment with collage, a technique that one of idols, Matisse used later in his life. In fact, she once tore up a bunch of her paintings because she was frustrated with the work and then later reassembled them producing a large body of work that was well received in a 1955 exhibition.

After Pollack’s death, she lived in the shadow of his almost pop-star fame. Critics were harsh with her new larger scale (because she had moved out to work in the big barn) expressionist works labeling them too reminiscent of Pollack’s or too decorative meaning too feminine.

Her later work was finally recognized in a retrospective in 1983 at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in Texas but because of her poor health she was unable to attend the opening and died before the show reached its final stop at MOMA in New York.

Even though she struggled against the hyper masculine attitudes of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Krasner was a prominent figure within it. Her extensive training in art theory, her skill and versatility drew connections between the early-twentieth-century art and the new ideas of postwar America. She helped devise the “all-over” technique, which influenced Pollack’s drip painting.

Thanks to her generosity, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation has awarded over 46 million dollars in grants to working artists around the world.

Krasner constantly pushed herself and reinvented her style through out her career. She was “rediscovered” by feminist art historians during the 1970s and thankfully lived to see a greater recognition of her art.

“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock and that’s a mouthful. I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.”

Born: October 27, 1908 – Brooklyn, New York
Died: June 19, 1984 – Queens, New York

 

BCD#2

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