Pronounced Dee-Ann, She was a privileged child, raised with her two siblings in large apartments on Central Park West and Park Avenue. She later told Studs Terkel, for his Hard Times: An Oral History of the Depression , “I grew up feeling immune and exempt from circumstance. One of the things I suffered from was that I never felt adversity. I was confirmed in a sense of unreality.” I think her work is still problematic for many because she crossed boundaries by making friends and photographing “freaks.”
Ruth Bernard (1905-2006)
There is no finer photographer of the female nude. When she met Edward Weston on the beach in Santa Monica, she was overwhelmed by his photos and said “Here before me was indisputable evidence of what I had thought possible – an intensely vital artist whose medium was photography. ”
Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
Her career was brief but extraordinary. Born to a family of artists, she started photographing at the age of 13. She worked in black and white, frequently made self-portraits, or other young women, nude. What’s astonishing is she completed nearly all the work in her catalogue as a student. After living in Rome, Rhode Island and New York, she felt her art wasn’t being taken seriously and her boyfriend broke up with her. Woodman committed suicide at the age of 22.
Melvin was creating inventive photographs that boggled the mind, long before Photoshop existed. He floated models down the Reine,creating The Bubble Series for Harpers Bazaar magazine in 1963.He suspended the models with a crane using an eight-inch aircraft cable and tested models to see who he could hang. He reminds me of some of the good stunt coordinators I worked for over the years. The first time I saw his photos, I stopped dead in my tracks at A & I Photo.
My favorite artists:
I fell in love with the simplicity of his paintings the first time I visited Cape Cod. Just like a good photographer, Robert searches for the light and usually paints at sunrise or sunset. His paintings have been described as Edward Hopper gone color ballistic. I love his skies of purples and oranges, isolated beaches, and lonely Cape homes.
His art is beautiful, while aiming at darker psychic stuff beneath the surface of cultural kitsch. He’s been called the godfather of pop surrealism, inspired by old toys, stuffed animals, skeletons, and religious ephemera found in flea markets. Michael Jackson commissioned Mark to create the cover for his 1991 Dangerous album.
Remedios Varo (1908-1963)
Born in Spain and died in Mexico. Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter and anarchist. I think she is one of the greatest artists in the 20th century along with Leonora Carrington.
I especially like the violin hanging where her heart should be.
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
led a life almost as surreal as her art. Born in England, she was expelled from two schools for rebellious behavior, my kind of girl. She saw her first surrealist painting in a Left Bank gallery when she was ten years old. Even though she found little encouragement from her family to forge an artistic career, a curator at Tate Modern, helped to champion her work through Edward James, who arranged a show of her work. She saw Max Ernst’s work and was attracted to him before she actually met him. Not only did they collaborate on sculptures to decorate their home, they supported each other’s artistic development. Sounds like a dream relationship to me. Unfortunately Ernst was arrested during the Nazi occupation of France and after escaping, Peggy Guggenheim arranged for him to come to America. Carrington was so devastated by his arrest that she had paralyzing breakdowns and was institutionalized for three years. After Ernst married Guggenheim, Carrington wrote a book called Down Below, about the events of her psychotic experience. From painting to writing, all art is healing.
In this piece four priestess perform a surgery on a levitating Amenhotep (the first monotheistic pharaoh) whose wound is in the shape of a lotus flower. Men wearing priests’ hats sit in the gallery to watch the performance. The compasses along the box signify a magic transformation. The dish in the foreground, which is presumably used to collect an extracted organ, contains a small lizard.
Carrington believed that monotheism was the root of a patriarchal society, thus the priestesses are extracting that root through a magical surgery. In her later years Carrington wrote that “a woman shouldn’t have to demand rights. The rights were there from the beginning, they must be taken back again, including the mysteries which were ours and which were violated, stolen or destroyed.”
Kron Flower – Carrington understood that women were to maintain your youth at all costs’ meaning maintain your sexual desirability at all costs. But then she ruthlessly mocks those women who cannot resist the shame-inducing admonitions of the culture and feel the need for excessive make-up, a face-lift or to still dress in tight, provocative clothing.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
I love Frida because she transformed her suffering and pain into remarkable art. She is best known for her self portraits and said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” While it is easier to hide, it has been widely accepted that an artists’ best work is his or her most personal. Frida was not scared about showing her pain, soul, and fears in her art. Every great artist comes bearing the gift of their soul.
This is one of Frida’s most shocking and controversial paintings. Dorothy Hale was an aspiring actress who was unable to find work and left financially dependent on her wealthy friends after her husband’s death. She killed herself by jumping off a New York city building. Clare Boothe Luce requested a painting for Dorothy Hale’s mother. Hale was known to have said “I would not have requested such a gory picture of my worst enemy, much less of my unfortunate friend. Kahlo painted actress Dorothy Hale not only as she jumped but fell, and landed, dead and bloody on the concrete walk outside her apartment building. The blood-red lettering at the bottom of the retablo details the tragedy in Spanish. Luce’s response was to destroy the painting but her friends dissuaded her. What Luce didn’t know was that at the time that Kahlo painted this, she was in a desperate state of mind over losing Diego and was having repeated thoughts of committing suicide.
My favorite artist ever:
Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Michael’s calling was clear. He would dance to the rhythm of the rickety Maytag washing machine when he was on the floor wearing his diaper and holding his little bottle. His art beckoned him and whether it was putting pen to paper, a song to the ethers, his brush to a palette or his feet to dancing, he had no choice. His passion called him and he listened in return. He put his soul out there and was courageous about his art because he believed his gift came from G-d. The soul of art is the art of soul. Here is a video by a fan who puts together MJ videos and does the finest job of remixing videos that I’ve seen. Yes, that’s Sheryl Crow at 1:32!
My favorite love songs
1. You’re Just Too Good To Be True – Lauryn Hill
2. Come Pick Me Up – Ryan Adams
3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross
4. To Have and Not To Hold – Madonna
5. Nobody – Kate Earl
6. All In Love Is Fair – Stevie Wonder
7. You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me- Gladys Knight
8. Anyone Who Had a Heart -Shelby Lynne
9. Soul Mate -Natasha Bedingfield
10. I’ll Be Near You – Ivy
11. Looking For The Right One – Art Garfunkle
12. You’re the First, the Last, My Everything – Barry White
13. Could It Be I’m Falling In Love – The Spinners
14. If I Were Your Woman – Gladys Knight
15. When You Really Love Someone – Alicia Keys
16. Fall Again – Michael Jackson
Content individually copyrighted by each photographer.
LACMA’s “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States” opened January 29. I was bowled over by these women’s ability to turn loose of all logic while baring their souls with their paintings and photography. I’ve been blessed to have traveled the world and experience many museums yet have never felt so on fire and alive as I felt at this exhibit. I’m always in search of my next muse and I feel as if my love for surrealism has been rekindled.
There were familiar artists featured such as Frida Kahlo, as well as other lesser known women. I went on a journey, slowly walking through the show and I choose my favorites of the 175 works by 47 artists, to share here. I feel as if I can go on learning about these artists for a long time and no words could ever describe the feelings and emotions of seeing their art in person. Viewing their work reminded me that creativity can be sparked, ignited and set on fire if we open our eyes to the stories right in front of us. Their imagination and honesty left me both inspired and overwhelmed. I walked through the exhibit and thought about Freud’s famous question: What do women want? The surrealists looked to the subconscious for inspiration. It took deep bravery for these women to put brush to canvas at a time when Surrealist art was dominated by male artists. These women were rule breakers. Despite any mold they were told to fit into, they created stories from blank pages and canvases. The show even has an app and a book of the same title that offers us a fresh perspective on surrealism. The exhibit made me think hard and I thought of Fibonnaci’s spiral.
Fibonnaci’s spiral’s importance is revealed in where we find it: in the display of the florets of the sunflower with perfect spirals of 55, 34, and 21; the sequence of Fibonnacci. Fibonacci’s sequence shows up not only in the sunflower but also in the perfect fruitlets of the pineapple. We see it in the pine cone, buds on trees, sand dollars, star fish, petals on flowers & the nautilus shell. They are all formed with the exact blue print but whose blue print is it?
Is art proof of a creator? I saw the fingerprint of G-d in each and every one of these artists at the LACMA exhibit. If you’d like to visit a brilliantly assembled discovery of artists that explore self discovery, rebellion, sensuality, identity, and love, love and more love, go before it closes May 6. You will be granted access to the landscape of the female mind starting with Dorothea Tanning.
Dorothea Tanning (August 25, 1910 – January 31, 2012) was born in Illinois and studied painting in Chicago. She spent 34 years with Max Ernst first in Sedona, Arizona & later in France. After he died in 1976, she realized her future would be a solitary journey. “Go home” said the paint tubes, the canvasas, the brushes. She returned to the U.S. and continued to paint. At age sixty-six she also earnestly began to write. Her poetry appeared in many literary reviews such as The Yale Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, The New Yorker. In 2011, at the age of 100, she published her second book of poems, Coming to That.
Sylvia Fein’s surreal work was created during the turmoil that was World War II. I love the intimacy of the tiny animals she places in her paintings especially the cats.
Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) is my hero because she painted her pain and didn’t try to hide her truth in her art which makes her brave and heartbreaking all at once. When she was a teenager, she had an accident which broke her spinal column, as well as broken ribs, pelvis, collarbone, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot and dislocated shoulder. Instead of studying medicine as she planned, she began painting to help her cope with her pain. The accident destroyed her physically and her volatile on again, off again relationship with Diego Rivera destroyed her emotionally. However, his belief in Frida gave her the strength to pursue a career as an artist. Rivera also gave her space to explore herself and create. Of the 143 paintings she created, 55 are self-portraits which showed symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. My favorite quote of hers: “I paint myself because I am alone so often and I am the subject I know best.” Frida’s work is fearless.
Leonora Carrington (April 6, 1917 – May 25, 2011) was born in England, studied art in Florence and even though her father was opposed to her career as an artist, her mother encouraged her. She was smitten with Max Ernst’s work and surrealism before she actually met him. After meeting Ernst at a party in London in 1937, they formed a bond, he separated from his wife and settled in the south of France with Carrington. She was institutionalized after Ernst was arrested. She eventually sought refuge in Mexico while Ernst married Peggy Guggenheim. Too many years of misery kept Carrington and Ernst from being able to reconnect. I love this quote of hers:
“I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.” –Leonora Carrington, 1983
Gerrie Gutmann’s (1821-1969) self portrait paints herself in Victorian clothing while being chained to spider webs that connect to a toy doll in the corner showing Gutmann’s view of the domestic chamber of horrors. After a few exhibitions in the Bay Area and New York, Gerrie Gutmann committed suicide in 1969.
Gertrude Abercrombie was an American painter who lived in Chicago who was called “the queen of the bohemian artists.” A lot of her inspiration came from her involvement in the Chicago jazz scene. She said “it is always myself that I paint” and “I like to paint simple things that are a little strange. My work comes directly from my inner consciousness and it must come easily. It is a process of selection and reduction.”
Rosa Rolanda (1895-1970). Oh, how I loved this bizarre, beautiful painting of her subconscious after her marriage ended.
Maria Izquierdo (1902-1955). After her father died when she was five, Maria lived with her grandparents in small towns in Mexico. Her first art training came at thirteen and after three children before her twentieth birthday, she divorced her husband. She was the first Mexican woman to have a solo art exhibition in the U.S in November 1930.
Mina Loy (1882-1966) was an artist, poet, playwright, novelist, futurist, actress, bohemian and designer of lamps. Her poetry would frequent smaller magazines, later in NY publications. Her novel, Insel, was published posthumously.
Remedios Varo (1908-1963). In Mexico she met Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera but her third and last important relationship was to Walter Gruen, a survivor of the concentration camps before he escaped Europe. He fiercely believed in Varo and supported her so she could focus fully on her painting. I deeply resonated with her work. I felt I could see a bit into who she was; a playful person, isolated, who created her own world. Because sometimes living a fantasy is easier than real life.
Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999). She was an American Post-Surrealist, hard edge painter. Constantly reading, she was inclined to be a writer.
Doris Lindo Lewis (1909-1995)
Bridget Tichenor (1917-1990)
Loren MacIver (1909-1998)
Francesca Woodman (1958-1981). I flew to San Francisco twice just to view Woodman’s work at the SFMOMA. Her genius for lighting and composition are unparalleled. She didn’t hide in her art, she was her art. I’ve done two blogs focused on Woodman in the past.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) I’d describe her as the Anne Sexton of confessional art. She painted the themes of betrayal, anxiety and loneliness. Her work is said to be autobiographical, stemming from the trauma of her childhood when she discovered her governess was her father’s mistress. This caused her need to understand double standards related to gender and sexuality, which appears in her work frequently. During her stay at the American Abstract Artists Group, she was friends with Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
Lee Miller (1907-1977). I think most of us know that Man Ray’s love for Miller almost drove him crazy and inspired some of his greatest work. There was much more to Lee Miller than being Man Ray’s muse. It is said that both artists fed off each other to create their art and their love for each other resulted in some of the most powerful work of each artist’s career. The recent Man Ray/Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism show that ran at the Peabody Essex Museum had a section entitled “Enduring Friendship” which highlighted the lasting nature of their relationship and their reconnection as friends after their bitter split in 1932. Miller was an accomplished photographer in her own right. After giving up photography in 1953, she spiraled into depression and alcoholism.
Julia Thecla (1896-1973) Thecla was 24 years old when she cut herself off from her family and changed her last name to Thecla as she had an aunt who was enamored with Saint Thecla. Through her technical skills, she could support herself as an art restorer. While studying at School of the Art Institute, she created charcoals of little girls reading, ballerinas and the heavens. Friends said she read a lot and could talk about most any subject which probably explains why so many of the little girls in her paintings are holding books. She wrote poetry but none of it was published. According to art professor Joanna Gardner-Huggett, who specializes in women artists, “you need someone to maintain your estate.” She disappeared from the art world partially because she had no family and she wasn’t attached to a male artist which pushed her further down the ladder. Gardner-Huggett says “there was really no one looking out for her work.”
Grace Clements (1905-1969)
Rose Mandel (1910-2002)
Kati Horna (1912-2000)
Muriel Streeter (1913-1995)
Jacqueline Lamba (1910-1993)
Alice Rahon (1904-1987)
I love the layout of the exhibit as it seemed to reinforce the surreal theme. Here you see angular walls that divide areas that you might not otherwise see.
A friend and photographer shared Francesca Woodman’s work with me a year ago this past December. I was not familiar with her art at the time but immediately resonated with her and her story. Woodman is an influential photographer whose need to photograph herself seemed to be the psychological equivalent of what poetry meant for Anne Sexton. Not only did Woodman photograph herself, she often photographed other women, usually blurring their faces. We had the self confessional photography of Nan Goldin; who photographed obsession and dependency and Cindy Sherman’s conceptual self portraiture. Then there was Francesca Woodman.
Many photographers are cool and completely distant from their work. What deeply resonated for me was Woodman’s complete and utter honesty of herself, her feelings and emotions. Her rawness is a breath of fresh air. She explored herself and her body in abandoned builidings, as well as in New York, Rome and Rhode Island, sometimes adding her feelings in words, onto the prints.
Her haunting photographs are as fresh today as when she made them 30 years ago. Woodman’s photos ache with tenderness, isolation, loneliness, pain and the sheer genius of her compulsive nature and intense relationship with her camera. She was concerned with femininity and female subjectivity. Her deeply personal work leaves me with many questions which is what a great photograph does. Her photos have left an indelible image on my mind and in my heart.
Woodman photographed herself from the age of 13 until her suicide at 22. She was depressed due to her work not being taken seriously and after a broken relationship with her boyfriend, she survived a suicide attempt in late 1980. In January 1981, after living with her parents in Manhattan, she jumped out of a loft window to her death. I am reminded of Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist’s words from Razor Face off the Madman Across the Water album; (yes, i still call them albums)
” Oh, it must be hard for the likes of you to get by
in a world that you just can’t see through and it looks so cold,
How does it feel to know you can’t go home.”
Francesca Woodman’s exhibit is at SFMOMA until February 20, 2012: