BCD#24

 

Blind Contour Drawing #24 –
“I have spoken with this green person”
– Rachel Berman 2010

Once known as Susan King, Rachel Berman reclaimed her birth name as an adult after she successfully discovered the names and of her biological parents and her own birth story. She was born in New Orleans in 1946 and was raised by foster parents in Victoria B.C. She abandoned the foster system at an early age and lived a tough life.

She was a self taught artist and traveled and worked in the U.S., Ireland and in Canada, she eventually settled in Victoria B.C. where she grew up. She worked as a greeting card artist. Her quirky animal characters, Mooky McBeth and Vanessa Vanilla eventually became characters in children’s books. She was nominated for the Governor General’s award for English Language Children’s Literature-Illustration in 2009 and 2013.

Berman’s paintings were exhibited in many places but most frequently with The Ingram Gallery in Toronto. Her gallery paintings are hauntingly beautiful. She drew from her experiences in the streets of London, Dublin, New York, Toronto and downtown Vancouver. She never owned a camera but spent hours sketching in housekeeping rooms, worn hotel lobbies, cafes, and metro stations. The mysterious figures and hidden stories in her paintings are a reflection of the struggles and mysteries she lived through herself. She once said that her paintings were autobiographical, her search for herself.

Berman suffered from HIV and hid her illness from her loved ones for a long time. She was ashamed of her early drug addiction and lifestyle. However, she felt AIDS made her grateful: “It did give me time to think, not about what the disease has taken away from me but what it has given me, and for which I now am most grateful, for life is most generous … – I have to live today like it is the best day in the world — & I now have the wisdom to know that it is.”

She was known to deliver envelopes stuffed with drawings, philosophy, calligraphy, rambling love letters and poetry, usually by bicycle in the early hours of morning to friends, loved ones and even strangers. She was an apparition in an overcoat and described as a “quiet observer of life, a thinker and a humanist.”

Born: 1946, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Died: May 28, 2014, Victoria

BCD#23

Blind Contour Drawing #23 – “Reason over Passion” Joyce Wieland 1968

Joyce Wieland was born in Toronto in 1930. She was the youngest child of emigrants from Britain. Wieland and her 2 older brothers struggled to survive after both of their parents died when she was still in grade school. Despite being poverty stricken, she was able to study fashion design at the Central Technical high school in Toronto. It was there that she met working artists like Doris McCarthy. McCarthy was an independent spirit and committed to her art practice. She became an important mentor for Wieland.

After graduating in 1948, Wieland worked as a graphic designer. She met artist, Michael Snow at a graphics firm in Toronto. They married in 1956 and had a 20 year relationship.

Before she married, she moved into her own apartment studio, which at the time was not the common for young women. She lived alongside other artists and became part of the city’s growing boho scene. Her independent nature led her to travel and she was able to visit Europe a few times in her twenties. She began to achieve some success with her paintings in the late 1950’s and had her first solo show in Toronto in 1960.

Between 1962 and 1971, Wieland and Snow lived in New York. Feeling connected to the city’s counter culture vibe, she continued to paint but also explored other mediums. New York was teeming with pop art and conceptual art, and artists were responding to the political and cultural issues of the time, including the war in Vietnam, feminism, and environmentalism.

Wieland had learned filmmaking and animation techniques while working in commercial design, so she began to create films. In a short period of time, she was screening her work alongside her American colleagues. Her work was well received due to their political edge and wit.  In 1968 the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented Five Films by Joyce Wieland. Her films are known internationally.

Wieland had a healthy relationship with sex and was passionate about feminism. Much of her artwork explore these themes. Besides film and paint, she also started to work with fabric. She intentionally used fabric to express her political ideas because traditionally it had been used by women. She created quilts and mixed media pieces that challenged the notions of what is art and what is craft, what is masculine and what is feminine. She was a leader in bringing these materials and mediums into the fine art world.

On Canada Day, July 1st, 1971 the National Gallery of Canada presented her solo exhibition, True Patriot Love. It was the first time the Gallery had given a solo show to a living Canadian female artist. At that time she returned to Toronto to live and work. By the 1980’s she was focused on painting and in 1987 the Art Gallery of Ontario held a retrospective of her work.

Wieland maintained a studio practice in Toronto until her health began to decline. She was cared for by a group of female friends until her death on June 27, 1998 from Alzheimer’s disease.

Born: June 30, 1930, Toronto
Died: June 27, 1998, Toronto

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