Window view from Florine Stettheimer's Bryant Park studio, New York City, photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son
Photograph Study Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Introduction to the Issue
The more one examines a work of art, it is of interest to reflect on the artist’s life and how it connects to both the process of making the work and the way the viewer considers the artist and the work itself. Can we separate the art of Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol or Jean Michel Basquiat from the time and life each lived?
In this issue, TAS explores how the life of an artist can inform the content of the work. The three artists represented in these articles are from three distinct time periods – the present, the mid-20th century, and the early 20th century.
Florine Stettheimer (August 19, 1871 – May 11, 1944) was loved by many artists of the last two centuries. Her friends included Georgia O’Keeffe, Marcel Duchamp, and Virgil Thompson. Her work, in many museum collections, was largely unknown in her lifetime, and remains so in this century.
Here is an excerpt from the press release announcing Stettheimer’s posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1947:
"With the opening today (Wednesday, October 2) of an exhibition of the paintings of Florine Stettheimer, the Museum of Modern Art puts on public view the works of an artist almost unknown to the public yet for decades famous and enthusiastically appreciated in
a small circle of noted artists, authors, critics, connoisseurs, singers and dancers. The exhibition has been directed by Marcel Duchamp, for many years a friend of the artist."
Stettheimer has been brought into the conversation by Barbara Bloemink. I had the pleasure to speak with Bloemink about her new book, Florine Stettheimer: A Biography, listed by The New Yorker as one of "The Best Books of 2022.” A former director and chief curator of five art and design museums, she has curated over eighty exhibitions. In Bloemink’s biography, of Stettheimer, we read about an artist whose life and work was anything but ordinary. Living with her mother and two sisters, together they held salons that included the artists and literati of New York. Bloemink’s biography will help restore Stettheimer to the canon of 20th century art.
Atlanta writer Robert Stalker examines West Coast artist Billy Al Bengston (June 7, 1934 – October 8, 2022). I think of Billy Al’s artwork and persona as a macho Easy Rider aesthetic. Photos of the artist show him sitting astride a motorcycle. His paintings of motorcycles and engine parts were created by automobile spray paint, giving them the slickness of Pop Art. He raced motorcycles, surfed, and “channeled California Cool.” In the bio on his website, Billy Al wrote: “The rest is history of painting, surfing, motorcycle racing, racing, odd jobs, one child. Finally a great marriage to Wendy Al in 1995. My real job is painting and paying attention…” Upon revisiting his work, I find there is much more to this artist’s work than I previously thought. Billy Al’s paintings have a luminous intensity of color. His uses of the motif of military sergeant’s stripes set within Mandala-like compositions deserve a new look and fresh appreciation.
In the fall of 2022, Etty Yaniv attended an artist’s residency at the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation in New Berlin, New York, established by the founders of Golden Artist Colors, a company devoted to artists’ materials. Her installations, which repurpose and recycle many materials, could have changed after her stay there. At this residency, she had limitless access to materials. Of course, this is something of which most artists dream. In her artist’s statement, she Yaniv writes, “In my installation works I draw on patterns from nature and images from daily life…”
Does knowledge of an artist’s life frame the way we address the art?
Perhaps this is an important place to begin.
All my best,
Deanna Sirlin is an artist and writer from Brooklyn, New York currently living and working outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Her current exhibition, Wavetable is on view at 211 East 43rd street, NYC, NY 10017 through August 2023.
Deanna Sirlin photo: Marie Thomas