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Grace Hartigan Artworks

American Painter

Grace Hartigan Photo

Born: March 28, 1922 - Newark, New Jersey

Died: November 15, 2008 - Baltimore, Maryland

Artworks by Grace Hartigan

The below artworks are the most important by Grace Hartigan - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Months and Moons (1950)

In this early painting, completed after she returned from Mexico, Hartigan works in a typical all-over Abstract Expressionist style with influences from Surrealism. The work showcases her quick, vibrant brushwork along with her interest in chance as shown by the dripping paint and the fact that she did not complete any preliminary drawings for this painting. The dominance of curved, biomorphic forms seems a foreshadowing of her later interest in figuration, while the addition in the lower left of a cutout from a Life magazine advertisement for pancakes underscores her interest in everyday life.

The Oranges, No. 1 (Black Crows) (1952)

This work shows Hartigan coming into her own as an artist, combining both painterly brushwork and her burgeoning interest in figurative art. This painting was the first in a series, based on 12 prose poems by Hartigan's friend Frank O'Hara, entitled "Oranges: 12 Pastorals." O'Hara often wrote about his spontaneous creative process and it may have been this that intrigued Hartigan - how to translate the immediacy of his creativity into her own work. Hartigan had declared in her journal in October 1951 that for her "the 'all-over' picture is finished. It had become a formula." Hartigan's use of the word "formula" suggests that she was bored with abstraction and wanted to experiment with more traditional compositional structure. Her related experiments with figuration that began the next year are evident here. She includes the entirety of the poem on the canvas in a graffiti-like interplay of image and text that challenges the traditional relation between surface and representation. The figure with blonde hair placed horizontally along the bottom of the canvas seems to correspond with the Ophelia of O'Hara's poem but without traditional gender markers. Her inclusion of a figure that registers as human only because of the reference to "Ophelia" painted on the canvas likely points to her indebtedness to Willem de Kooning.

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Grand Street Brides (1954)

This is one of Hartigan's best-known pieces that again underscores her willingness to abandon total abstraction in favor of adding recognizable elements into her composition in order to incorporate the everyday world that enthralled her. Her experiments in this vein set her apart from other Abstract Expressionists with the exception of Willem de Kooning and made her work a bridge between the Abstract Expressionists, neo-Dada, and Pop artists. Here she is also showing the influence of her study of the Old Masters, which she began in 1952.

Mannequins from a bridal shop window in her Lower East Side neighborhood, where arranged brides were often brought from Europe, are on display much like the women posing in Francisco de Goya's Charles IV of Spain and his Family (1800). At this time in Europe, aristocratic women were seen as commodities to exchange among powerful families in order to forge financial or political unions between them. Though the geography and time period were different, the brides depicted by Hartigan are also shown as if for sale. Hartigan also appreciated how shop windows frame the scene and "provide a shallow space, and define the back plane." Complexity is achieved through the layering of shapes and rendered objects.

Summer Street (1956)

Summer Street implies urban action and movement through choppy brushwork, without directly representing it. This is a classic example of Hartigan's treatment of abstraction, which is not void of representation but rather includes a recognizable fruit stand amid a swirl of pattern and color along with a sketchy rendering of her friend, Elaine de Kooning, in the foreground wearing blue sunglasses. De Kooning's legs blend with the wheels of the bicycle on which she sits. The playful canvas seems to pay homage to the joys and diversions of the summer months as they are experienced on a busy urban street. Hartigan's paintings, regardless of period, treat the canvas surface with extreme urgency, in that they are painted quickly and without much "regression" in space, as she called it.

Marilyn (1962)

The subject of this painting, Marilyn Monroe, suggest affinities to Pop art because of the popularity of Monroe with Pop artists, especially Andy Warhol. Hartigan's treatment differs, however, in part because it does not have a slick, emotionless feel, but rather showcases a variety of brushwork that marks the presence of the artist. Warm colors dominate the canvas, particularly red, which is associated with the body, blood, and sexuality. The brushwork is softer than in the works discussed above, but Hartigan also includes scratches, stippling, and heavy, dark lines. She worked from several photographs to create a sort of abstract painted collage whose disjointed quality was for Hartigan closer to the "real" Marilyn, than it was to the glossy facade she presented to the public that was the focus for Warhol and other Pop artists. Monroe's mouth, taken from a famous Life photograph, dominates the upper part of the canvas, while the extended hand across the bottom was influenced by a detail from Andrea Mantegna's fresco Arrival of Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga (1474), again showing the artist's interest in art history.

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Joséphine (1983)

This work was part of series entitled Great Queens and Empresses that Hartigan began in the fall of 1983. Her interest in strong women, including Theodora and Elizabeth I, was likely influenced by Hartigan's own attempts to combat her alcoholism during this period. In the painting of Joséphine, Hartigan focused on the yellow, Empire-waist gown of the Empress that highlights her sophisticated elegance - something that she worked hard to attain. Joséphine was born on the island of Martinique and married at the age of 15. The newlywed couple moved to Paris where Joséphine's manners were provincial and embarrassing to her husband whom she eventually divorced. Years later, as Empress of France, Joséphine helped make fashionable what became known as the Empire silhouette. Hartigan's painting is a reminder of the discipline needed for such a transformation at a time when French women had little political power.

Related Artists and Major Works

Excavation (1950)

Artist: Willem de Kooning (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Even as he returned to figuration in the late 1940s, he embarked on another abstraction, Excavation at the same time. Just over six-and-a-half-feet tall and eight-feet wide, Excavation is not as monumental as some later Abstract Expressionist paintings, but it is the biggest painting de Kooning ever made. The pictorial space de Kooning depicted on the canvas was closely tied to his own embodied sense of space in the physical world. In a talk he wrote for the Artists' Club, de Kooning explained, "If I stretch my arms next to the rest of myself and wonder where my fingers are - that is all the space I need as a painter." In other words, de Kooning's canvases are born at the fullest extension of his arms, where his fingers hold the brush that touches the canvases. To move beyond this scale one risks losing the human intimacy of the space.

The bulk of the surface is covered with dirty white, cream, and yellowish shapes outlined with black and gray lines. Throughout the canvas, one sees passages of crimson, blue, magenta, gold, and aqua. The effect is an all-over composition with no single point of entry and which draws the viewer's eyes across the entirety of the canvas. No one section stands out a more important or less interesting than another. That being said, one does see something of a ground line at the bottom of the edge of the painting and a rectangle that evokes a door or a window. Just as the composition seems to expand beyond the edges of the canvas, de Kooning brings the viewer back to a threshold, suggesting a particular place and time, grounding them in the present. Harold Rosenberg commented on the painting, "For all the protracted agitation that produced it, Excavation was a classical painting, majestic and distant, like a formula wrung out of testing explosives. If, as de Kooning liked to say, the artist function by 'getting into the canvas' and working his way out again, this masterpiece had seen him not only depart but close the door behind him."

Self-Portrait (1946)

Artist: Elaine de Kooning (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

In the mid 1940s, Elaine and Willem were poorer than ever, and both were experiencing great difficulty in selling any work. In an effort to make money, de Kooning painted this realist self-portrait and sold it to her sister for a sum of $20, which she described at the time as "good money." The pseudo-abstract touches in this otherwise classical portrait are very much in the style of artist Fairfield Porter, who was a close friend of the de Koonings.

Mountains and Sea (1952)

Mountains and Sea (1952)

Artist: Helen Frankenthaler (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This canvas is the artist's landmark piece in which she first pioneered her soak-stain process. Despite its large size (7 x 10 feet), it is a work of quiet intimacy. Painted on the artist's return from Nova Scotia, Mountains and Sea retains the artist's impressions of the Cape Breton environs; as she famously described, the region's landscapes "were in my arms as I did it ... I was trying to get at something - I didn't know what until it was manifest." Here, color takes on a new, primary role, with washes of pink, blue, and green defining the hills, rocks, and water, the forms of which are sketchily outlined in charcoal. Following their encounter with Mountains and Sea and other works by Frankenthaler produced by means of the soak-stain technique, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland promptly embraced the method and, together with Frankenthaler, launched the "next big thing" in American art: Color Field Painting.

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