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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Audrey Flack

One of the "dirty little secrets" of the art world is the degree to which painters, especially painters of realism, use projected images to guarantee a portrait likeness or photographic verisimilitude. There are several good reasons they choose not to admit, or at least not to publicize this quite valid drawing technique (too many to go into here and now). However there are a few brave souls out there who make no bones about the fact that they draw and paint from slides. One of them is Audrey Flack.  Born in 1931, she studied in all the right schools, paid her dues painting unappreciated figurative paintings during the Abstract Expressionist fifties, and has suffered all the slings and arrows of being a female artist during times when female artists were viewed as little more than hobbyists. After the Pop era, near the end of the sixties, when Photo-realism began to rise to prominence, she caught the brass ring and has held on, rising to the top of her field painting and sculpting in a manner that has brought her respect from every segment of the art world and the rest of the world as well.

A typical Audrey Flack painting is World War II (Vanitas).  Okay, before we get into the painting, what does vanitas mean?  It derives from sixteenth and seventeenth century Dutch painting in which still-life items are chosen and arranged to make the viewer contemplate the "vanities" and fleeting qualities of life leading ultimately to death.  Flack's 1976-77 painting is a vibrantly colored still-life of elegant vermeil tea cups, saucers, serving dishes, and candlesticks, pearls, inviting candies, a fragile but beautiful butterfly, and rose, an heirloom pocket watch, all arrayed over top of Margaret Bourke-White's famous, horrific photograph, The Living Dead of Buchenwald. It's trompe l'oeil realism further enforces the illusion that the still-life items were things momentarily abandoned, yet never to be seen again by those who lost their lives in the Holocaust concentration camps--hence the vanitas element.

Queen Catherine, 1998, Audrey Flack,
(This and other works by Audrey Flack
can be seen at )
Today, Audrey Flack teaches, paints some, but as much as anything, she seems now more interested in sculpture. In 1992, she was commissioned by the Portuguese-American group called the Friends of Queen Catherine to design a fitting monument to the wife of England's King Charles II (who captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch).  The borough of Queens was named for her. What Flack came up with was a one-million-dollar, six-story tall bust of the screen, second in size only to the Statue of Liberty, to be installed on the shore of the East River in Queens. As the project progressed, she exhibited various models for the work designed to be a symbol of the strength and humanity of this enlightened monarch. However, the project has been put on hold while a new location for the work is found. Despite the multi-racial features of  Flack's Queen Catherine, A group of African-American residence of Queens raised objections to the monument on the grounds that both the Portuguese and English side of her family were involved in the slave trade. Yet research has shown no evidence that Queen Catherine ever owned slaves, and in fact, her will left a sum of money to free slaves (presumably not her own in that no money would have been necessary to free her own slaves). The African American community, joined by the Irish-Americans and others (for a variety of reasons) has remained adamant that the statue not be built in Queens. What has ensued is a battle of the ethnics coupled with the NIMBY factor (Not In My Back Yard).  The statue now rests at a foundry in upstate New York. Anyone want a five-story tall queen for their back yard?

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