Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lois Dodd

Shadow With Easel, 2009, Lois Dodd.
The past casts a shadow on the present.
I Was at Catching
the Light, Lois Dodd
William Shakespeare in The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1, has Antonio give voice to the phrase: "What's past is prologue [to the present]." That is to say, history sets the context for the present. The quotation is thought to be so apt that it is engraved in stone at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. It's only when we talk with someone who has lived history, up close and personally, that we get a true understanding of how much time (history) has changed the present; and more importantly, a better understanding of our present day world. Moreover, the past is often a good predictor of the future, as Mark Twain is unreliably quotted to have noted, "History never repeats itself, but it rhymes."
Today, we often hear pessimistic political and religious conservatives, in their wistful recall of the past, suggest that times have never been as bad as they are right now. In fact, just the opposite is true, the present has nearly always been better than the past. Even in discussing the worst afflictions of mankind--wars, famine, genocide, disease--if you know your history from an unbiased point of view, it's easily apparent that seldom are any of those as bad today as they have been in the past. The present is simply different from the past--rhyming but not repeating. Since I write about art, let's take art, for instance. And since we need a really old artist to verify this point, let's take the American Modernist painter, Lois Dodd. She was born in 1927, so that mean's she's about ninety years old (give or take a few months).

Lois Dodd was born in Montclair, New Jersey. She was educated at the Cooper Union in New York City from 1945–48. Later, in the early 1950s, she became the only woman co-founder of the Tanager Gallery, which was integral to the Tenth Street avant-garde scene of that era when artists began running their own co-op galleries. Lois Dodd ex-hibited at Tanager Gallery for the first ten years of her career. In 1962 she switched to the Green Mountain Gal-lery. During this time, from 1971 to 1992, she taught at Brooklyn College and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture located in Skowhegan, Maine. Many of her paintings such as the one at left (the title is somewhat uncertain) reflect her love for Maine and it's rugged forests and coastline.

A Woman as rugged as the landscape she paints
(even in her eighties).
As a young artist struggling to make a name for herself, the 1950s were not the best of times. First of all, she was (is) a woman in what was then a very macho art world. Second, having come to art through the conservative Cooper's Union, both her painting and drawing instructors were Realists. It was all she ever knew. Thus, at a time when Abstract Expressionism was all the rage, she was painting highly recognizable trees (below), windows, flowers, cows, figures, and landscapes. Her work sold, but not for the prices the men's work brought down and not with the same wild enthusiasm garnered by those of the New York School. Her membership in this group was only nominal, a member having to do more with geography and friendships than style. She painted what she knew in the only manner she knew how.

Sky Through Trees, Lois Dodd
(title is uncertain).
About the same time, with all her struggles as a virtually unknown artist, along with her husband, the abstract sculptor, Bill King, Lois Dodd became a mother in 1952. Today, Lois Dodd would not be the outsider she was in the 1950s. There are far more women artists today and there is an acceptance of their work and their place as working artists that didn't exist when Ms. Dodd got her start. This factor is, though, both positive and negative. There are simply so many more artists of both genders working just in the mid-town Manhattan area, not to mention the rest of the art world, with whom Dodd must compete for attention. After more than sixty years as an artist, it wasn't until 2013 that she had her first retrospective, "Catching the Light" at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art. See, things are better now than then.

Left: Burning House, Night with Fireman, 2007
Right: Johnson, Vermont Porch, Lois Dodd
Liberty Painting in New York Harbor,
2002, Lois Dodd. (Note: the presence of
the WTC twin towers in the background
make the date of the painting suspect.)


No comments:

Post a Comment