BCD#22

Blind Contour Drawing #22 – “Fingal” Gillian Ayres, 2005

Gillian Ayres was born in 1930 in Barnes, London and grew up in comfort due to her family’s hat making business. She developed interest in art early and enrolled at the age of 16 in the Camberwell School of Art and Crafts.

Ayres exhibited with Young Contemporaries in 1949 and with the London Group in 1951. Her first solo show was at Gallery One, London, in 1956. The following year she was commissioned to create a large-scale mural for South Hampstead High School for Girls. It was not appreciated at the time and was quickly covered with wallpaper. Luckily it was rediscovered in 1983 in nearly perfect condition.

She met her husband, Henry Mundy at school and they married in 1951. They had two sons and eventually divorced in 1981 but remained friends and continued to live together in the same house painting in their separate studios. Mundy and many of his friends were ex-servicemen, their distain towards traditionalists suited Ayres anti-authoritarian attitude and helped her find her voice in abstraction.

Ayres’ early works were usually made with thin vinyl paint with a limited palette. She matured as an artist in the 1950s, in the heyday of “experimental art.” Her rebellious nature helped her to become one of the first British admirers of Jackson Pollock.

Her later works in oil paint are very colourful and thick with paint. Her huge canvases were often worked on in sitting-rooms and bedrooms while her bantams, peacocks, cats and dogs roamed freely from her garden to the kitchen to the studio. The marks of their paws and claws may still be detected in some paintings.

In 1957 Ayres showed at the significant exhibition Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract: Painting in England Today, at the Redfern gallery. She was the only woman in the Situation exhibition at the RBA Galleries in 1960, the first group show of British abstract art of the new decade.

Ayres worked part-time at the AIA Gallery from 1951-59 before starting to teach. She held a number of teaching positions through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1959, she was asked to teach at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, for six weeks. They asked her to stay and she remained on the teaching staff until 1965.

In 1965 she became a senior lecturer at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, she stayed there until 1978 when she became head of painting at Winchester School of Art in 1978, she was the first female teacher in the UK to this position. She left teaching in 1981, and moved north-west Wales to become a full-time painter. 1987 she relocated to the North Devon-Cornwall border where she remained for the rest of her life.

She smoked about 3 packs of cigarettes a day, worked throughout the night if she felt like it, gave money to friends, wasn’t much of a housekeeper, collected broken pieces of china and loved Elizabethan poetry. Her favourite painter was Rubens. Ayres ignored most advice, including medical and didn’t have much time for current affairs.

Ayres was one of Britain’s most significant abstract painters and has been described as courageous, independent, determined with a generous heart.

She died at the age of 88 near her beloved cottage and studio in North Devon. Her paintings and prints are held by major museums and galleries around the world.

Born: 1930, London
Died: 2018, North Devon

 

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#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.

Quote: She wanted to convey in her work “the feeling in a line of poetry which makes it different from a line of prose” and that as with lyrical poetry painting “is inseparable from the way it is said.”

 

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