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.

Quote: “I do not wish to talk about myself because I hold very deeply the belief that what is important is the work, not the person.”

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.

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

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