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

BCD #1

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