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BCD #21

Blind Contour Drawing #21 – “Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood,” – Hilma af Klint 1907

Hilma af Klint was the fourth child of five to a Swedish naval commander and mathematician. The family spent summers at their manor on the island of Adelsö. She formed a strong connection to nature in these idyllic surroundings, which would later influence her work.

When the family moved to Stockholm, she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts of Stockholm, where she learned portraiture and landscape painting. In 1882, by the age of 20, she was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. After graduating with honors, she was awarded a scholarship in the form of an art studio, where her landscapes and portraits became the source of income and independence. The Scandinavian education system was well ahead of the French and German systems and allowed women into their Academies. It was not uncommon for women to make a living from their art.

Af Klint’s 10 year old sister, Hermina died in 1880. The grief and the loss sparked her interest in spiritualism and religion. She began meeting with ‘The Five’, or ‘De Fem’ – a group of five of female artists who met secretly to seek communication with mystic beings. Conducting séances and creating automatic drawings, they communed regularly with these spirits they called the “High Masters.”

Her knowledge of botany, geometry, mathematics, natural sciences, world religions and her interest in spiritually accumulated in what the art world now recognizes as the first abstract paintings in history. In 1906, she was painting and working in abstraction at least 5 years earlier before Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, and others would create similar moves to rid their work of representational content.

She worked in private, selling her landscapes and portraits. She did not spend time promoting herself, publishing manifestos or participating in exhibitions as her contemporaries did. Even in her old age, she did not believe the world was ready for her work and included in her will that not a single item from her over 1,200 piece estate which included paintings, drawings and writings be shown until 20 years after her death.

She passed away on October 21, 1944 in the aftermath of a traffic accident, nearly 82 years old. When she died none of her abstract works had ever been shown to the public.

Since 2013, when the Modern Museum in Stockholm hosted an exhibition dedicated solely to her work, af Klint is now generally considered to be the pioneer and inventor of abstract art. Her first abstract work was painted in 1906.

Born: October 26, 1862, Solna, Sweden
Died: October 21, 1944, Danderyd Municipality, Sweden

BCD#20

Blind Contour Drawing #20 –  “The Spanish Family”  Alice Neel, 1943

Alice Neel was born in Pennsylvania in 1900. Alice was the fourth of five children and was raised into a conservative middle-class family. Opportunities were limited for women and she remembers her mother had once said, “I don’t know what you expect to do in the world, you’re only a girl.”

After high school and while working an office job, she attended evening art classes in Philadelphia. In 1921, Neel enrolled in the Fine Art program at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. She rejected impressionism, the popular style at the time, and instead embraced the Ashcan School of Realism.

During her school years, she met and later married Cuban artist Carlos Enriquez, son of prominent family in Havana. The couple lived between Cuba and New York, both painting and exhibiting. They had their first daughter in 1926, who died a year later of diphtheria. In 1928, Neel gave birth to their second daughter, Isabella. Enriquez returned to Havana with Isabella. While separated from her daughter and husband, Neel suffered emotional trauma and attempted suicide. She was hospitalized for almost a year. She never divorced her husband but remained separated from him and her daughter visited her periodically throughout her lifetime.

In 1932 she returned to Greenwich Village with her lover, Kenneth Doolittle. She enrolled in the Public Works Art Project and received a wage. She had a tormentous relationship with the PWAP because of her controversial style and subject matter. In a rage, Doolittle burnt more than three hundred of Neel’s drawings and watercolors and slashed more than fifty oil paintings at their apartment on Cornelia Street. Her friend, John Rothschild, helped her leave and he wanted to move in with her but she refused. Later that year, she met Jose Santiago Negron, a nightclub singer. He left his wife and child and moved in with Neel. The couple moved to the Spanish (East Harlem), a place that had a huge influence on her work.

In 1938 she exhibited 16 paintings in her first solo exhibition in New York City at Contemporary Arts. The following year she gave birth to a son and Negron left her. In 1939, she met Sam Brody, a photographer and filmmaker. They lived on and off together for two decades and had a son in 1941. Neel lived in Spanish Harlem for 20 years and raised her two boys there. She continued to paint even though she lived on public assistance.

Neel was never a member of the Communist Party but was a believer in socialism and sympathetic to many of the Communist ideals. She attended several protests at major art galleries for the treatment of minorities and the underrepresentation of female artists.

Neel persisted in being a figure painter and a portraitist during her career even though it was unpopular. During her lifetime, the New York scene was bursting with the new energy of abstraction but she remained faithful to her style and subject matter. She created a unique, expressive style of portrait painting that captured the psychology, sociology and personality of those living in New York, from friends and neighbors in Spanish Harlem to celebrities.

Her determination to continue to create work that pleased her finally paid off as she slowly started to gain recognition and awards for her work in the 1960’s. Prior to this time, she was virtually unknown and had only a handful of solo shows. However in the last two decades of her life, she had sixty. This was due not only to the strength of her work, but to the emerging Feminist Art movement that began to shine a light on the achievements of women artists.

Neel was an original, witnessing many art movements in her lifetime and refusing to follow any of them. She has been hailed one of the greatest portraitists of the last century. Her keen observation of each of her subjects reveals insights into the human condition and conveys an emotional intensity that creates an incredibly powerful body of work.

 

Born: 1900, Pennsylvania

Died: 1984, New York

 

 

BCD#19

Blind Contour Drawing #19 – “Falling from the Sky” Tsuneko Kokubo 2013

Tsuneko Kokubo was born in Steveston B.C., in 1937, and raised in by her Grandparents during WWII in Japan. Returning to Canada in her late teens, she studied Fine Arts for four years at Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University), focusing on drawing and painting.

She has worked extensively in theatre as a performer, dancer, costume designer and continues to do so.  In 1990, she became a full-time painter, working mainly in oils and acrylics.  Her life, like many other Japanese Canadians has been filled with hardship but she chooses to focus on beauty, especially from her garden and mountain home.  She weaves bright colours, images of plants and her life memories to create beautiful and often haunting stories on canvas.

Kokubo has had numerous exhibitions, and has paintings in private collections in Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico and the USA.

Born: 1937, Steveston, B.C. Canada

Tsuneko Kokubo’s website:  tsunekokokubo.ca

You can learn more about Japanese Canadian artists in this wonderful directory: japanesecanadianartists.com

This is a beautiful short video that was made of Kokubo (Koko) that I would recommend watching:

https://tellingthestoriesofthenikkei.wordpress.com/falling-from-the-sky-tsuneko-kokubo-koko/

I inspire to see her work in person one day and hope to be painting well into my 80’s.

 

BCD#18

Blind Contour Drawing #18 – Malade by Gabriele Munter, 1917

Though not widely known, the German painter, Gabriele Münter made important contributions to the art of the twentieth century.

Münter was born to upper middle class parents in Berlin. She began to draw and play piano as a child and her family supported her love of art. She had a private tutor and took classes at the Woman’s Artist School, since women were not allowed to enroll in German Academies.

Both her parents died before she turned 21. Munter and her sister inherited a large amount of money, allowing them to live freely and independently. Since she didn’t feel challenged by her schooling, the two young women decided take a trip to the United States to visit extended family. They stayed for over two years, mainly in the state of Texas. Munter took this time for self study and there are 6 of her sketchbooks that survived that period. They depict images of people, plants and landscapes in the United States.

Returning to Germany, she enrolled in the Phalanx School of art in Munich in 1902. There she began to attend classes in still life, landscape, woodcut techniques, sculpture, and printmaking. She became romantically involved with the director of the school, Wassily Kandinsky. Their relationship lasted over 10 years.

In 1911 she formed Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) with Kandinsky. The group included Franz Marc, August Macke, Alexej von Jawlensky and Paul Klee. The Blue Rider was one of the most important German group of artists of the 20th century

They promoted the connection between visual art and music and were inspired by the work of Henri Rousseau, spiritually-based color theory, and Bavarian folk art.

Münter exhibited paintings at the Blaue Reiter exhibitions of 1911 and 1912. She shared the groups love of  intense colour and expressiveness of line but her still lifes, figures, and landscapes remained representational rather than abstract.

At the beginning of WWI, she moved all of the works done by her, Kandinsky, and the other members of the Blaue Reiter to her house, where she hid them. She was able to preserve them despite several searches of the home, the pieces were never found. On her eightieth birthday, she gave her entire collection, more than 80 oil paintings and 330 drawings, to the Städtische Galerie in the Lenbachhaus in Munich.

After the war, Münter and Kandinsky went separate ways. She was inactive for a few years after their relationship ended but begain painting again in the late 1920s. Her palette changed and her focus too. She often painted portraits of women. She moved back to Germany with art historian, Johannes Eichner.

Münter’s work was exhibited in the 1960s in the U.S. for the first time and was shown at Mannheim Kunsthalle in 1961. The Gabrielle Münter and Johannes Eichner foundation was established and has become a valuable research center for Münter’s art, as well as the art that was done by Der Blaue Reiter group. Münter lived the rest of her life in Murnau, traveling back and forth to Munich. She died at her Murnau home on May 19 1962.

Throughout her 60-year artistic career she created more than 2000 paintings, several thousand drawings, water-colours, stained glass, prints and around 1200 photographs, and today she is increasingly considered to have made a striking con­tri­bution to the art of the twentieth century. 

Born: February 19, 1877, Berlin, Germany
Died: May 19, 1962, Murnau am Staffelsee, Germany