This was one of those days when I started out with a laundry list of things to do - See the Puryear exhibit at SF MOMA, check out the Hewitt Collection at the AMAD, buy paint, work in the studio. This is the day when good intentions went awry. I read about Grace Hartigan in Timothy Buckwalter's blog and went off in search of information about her life.
“Now as before it is the vulgar and the vital and the possibility of its transformation into the beautiful which continues to challenge and fascinate me,” she told the reference work “World Artists: 1950-1980.” (obit: NY Times)
She burst upon the New York art scene in the 1950s, acclaimed for her brilliant, large canvases, which critics said displayed a "raw vitality, emotionally explosive color, excitement and anguish."
"What I had, what was my gift, I was a colorist," she said in 1987. "You can't learn that from anyone. I have what might be called a startling virtuosity."
She was one of the seminal figures of Abstract Expressionism, a real breakthrough artist," said Robert Saltonstall Mattison, a professor of art history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., who is her biographer. "She has never changed her work to be in fashion, but her work has changed. In the mid-1950s she began moving away from total abstraction, and since then, there have always been figurative elements in her paintings,." Mr. Mattison wrote. So, why isn't she a household name like Pollock, DeKooning and the other male painters of the 1950's?
Apparently, her cardinal sin was to get married and move to Baltimore. But, she never spoke against sexism in the art world. However, until 1951 she signed her work George Hartigan. She claimed this had nothing to do with subverting sex discrimination but rather with a "romantic identification with George Sand and George Eliot." In an interview, Hartigan claims, "I find that the subject of discrimination is only brought up by inferior talents to excuse their own inadequacy as artists."
In a famous essay, Nochlin explored why there aren't more famous women artists - or why this is perceived to be the case. Hartigan seems to fit in the category of one of the most common - a woman who didn't understand the forces against her and lashed out against those who pointed this out. Yet, the obit points out that she became an alcholic, partially due to the difficulties of dealing with her ailing husband and probably other issues that she refused to face. Still, she kept on painting and was an great teacher. She's earned her place in the art history books. Let's see if she gets there by the next time Janson is reprinted.