May Stevens

May Stevens

Born 1924

Artist Details

Birth Place
Boston
Phonetic Spelling
may STEE-vehnz
Medium
Books and manuscripts; Drawings and prints; Painting
Style
Feminist Art
Places of Residence
New York City; Sante Fe, New Mexico
Training
Bunting Institute, Radcliff College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988–89; Académie Julian, Paris, 1948; The Art Students League of New York, New York, 1948; Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, 1942–46
Retrospective Exhibitions

Images of Women: Near and Far, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1999; Existential/Political: Rudolf Baranik and May Stevens, Exit Art, New York, 1994

NMWA Exhibitions

The Book as Art: Twenty Years of Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2006
The Water Remembers: Paintings and Works on Paper by May Stevens, 1990–2005, 2005
Insomnia: Landscapes of the Night, 2003
Book As Art XIII: Artists' Books About Artists, 2001
Book as Art I, 1987

About the Artist

Artist and activist May Stevens played an active role in the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Many of her paintings comment on women’s historical, political, and social conditions.

Stevens was born into a working-class family in Quincy, Massachusetts, near Boston. Her outlook on society, and consequentially her artwork, was influenced by the poverty and lack of opportunities for women that she witnessed around her. Following art studies in Boston and New York City she married fellow artist-activist Rudolf Baranik in 1948.

From the beginning, Stevens believed that art must be used for social commentary, not just personal expression. Her art typically relates to her personal experiences as a political activist.

She engaged with the Civil Rights Movement, leading to a 1964 exhibition called Freedom Riders, for which Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the catalogue introduction. Stevens’ Big Daddy series from 1967–76 were made as an angry response to the Vietnam War. These large, pop art-style paintings are among her most famous.

Inspired by the Feminist Art Movement, Stevens celebrated the lives of women artists in individual and group portraits, which she considers “alternative” art histories. She also a helped found the magazine Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, published from 1977–92.

The death of Stevens’ son in 1981 shifted the direction in her work; her more recent paintings are landscapes imbued with a sense of poignancy.

National Museum of Women in the Arts