5 Fast Facts: Loïs Mailou Jones

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Designing Woman

Loïs Mailou Jones began her career as a textile artist, designing drapery and upholstery fabrics for prestigious firms in Boston and New York. She incorporated traditional motifs, such as flowers and leaves, as well as more unusual Caribbean- and African-inspired imagery, in her designs.

Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

2. What’s in a Name?

Jones lamented that the design world was mostly anonymous:[O]nly the name of the design printed on the borders of the fabric was known, never the name of the artist who created it. That bothered me because I was doing all this work, but not getting any recognition.” Consequently, she shifted her focus to painting—and signed every work.

3. Educator and Mentor

As a member of the art department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1930 until 1977, Jones influenced several generations of African American artists, including Elizabeth Catlett, David Driskell, and Sylvia Snowden.

4. Out of Africa

Inspired by the Black Arts Movement, Jones documented contemporary African Diaspora art of Haiti, Africa, and the United States. She traveled to 11 African countries between 1970 and 1972, visiting studios and workshops, interviewing artists, and making thousands of slides of their work. These experiences also directly influenced the subjects and style of her future paintings.

5. Best of Friends

On her first trip to Paris in 1937, Jones began her lifelong friendship with French-born artist Céline Tabary (1908–1993). Tabary spent part of World War II living in Washington, D.C. During that time, she delivered Jones’s entry to the Society of Washington Artists exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art because African American artists were forbidden to participate.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­—Deborah Gaston is the director of education and digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Colette Fu

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Colette Fu (b. 1965), whose work is on view in Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu through February 26, 2017.

Colette Fu (b. 1965)

1. Game Plan

When Fu began her career, she perused bookstores for inspiration. Fu says, “Originally, I wanted to make something like the game of Life but with photos.” Next to a shelf of games at one store, she noticed a stack of Robert Sabuda’s detailed pop-up books. The discovery inspired Fu to engineer her own sculptural books.

2. The Inside Story

Fu taught herself pop-up techniques by deconstructing children’s pop-up books. Later, artist-in-residence programs gave her the opportunity to develop projects. In 2008 the artist received a Fulbright Fellowship to create the pop-up series “We are Tiger Dragon People,” depicting ethnic minorities of China’s Yunnan Province.

3. Mix and Match

Fu combines her photography skills with the precise paper engineering. Fu often combines up to 20 photos in her scenes. Through her use of mixed media and sculptural engineering, Fu achieves a unique collection of works.

4. Large and in Charge

During her six-month artist residency in Shanghai, Fu created China’s largest single spread pop-up book, measuring 8.2 x 16.4 x 5.6 feet. The artwork explored ethnic minority groups of China as an extension of her “We are Tiger Dragon People” series.

Installation view of Colette Fu’s Academy of Music, Imaginary Audience, from the series “Haunted Philadelphia,” on view in Wanderer/Wonderer; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

5. Phantom of the Opera

Academy of Music, Imaginary Audience, from the series “Haunted Philadelphia,” depicts America’s oldest grand opera house and centers on the theater’s infamous phantom that reportedly pulls theatregoers’ hair and pinches them. Fu’s “imaginary audience” references concerns about being watched by others.

Stop by the museum to see Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fuon view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery through February 26, 2017.

—Olivia Lussi was the fall 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Kiki Smith

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Kiki Smith (b. 1954), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Kiki Smith, Untitled (for David Wojnarowicz), 2000

Kiki Smith, Untitled (for David Wojnarowicz), 2000; Etching and engraving, with aquatint, spitbite, and sugarlift on Hahnemühle paper; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and her biographer, former NMWA Chief Curator Helaine Posner

Kiki Smith (b. 1954)

1. Spirited Away

Smith cites Catholicism’s focus on the human body as source material. “Catholicism is a body-fetishized religion. It’s always taking inanimate things and giving meaning to them.” Smith has based sculptures on Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, but uprooted traditional expectations.

2. Proof is in the Print

Although she is best-known as a sculptor, Smith has also worked in printmaking since the late 1970s. The “endlessly fascinating” printmaking process allows Smith to examine proofs at various stages, offering the artist the flexibility to experiment and re-work an image until she is satisfied with the result.

3. Poetic License

Smith’s work on view at NMWA highlights her interest in the relationship between women and nature. She illustrated Sampler, a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson, and assembled the drawings into one hand-colored and gilded layout. Smith’s imagery was inspired by embroidered samplers from the 18th and 19th centuries.

A visitor studies Kiki Smith’s Sampler, 2007 on view in NMWA’s collection galleries

A visitor studies Kiki Smith’s Sampler (2007), on view in NMWA’s collection galleries

4. Life and Death

Smith lost her father in 1980 and her sister, Beatrice, to AIDS, in 1988. These deaths prompted Smith to explore themes of ephemerality and mortality. In this vein, she has created death masks in homage to her family and friends. She also cited Gray’s Anatomy as inspiration and studied cadavers.

5. Matter of Opinion

Friends fuel Smith’s creative process. She explains that “you get the benefit of everyone’s opinions and so it’s not just about you in your you-dom.” Welcoming other perspectives, Smith says, “I’d rather make something that’s very open-ended that can have a meaning to me, but then it also can have a meaning to somebody else.”

5 Fast Facts: Remedios Varo

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Surrealist painter Remedios Varo (1908–1963), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

varo the call

Remedios Varo, La llamada (The Call), 1961; Oil on masonite, 39 1/2 x 26 3/5 in.; NMWA, Gift from Private Collection

Remedios Varo (1908–1963)

1. Stranger in a Strange Land

Varo spent the majority of her adulthood as a political refugee. She left her native Spain for Paris during the Spanish Civil War and could not return due to her political ties. She then fled Paris after Germany’s 1940 occupation. She escaped to Mexico, where she lived for the rest of her life.

 2. Hanging with the In-Crowd

Varo’s relationship with French Surrealist poet Benjamin Péret introduced her to other Parisian Surrealists. While outwardly accepting, the male-dominated movement placed limitations on women artists by portraying them as innocent and child-like. This view often created obstacles for female Surrealists trying to gain credibility and develop their own creative identities.

3. Paying the Bills

After moving to Mexico, Varo supported herself through various odd jobs, including sewing, restoring ceramics, creating advertisements for pharmaceuticals, and creating technical drawings for the Ministry of Public Health. Although commercial, this work helped her develop a style that was uniquely her own.

varo weaving

Remedios Varo, Tejido espacio-tiempo (Weaving of Space and Time), 1954; Oil on masonite, 32 x 28 in.; NMWA, Gift from Private Collection

4. Fashionista

Although she is renowned as a painter, Varo also designed costumes for theatrical productions. She even made her own clothing, believing that tailors had no knowledge of a woman’s anatomy and figure. Her sewing machine held a place of honor at the 1983 retrospective of her work in Mexico City.

5. Best Friends Forever

Varo was close friends with fellow Surrealist Leonora Carrington. The two often discussed philosophy and collaborated on stories, games, and plays. One of their favorite pastimes was creating recipes that promised to chase away problems like, “inopportune dreams, insomnia, and deserts of quicksand under the bed.”

—Hannah Page was the 2016 summer education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Betye Saar

Impress your friends with five fast facts about American assemblage artist Betye Saar (b. 1926), whose work is in NMWA’s collection.

Betye Saar (b. 1926)

1. Watts Up

As a child, Betye Saar (b. 1926) witnessed the construction of Watts Towers, a large-scale multi-part public sculpture in Los Angeles. A source of inspiration for Saar’s assemblages, this work features a variety of found objects including figurines, glass, and seashells.

Betye Saar, The Long Memory (from NMWA 10th Anniversary Print Portfolio), 1998; Serigraph on paper; 14 1/4 x 11 5/8 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: funding provided by the Kasser Foundation

Betye Saar, The Long Memory (from NMWA 10th Anniversary Print Portfolio), 1998; Serigraph on paper; 14 1/4 x 11 5/8 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: funding provided by the Kasser Foundation

2. Deep Impression

Saar studied design in college, though she credits a single printmaking class for converting her into a fine artist.

3. BAM!

The artist actively participated in the 1970s Black Arts Movement. This movement challenged common stereotypes and celebrated cultural difference. In works like The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), Saar appropriated derogatory imagery of black women and recast them to bring to light racial and gender inequities.

4. Like Mother, Like Daughters

Saar has three daughters, two of whom are visual artists in their own right. Her daughters Lezley and Alison even occasionally collaborate with their mother on works. NMWA’s collection contains works by both Betye and Alison.

5. Not the Retiring Sort

Saar celebrated her 90th birthday this past July. She doesn’t seem so be slowing down though, as she continues to create new works and exhibit regularly. Her latest exhibition, Black White, is on view at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City, California, through December 17, 2016.

—Adrienne Gayoso is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Alison Saar

Impress your friends with five fast facts about sculptor and printmaker Alison Saar (b. 1956), whose work is on view in Alison Saar In Print through October 2, 2016.

Alison Saar (b. 1956)

Alison Saar with her works in NMWA’s exhibition Alison Saar In Print

Alison Saar with her works in NMWA’s exhibition Alison Saar In Print

1. All In the Family

Saar grew up surrounded by art, thanks to her mother, the renowned collagist and assemblage artist Betye Saar, and her father, Richard, an art conservator and painter. Saar’s opened her eyes to art making and deepened her interest in other cultures.

2. Past Lives

Saar often incorporates found objects into her artwork. She credits childhood visits to Watts Towers with inspiring her practice by showing her that anything could have a second life. She enjoys working with materials that have a history.

3. By Any Other Name

Because Saar’s work often explores dark or disturbing themes, she adds levity by incorporating wordplay and double entendres into the titles of her works. She relates this method to the blues. “They’re playing these heart-wrenching songs, but there’s also some humorousness to them, some sort of escape,” says Saar.

Alison Saar, Tango, 2005; Woodcut on paper, 25 3/4 x 38 3/4 in.' Courtesy of the artist and L.A. Louver; © Alison Saar

Alison Saar, Tango, 2005; Woodcut on paper, 25 3/4 x 38 3/4 in.’ Courtesy of the artist and L.A. Louver; © Alison Saar

4. Two Worlds

Saar cites her identity as a biracial woman as an influence in her artistic practice. She often tackles the concept of duality in her work—themes like freedom versus oppression and humor mixed with despair.

5. Bring Your Own Background

When asked how people should interpret her work, Saar replied, “Just look at it.” She believes that she only does half of the work on each piece. The viewer completes it by bringing his or her own history and perspective to the interpretation of Saar’s art.

Visit the museum to see Alison Saar In Print before the exhibition closes on October 2, 2016.

—Hannah Page was the summer 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Justine Kurland

Impress your friends with five fast facts about American photographer Justine Kurland (b. 1969), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

Justine Kurland (b. 1969)

1. The Runaways

After “imagining a story, a film…that I wanted to be real,” Kurland began photographing young girls in spectacular landscapes. While creating her narrative of a teenage runaway, she was particularly interested in photographing within small, fringe areas of wilderness that remained between suburban and urban areas.

Justine Kurland, Raft Expedition, 2001; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Justine Kurland, courtesy Mitchell-Innes + Nash

Justine Kurland, Raft Expedition, 2001; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Justine Kurland, courtesy Mitchell-Innes + Nash

2. Girls in Uniform

Kurland continued working with adolescent girls while completing an artist residency in New Zealand.

She learned that students there wore uniforms whether they were in public or private school, and had the girls wear them in her photographs.

3. On the Open Road 

Eschewing the traditional studio, Kurland travels the country to create her images. Whether on her own or with her son, she packs up her camera equipment, steps into her van (which has a bed in the back), and lives on the road for several months.

4. Mama Babies

When exhibiting her mother and child images, Kurland borrowed the title “Of Woman Born,” from the 1978 essay on motherhood by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich. For Kurland, the series was a way for her to reimagine the idea of motherhood.

5. Artistic Beginnings

At a young age, Kurland cut out Victorian artist Arthur Rackham’s illustration, Always Plenty to Eat or Drink, from a book. The fantastical artwork resonated with Kurland. Even today, Kurland keeps the page with her. She feels that the work represents her world view.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Hellen van Meene

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Hellen van Meene (b. 1972), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

vanMeene_201191

Hellen van Meene, Untitled (151), 2002; Chromogenic color print, 15 3/8 in. x 15 3/8 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

1. Dutch Sensibilities

Van Meene’s depictions of spare domestic interiors and her dramatic use of light are often compared with the compositions of 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. She says, “I never work…with a flash…or other artificial light and it brings me to use the same kind of ‘ingredients’ as a painter.”

vanMeene_2009114

Hellen van Meene, Untitled (30), 1998; Chromogenic color print, 11 3/4 in. x 11 3/4 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

2. Not Snap Happy 

“What I do is really like a painter working on a painting—looking, making decisions,” says van Meene.

Her process includes spending considerable time observing and getting to know her models before photographing them. “This approach is far from just taking out your camera and snapping, snapping, snapping away.”

3. Notable Alums

From 1992 to 1996, van Meene studied photography at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Rineke Dijkstra (b. 1959), fellow Dutch photographer and NMWA artist, studied there ten years prior.

Both artists are known for their tender photographs of adolescent girls that reveal the sometimes precious—and sometimes awkward—moments of puberty.

Hellen van Meene, Untitled (75b), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 15 1/4 in. x 15 1/4 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Hellen van Meene, Untitled (75b), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 15 1/4 in. x 15 1/4 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

4. Animal Whisperer

The artist’s recent works feature poignant portraits of animals that seem to capture her sitters’ souls and personalities, sharing affinities with the paintings of French animalier artist Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899).

5. Homegirls

Lorena Kloosterboer, contemporary trompe-l’œil and photorealistic painter, and Anna Louisa Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint, 19th-century novelist, were born in Hellen van Meene’s hometown of Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Daniela Rossell

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Mexican photographer Daniela Rossell (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

Daniela Rossell (b. 1973)

Daniela Rossell, Inge and Her Mother Ema in the Living Room from the series “Ricas y famosas,” NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Inge and Her Mother Ema in the Living Room from the series “Ricas y famosas,” NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

1. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

In the series “Ricas y famosas,” Daniela Rossell photographed some of the most affluent women in Mexico—many of whom are associated with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the ruling party in Mexico from 1929 to 2000.

2. All in the Family

Rossell’s “Ricas y famosas” subjects are her own family members, friends, and acquaintances. The artist began the series with images of her grandmothers before focusing on the younger generations of women in her family. The project expanded as Rossell’s photographs impressed other women, who asked to be included.

3. Open to Interpretation

Daniela Rossell, Medusa, from the series “Ricas y famosas,” 1999; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Medusa, from the series “Ricas y famosas,” 1999; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Rossell published the entire series as a book in 2002. Seen together, these portrayals of extreme wealth caused controversy throughout Mexico. Rossell and her subjects faced backlash as the public saw the cumulative body of work and viewed the women as “poster girls of corruption.”

4. Artistic Beginnings

Because her mother is an art collector, Rossell grew up surrounded by fine art. She began her career in her teens as an actress. She later studied painting at the National School of Visual Arts in Mexico City before shifting her attention to photography.

5. Creative Collaborations

Not unlike She Who Tells a Story artist Tanya Habjouqa’s process of spending time with her subjects in her series “Women of Gaza,” Rossell interviewed the women, toured their houses, and listened to their ideas before taking her shot—providing a more authentic image.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Elaine de Kooning

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Abstract Expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning (1918–1989), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Speed Demon

Elaine de Kooning had the reputation of being able to paint a full-length portrait in less than two hours.

2. Not-So-Still Life

Though primarily known for her portraiture, de Kooning also experimented with still life. She combined careful depictions of everyday objects with loosely painted, sketchy areas—imbuing the works with a sense of movement contrary to the static feeling of more traditional still-life paintings.

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978; Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 78 in x 50 in x 2 1/4 in; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978; Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 78 in x 50 in x 2 1/4 in; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

3. A Woman’s World

De Kooning first encountered art in reproductions by Rembrandt, Raphael, Rosa Bonheur, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun hung by her mother in de Kooning’s childhood home. This experience molded her artistic path. She said she “began life with the assumption that half the painters in the world were women.”

Visitors study Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3; Photo: Dakota Fine

NMWA visitors study Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3; Photo: Dakota Fine

4. Triple Threat

In addition to being a painter, de Kooning was also an esteemed writer and teacher. She became an editorial assistant for Art News in 1948 and taught at the University of New Mexico, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of California—Davis.

5. No Adjectives, Please

Not a fan of the term “woman artist,” de Kooning preferred to just be referred to as an artist. Once a man approached de Kooning and fellow abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell and asked, “What do you women artists think…” and they both walked away without responding.

—Marina MacLatchie was the fall 2015 education and digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.