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Monday, April 22, 2019

Luchita Hurtado

Untitled, 1970, Luchita Hurtado
A few days before Christmas last year, my wife and I; and my sister and her husband drove to Bucyrus, Ohio, to visit our last surviving aunt. She is 94 years old (born on New Year's Day, 1925). She still lives alone after the death of my uncle (my mother's youngest brother) more than twenty years ago. Ironically, she's in better health than I am, (born in 1945). I wish she was a blood relative so that I might have access to the so-called "longevity genes," she obviously possesses (her parents both lived approximately one-hundred years). It is, of course, no secret than women usually live longer than men. Actuarial tables confirm that on an average, women outlive men by about three to five years (depending upon a number of very complex factors). According to the charts, I should live to be about 78. My aunt has a very good chance of reaching the century mark. That's also the case with the Venezuelan-born painter, Luchita Hurtado She is currently 98.

Luchita then (1920s), and now.
Luisa Amelia Garcia Rodriguez Hurtado was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1920 and moved to New York City as a nine-year-old. She studied at Washington Irving High School, where her mother thought she was learning to sew, not paint. Upon finishing high school, Luchita married Daniel de Solar, a Spanish journalist twice her age. She was just 18. By 1942, the couple had two young children and was in the midst of a divorce. Around the time he left, she made one of her earliest paintings, an ethereal semi-abstraction of two flattened deer drinking under moonlight (below). She also began freelancing as an illustrator, doing magazine work, and painting a temporary mural at Lord & Taylor of elongated figures with light bulbs for heads. She and her two sons lived in a modest apartment. Her life has been filled with joy and fascination, as well as suffering. (She lost two of her children, one to polio at the age of five.)

Untitled, 1942, Luchita Hertado.
However, it’s Hurtado’s work, rather than her rich story, that deserves attention—though in some ways, they are inseparable. During the nearly 100 years she has been painting, her work has been largely overshadowed by the men she married — Chilean journalist Daniel de Solar, Austrian artist and theorist Wolfgang Paalen, and for more than 40 years U.S. painter Lee Mullican, a founder of the “Dynaton” group, an influential trio of artists known for their interest in the surreal, the abstract and the cosmic. Although her work has been exhibited sporadically since the 1950s, mostly in group shows, it’s only recently that the art world has taken deeper notice of Luchita's paintings. Just in the last two years she’s had two solo exhibitions, but before 2016 her last solo show was back in 1974.
Luchita Hurtado Self-portrait,
probably painted during her time
living in San Francisco.
At 98, Luchita Hurtado has had enough adventures for three lifetimes. She traipsed around Southern Mexico in the 1940s in search of pre-Columbian archeology. She was pals with sculptor Isamu Noguchi and Mexican modernist Rufino Tamayo. Marcel Duchamp once gave her a foot rub. Hurtado and her second husband moved to the San Francisco Bay are in 1948 following the death of her son from Polio. She needed to escape to a new environment. There, they were again surrounded by a community of artists—Giles and Sheila Healey, architect Sybil Moholy-Nagy, and poet Jimmy Broughton. It was there where Luchita met Lee Mullican, whom she would marry soon after she left Paalen.

Untitled, 1950, Luchita Hurtado
Now newly single once more, Luchita moved in 1950, moved south to the Santa Monica Canyon near Los Angeles. At first, she lived alone, and then Mullican joined her. Shortly thereafter, their son, Matt Mullican (also a painter) was born. Lee Mullican belonged to the Dynaton group of artists that Paalen spearheaded, centered around Eastern philosophy, meditation, and intricate paintings. She and Mullican kept separate studios throughout their 48 years together, until his death in 1998. “We didn’t talk about the art,” she said. “I don’t like to work with anyone. I would turn a painting to the wall and wouldn’t let anyone see it. Maybe it was because I belong to a certain generation.”

Some of Luchita Hurtado's more recent works--all "untitled," of course.
Around 1970, just after Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro started the Feminist Art Program at CalArts, Hurtado broke from her private comfort zone and joined a feminist consciousness-raising group which included Vija Celmins, Alexis Smith, Susan Titelman. She met routinely and, at one point, artist Joyce Kozloff asked her if she’d like to help start a West Coast Guerrilla Girls chapter. Luchita disliked the name and soon distanced herself from the consciousness-raising group after they began doing drawings of each others’ privates. she said. “I thought it was the wrong approach to art. It was demeaning.”

Luchita Hurtado's "wall" at a recent group show, "Made in L.A."
Luchita's drawings’ are loosely Surrealist forms recalling dense pictographs from a variety of cultures, ancient and modern, A critic wrote in a review, “Hurtado’s work was multicultural before multicultural was cool.” Today, Hurtado and her feet are again big talk — this time for her striking paintings of feet and other parts of the female body against depictions of indigenous rugs, blue sky and sumptuous fruit. If Hurtado’s energy could be bottled as a tonic, it would no doubt sell out. Gallery owner, Paul Soto, who showed Hurtado’s work in 2016, notes, “She has this completely spiritual energy." One gallery guest contacted the museum to question the wall text that accompanies some of her paintings. They left a message saying they really loved the show but they found a typo. They thought Luchita’s birth date was wrong. "There’s no way, said the visitor, that a painter by the name of Luchita Hurtado could have possibly been born in 1920."
Untitled, 1970, Luchita Hurtado


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