The Eyes

The Eyes

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grace to be born . . . | March 28, 1922

A few months after moving to Baltimore in 1989, I was exploring my new neighborhood of Mount Vernon, a beautiful historic area of the city just north of the harbor. Located across the street from a wonderful cafe and bookstore my brother and I used to visit frequently near Walters Art Gallery, I stopped in C. Grimaldis Gallery to have a look around. I was intrigued by a work titled, West Broadway, by Grace Hartigan. On my way out, I took a postcard from the Gallery reception desk with an image of the large, vibrant painting I had just seen. I kept that postcard for quite a while, first used as a bookmark, and then it was pinned to a wall near my desk at work when I moved to Chicago a few years later. I didn't take the time then to find out more about her, I just remember being very drawn to that energetic image.

Video Cover | 2008
Image | The Persian Jacket | 1952
Posting about this painting in
MoMA Collection coming soon.
In the summer of 2003, I was reading the book, Bill and Elaine: Portrait of a Marriage, about the lives of Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Several times, Hartigan is mentioned during the 1950s period when they were all part of the emerging Abstract Expressionist movement in New York.  Alas, my interest in knowing more about her life was born. I sought her out, found she was still living in Baltimore where I first encountered her work, and she had an address listed. So, I wrote her a letter telling her how much I enjoyed reading about her and of my interest in her work.  My partner, James Brock, followed my letter with a phone call to her studio.  

I continued to pursue my passion for knowing more, reading any books I could get my hands on about her life and her work, purchasing catalogs and postcards from her past exhibitions, even gaining access to the papers she donated to Syracuse University. At her suggestion to James, we attended the opening reception of a show in the fall of 2003 at Grimaldis Gallery, and introduced ourselves. We later enjoyed seeing her at more openings, James called her several times and spoke with her at length from her studio, I continued to write to her, and she even suggested further sources to read.

I persist toiling in my head on a dramatic project about her, wondering if it will ever take shape. I still collect books about the New York School and her place in art history as a second generation Abstract Expressionist painter. Currently, her work is hanging in the Abstract Expressionist New York exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and we forever enjoy visiting the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art and the American Art Museum to see her art in their collections. The title of this post, Grace to be born and live as variously as possible, is a line from a poem by her dear friend and poet, Frank O'Hara.  I dedicate this post to all the joy she has brought to my life, honoring the day of her birth—March 28, 1922. Thank you, Grace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Cubies' ABC and the Armory Show of 1913

Much has been written about the importance of the Armory Show of 1913, indisputably regarding this watershed event with changing the course of art in America. A little gem of a children’s book, The Cubies’ ABC, published in 1913, rhymes through the alphabet invoking the images and ideals of the Show’s participating artists. The red, yellow, and blue Cubies take on Matisse, Picasso, and other artists as well as the modern art collector, Gertrude Stein, in quirky and bizarre poetry that hardly seems to be written for a child. About Stein, the Cubies exclaim for the letter G:

G is for Gertrude Stein’s limpid lucidity,
(Eloquent scribe of the Futurist soul.)
Cubies devour each word with avidity:
“Alone words lack sense,” they affirm with placidity,
“But how wise we’ll be when we’ve swallowed the whole!”
G is for Gertrude Stein’s limpid lucidity.

With images by architect Earl Harvey Lyall and verses by his wife, Mary Mills Lyall, the book is dedicated to the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, organizers of the International Exhibition of Modern Art (the Armory Show). The entry for the letter Y expresses the boredom with art before this exhibition:

Y’s for the Yawn overcoming each Cubie
At sight of a painting not done in his style
“If man doesn’t use all the colors, from ruby
To sapphire and emerald and topaz—the booby!—
To look at his canvas is not worth one’s while!”
Y’s for the Yawn overcoming each Cubie.

The jokes and thought-provoking prose leave you smiling with the excitement the art world must have felt putting themselves and their work forward for an unsuspecting public to encounter and interpret. The illustrations in this book are as whimsical and fun as the language. See the complete book on I leave you with this:

I is for the Cubies’ Immense Intuition—
“The only real need of an artist,” they say:
“Without it we all would go straight to perdition!”
Between you and me, I’ve a sneaking suspicion
The Cubies themselves appear well on the way!
I’s for the Cubies’ Immense Intuition.