Artist Spotlight: Julie Roberts

Paintings by Julie Roberts (b. 1963, Fflint, Wales) are both realistic and otherworldly, often focusing on the restraint of the human body and the power structure of institutions. Roberts finds inspiration in works by various artists and thinkers, as well as in memories of her own childhood.

She cites French philosopher Michel Foucault as a major source of inspiration. Artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger also influence Roberts’s work, particularly in her exploration of the female body and womanhood. Evidence of the artist’s upbringing is visible in her oeuvre. As a child, Roberts often spent time in a former morgue or at the nursing home where her mother worked. Medical equipment and furniture often appear in her paintings.

Julie Roberts, Gynaecology Couch, 1992; Oil and acrylic ground on canvas, 83 7/8 x 72 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

Julie Roberts, Gynaecology Couch, 1992; Oil and acrylic ground on canvas, 83 7/8 x 72 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Roberts’s unsettling works from the 1990s lack figures. Instead, symbols of institutional management of the body, such as a straightjacket, a gynecological chair, and a nightgown, seem to float in the center of the canvas. Backgrounds containing rich color fields and subtle vertical stripes produce an “optical kind of fizzle.” Roberts’s thickly-painted objects appear in a “frenzy” against the structured and controlled backgrounds. While they suggest the human body, they are never occupied by one.

Gynaecology Couch (1992) shows an empty seat with stirrups against a deep blue background. Isolated from figures or other objects, the couch conjures senses of sterilization and solitude often associated with hospital visits. With no light source and no cast shadow, the chair appears surrealistic. Upon closer examination, exquisite details in the couch pillow reveal a deep impression, as if someone was just sitting on it. Without visual context, viewers are left to speculate about the couch’s story and purpose.

Roberts’s more recent paintings represent an aesthetic departure from her earlier work. As her practice developed, she “slowly started creeping towards the edge of the canvas.” Dormitory (2011) exemplifies Roberts’s expressive and highly stylized application of paint featuring graphic circles and lines that form distinctive patterns. This painting recalls the exaggerated perspective Surrealists like Giorgio de Chirico used in 20th-century Europe.

Dormitory also reflects Roberts’s recent interest in displaced and orphaned children in Europe during the mid-20th century. The depiction of an orphanage dormitory includes an orderly rows of beds with crisp sheets, evoking a sense of sterilization and anonymity. The room does not look like that of a child. There are no toys, decorations, or traces of life, other than the beds themselves. Even the blinds have been drawn to precisely the same height. The detachment of children from their parents in an orphanage is mirrored by the separation of human from object in her paintings. Roberts, along with her siblings, spent brief periods in foster homes growing up. This body of work, she says, “doesn’t come from an ideology, it comes from the pit inside of me, somewhere in my soul.”

—Casey Betts was the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Coiled, Built, and Fired: An Ancient Process for Contemporary Art

Now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara presents recent work by Albuquerque-based artist Jami Porter Lara (b. 1969), who hand-builds and pit-fires clay sculptures resembling a ubiquitous icon of modern life—the plastic bottle.

Jami Porter Lara harvesting clay; Photo courtesy of the artist

Jami Porter Lara harvesting clay; Photo courtesy of the artist

Porter Lara learned traditional techniques from potters in Mata Ortiz, in northern Mexico. She describes, “In the 1970s, there was a Pueblo pottery revival in Mata Ortiz. The people there started making ceramic pots that bore a lot of stylistic relation to ancient pot sherds and artifacts found in that vicinity, from the Casas Grandes and Mimbres cultures. They locally sourced their materials and figured out how to make ceramic vessels in the same way as the people who preceded them.”

With a group of fellow art students, Porter Lara went to stay in Mata Ortiz to learn from potters Graciela and Hector Gallegos. “They showed us how to soak the clay and filter it and then let it dry. They also taught us how to build out of coils and how to burnish with a stone.”

The forms and meaning of Porter Lara’s art are distinctly contemporary, but her materials and techniques connect her work to the Southwest and to people who preceded her in the region.

The Artist’s Process:

  • She digs clay from an arroyo (stream bed) near her home.
  • In a lengthy process, she mixes the clay with water and strains the excess moisture.
  • To form the base of each vessel, she uses a plaster cast of the bottom of plastic bottles as a mold.
  • To create the body of a vessel, she forms clay coils, stacking one coil on top of another, continually pinching them together and smoothing the surface.
  • After it is dried, the pottery is burnished: Porter Lara rubs the surface with a smooth stone, using either coconut or olive oil as a lubricant.
  • She fires the vessels in an outdoor pit, covered with a galvanized aluminum tub. During this “reduction” process, the pottery is kept away from flames and oxygen. Carbon released by sawdust and newspaper surrounding the work bonds with the clay and turns the vessels black.

Porter Lara’s works also engage with the industrialized mass production that characterizes modern consumer culture. While she recognizes the detrimental impact of this culture, Porter Lara states, “Saying that humans are only pollutants is a failure of imagination. Yes, we’re destructive, but we’re also creative. . . . I want to create the possibility that we can see things differently and contribute to the world. My work is my refusal to say that the earth would be better without me, and the determination to become equal to that claim.”

Visit the museum to see Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara, on view through May 14. Learn more through the audio guide and meet Jami Porter Lara at the museum for a special Artists in Conversation program on April 6, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Opening Tomorrow: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum

Images that embody both precision and spontaneity are the focus of NMWA’s new exhibition Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum, on view March 10 to July 2, 2017.

Born in 1955 in Philadelphia, Polly Apfelbaum is best known for her large-scale installations and “fallen paintings,” compositions of dyed synthetic fabrics that she places directly on the floor. Apfelbaum studied painting and printmaking at the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania, receiving a BFA in 1978. She moved to New York City, where she was inspired by installation art and started experimenting with elements from two- and three-dimensional mediums. Despite studying printmaking as an art student, she didn’t revisit the medium until 2002.

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 71, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 71, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Working primarily in woodblock printing, Apfelbaum intuitively positions inked wood blocks on thick, handmade paper, which is then pressed, transferring the inked design from the blocks to the paper. The blocks are carved from plywood according to Apfelbaum’s designs and are inked by hand in systematic spectrums of lush, saturated colors. Recently, she has experimented with more fluid coloring and shapes, using a “rainbow roll” technique, in which multiple colors are partially mixed to achieve continuous gradient tones.

Apfelbaum pursues a precise balance between color and shape to create sequences that elicit a particular feeling or sensation. She views color as both structural and emotional. In Little Dogwood 71 (2012) Apfelbaum achieves subtle variations among the circles by forming her blocks from slices of dogwood tree branches sourced from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she works with Durham Press. Apfelbaum’s exuberantly colored prints are meticulously handmade and her compositions are often improvisational.

Polly Apfelbaum, Emperor Twist, 2015; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 25 3/8 x 25 3/8 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Polly Apfelbaum, Emperor Twist, 2015; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 25 3/8 x 25 3/8 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Apfelbaum’s striking colors and bold abstract shapes reference Minimalist and Pop art. Her most recent prints, like Emperor Twist (2015), demonstrate her increasingly complex use of patterns and color. Inspired by medieval mosaic floors from Italy, she created this print using scores of small hand-inked blocks. The broad range of colors and alternating zigzag and diamond shapes create a dynamic visual rhythm.

This exhibition continues the museum’s exploration of innovations in printmaking, a medium in which women have worked since the 16th century. Featuring prints in NMWA’s collection along with complementary loans, Chromatic Scale takes a focused look at Apfelbaum’s print work—a part of her oeuvre that has not been extensively studied—and examines how the artist extends the conventional boundaries of color and technique.

Visit the museum and celebrate spring with these bright prints on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery.

–Madeline Barnes is the winter/spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

New Ground: Laura Gilpin

Contemporaries and friends, potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979) brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression. The exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin pairs 26 ceramic pieces by Martinez and her family with more than 40 vintage photographs by Gilpin.

Fred E. Mang, Jr.,Laura Gilpin taking photographs along dirt road, 1971; Reproduction of gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist and Laura Gilpin P1979.98; ©1971 Fred E. Mang, Jr.

Fred E. Mang, Jr., Laura Gilpin taking photographs along dirt road, 1971; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist and Laura Gilpin, © 1971 Fred E. Mang, Jr.

Described during her lifetime as the “grand dame of American photography,” Laura Gilpin’s career spanned more than six decades. Throughout her career, she deftly used her chosen medium, black-and-white photography, to accentuate both the grand expanses of the Western landscape as well as the individual faces of the Native people who lived there. Through her elegant photographs, she emerged as a celebrated chronicler of the cultural geography of the American Southwest.

Laura Gilpin, A Navaho Costume of the 1880s at Window Rock Fair, 1951 Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, A Navaho Costume of the 1880s at Window Rock Fair, 1951; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Born in Colorado, Gilpin attended a Connecticut preparatory school to study music and later the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York. Her earliest prints were soft-focused, romantic images that reflected Pictorialism, a popular movement in turn-of-the-century photography that sought to promote the medium as an art form. As photography advanced in the early decades of the 20th century, Gilpin turned away from the Pictorialist-inspired images she had been making and instead began taking “straight photographs,” images in crisp focus and with high contrast.

Gilpin considered herself a landscape photographer, but her images chronicling people and their activities are perhaps her most distinctive work. Like other photographers documenting the American scene during the 1920s and ’30s, Gilpin’s portraits capture humanity and changing conditions in rural America. She focused her lens on the American life she came to know living and working among the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. Gilpin’s Southwest is always a peopled landscape and not a wilderness untouched by human hands.

Laura Gilpin, The Summer Shelter in the Cove, Arizona, 1934; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, The Summer Shelter in the Cove, Arizona, 1934; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

In a field traditionally championed by men, Gilpin was one of the first women to capture the landscape of the West on film and to comment—through her imagery and in her writings—upon the interconnectedness between the environment and human activity. Hefting heavy camera equipment, she trekked great distances by foot, jeep, or plane to reach remote locations in pursuit of views, often flying dangerously low in airplanes to achieve her aerial shots. Unbounded by physical risks and societal restrictions, Gilpin pursued photography in the Southwest well into her 80s.

Visit the museum and explore New Ground, on view through May 14, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Christina Burke, curator of Native and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, and Catherine Whitney, chief curator at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

Digging In: Vessels by Jami Porter Lara in “Border Crossing”

Now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara presents recent work by Albuquerque-based artist Jami Porter Lara (b. 1969), who hand-builds and pit-fires clay sculptures resembling a ubiquitous icon of modern life—the plastic bottle.

Jami Porter Lara firing; © Jessamyn Lovell

Porter Lara was inspired to synthesize ancient pottery-making methods with the contemporary form of the plastic bottle after encountering the detritus of human cultures separated by time rather than geography. While near the U.S.–Mexico border, she was struck by the similarity in function of pots from ancient cultures, whose broken pieces had been cast into a trash heap, with discarded two-liter plastic bottles used by migrants to carry water through the harsh environment.

Noting that both types of objects were used by people for the same purpose—to carry water—and that both were cast off when no longer needed, Porter Lara began this series. She says, “In the beginning, for me, it was about the connection between the plastic bottles and the pot sherds and thinking about how they represented this unbroken lineage of people moving through the landscape. Initially, I wanted to create vessels akin to those that traditionally would have carried water across this landscape. The first plastic bottle form I made out of clay cracked during firing, because I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time. But that crack in the ceramic was what made me first think of these pieces as contemporary artifacts.”

In reframing the plastic bottle, Porter Lara questions the culturally defined categories of art and trash as well as common presumptions about the people who used, and discarded, both the ancient and contemporary vessels. She says, “I was thinking of the plastic bottle as the most iconic vessel of my time. I felt that that form needed to be engaged and represented as opposed to just rejected as trash.”

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-6SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 10 x 6 ½ in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-6SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 10 x 6 ½ in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Porter Lara describes, “This is not a recycling awareness campaign. The message behind my work has much more to do with the continuity between the ancient pot sherds and the plastic bottle, between the person who passed through this land 2,000 years ago and the person who passes through now. It is not a diatribe about pollution and consumption. In many ways, it’s an attempt to humanize the vessel and humanize the people who carry it.”

Visit the museum to see Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara, on view through May 14.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Maria Martinez

Contemporaries and friends, potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979) brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression. The exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin pairs 26 ceramic pieces by Martinez and her family with more than 40 vintage photographs by Gilpin.

Laura Gilpin, Maria Martinez Making Pottery, 1959; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 14 ½ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, Maria Martinez Making Pottery, 1959; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 14 ½ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Maria Martinez is one of the best-known indigenous artists of the 20th century. She belonged to the Tewa linguistic group and lived at San Ildefonso Pueblo, northwest of Santa Fe. Martinez is recognized internationally for the distinctive black-on-black pottery that she developed with her husband, Julian, based on the remains of ancient ceramics.

In 1907 Edgar Lee Hewett, an archaeologist and the first director of the Museum of New Mexico (now the New Mexico Museum of Art), excavated shards of ancient Pueblo pottery at nearby Pajarito Plateau. Hewett encouraged Maria and Julian Martinez to experiment with various firing and painting techniques in order to create contemporary versions of the artifacts. By 1921, the couple had mastered their process for making pottery with a highly glossed finish and matte-black designs.

Maria Martinez learned the fundamentals of pottery making from her maternal aunt. Once the clay dug from the earth had been prepared, Martinez formed snake-like coils of clay that she pinched together to create the basic shape of the pot. She then scraped and smoothed the coils together until the pot was the same thickness all the way around. When it was dry enough to handle, a thin layer of slip (watery clay) was applied over the pot, and then the surface was polished using a smooth, fine-grained stone.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Tewa prayers were said while digging the clay as well as during the firing process, thanking the Great Spirit and Mother Earth for the gift of the clay. The designs, initially made by Julian and later by other family members, were painted using slip applied with a brush to the burnished but unfired pot.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Small black-on-black saucer, n.d.; Polished blackware pottery with matte slip paint; Gift of Dean and Carolyn Moffett in Memory of Marguerite F. Moore and Marguerite F. Moffett Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Small black-on-black saucer, n.d.; Polished blackware pottery with matte slip paint; Gift of Dean and Carolyn Moffett in Memory of Marguerite F. Moore and Marguerite F. Moffett; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Martinez’s pots quickly grew in popularity, and her work was celebrated at art shows, expositions, and fairs nationwide. Her pots were in such demand by the 1920s that she began signing her work—the first Pueblo potter to do so. The popularity of her work was related not only to its highly skilled construction, but also because it fit into the modernist aesthetic.

Martinez went on to teach the process to members of her family and others in her community. Through her creative vision and craftsmanship, Martinez influenced generations of Native artists. She is recognized as a master artist, and her work is found in many major art museums.

Visit the museum and explore New Ground, on view through May 14, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Christina Burke, curator of Native and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, and Catherine Whitney, chief curator at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

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.”

NO MAN’S LAND: Optical Illusions

Contemporary large-scale paintings and sculptural hybrids are on view in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection. The exhibition imagines a visual conversation between 37 women artists from 15 countries exploring images of the female body and the physical process of making. Li Shurui, Karin Davie, and Kerstin Brätsch employ unconventional techniques to create optical illusions.

Li Shurui, I am not ready…, 2013; Acrylic on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Li Shurui, I am not ready…, 2013; Acrylic on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

What’s On View?

Li Shurui’s I am not ready…, 2013

Li Shurui (b. 1981, Chongqing, China) uses an airbrush to add vibrant color to canvas to approximate the appearance of LED lighting popular in nightclubs and city settings. She says, “I try to use light and space to capture an atmosphere and state of mind in a way that leave people with a strong emotive impression rather than a concept or idea that must be dealt with logically.”

Working at a large scale, Li creates immersive works that induce hypnotic sensations in the viewer and capture the imagination. In I am not ready…, Li depicts an experience of morphing light that people typically experience only momentarily, when looking closely at the pixels of a digital image.

Karin Davie’s Oh Baby #1 and #2, from the series “Sidewalk,” 1992

“Someone once said to me, ‘Oh, you are that painter who makes the wavy stripe paintings of contorted eyes, lips, cheeks and butts’—they couldn’t have put it better,” says Karin Davie (b. 1965, Toronto). Inspired by postmodern dance, Davie redefines the modernist motif of the painted stripe by inserting references to the body. She says, “Conceptually I wanted to take this modernist ideal of purity, perfection, and dominance and turn it into an image of something more vulnerable, imperfect, and playful.”

Karin Davie, Oh Baby #1 and #2, from the series “Sidewalk,” 1992; Oil on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Karin Davie, Oh Baby #1 and #2, from the series “Sidewalk,” 1992; Oil on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Elements of Op art and Pop art can be seen in Davie’s diptych Oh Baby #1 and #2. Seemingly unbroken, two-dimensional lines create a curvilinear illusion, conjuring images of bellies, bottoms, breasts, or lobes. Distinct from the purely retinal or optical experience offered by Op art, Davie’s abstractions allow the viewer to both “see and feel” her painting process.

Kerstin Brätsch, I Want to be Wrong, from the series “Broadwaybratsch/Corporate Abstraction,” 2010; Oil on paper; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Kerstin Brätsch, I Want to be Wrong, from the series “Broadwaybratsch/Corporate Abstraction,” 2010; Oil on paper; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Kerstin Brätsch’s I Want to be Wrong, from the series “Broadwaybratsch/Corporate Abstraction,” 2010

Kerstin Brätsch (b. 1979, Hamburg, Germany) analyzes how paint strokes are simultaneously reflexive and allusive through her abstract paintings. In describing her approach, Brätsch says, “I’m trying to deal with abstract anxiety and to visualize something that is not visual, like radiation or heat.”

I Want to be Wrong contains arcing swaths of color that echo the sweeping motion of the artist’s hand. “The brushstroke becomes a stand-in for its physical process,” she says.

Unconventionally displayed, Brätsch’s paintings are created on pieces of paper that are attached by magnets. To “question the wall itself,” Brätsch leans her frames against the wall to give her art an ephemeral feel.

Visit the museum and explore NO MAN’S LAND, on view through January 8, 2017.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

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.