SynopsisGrace Hartigan is linked historically to the first generation of female Abstract Expressionist painters who moved to New York to forge a new kind of painting based on bold gesture and sensuous color. As a character within the movement, she was respected for her commitment and thick skin, and her stark paintings reflect this strong attitude. Though she built her early career upon complete abstraction, in 1952 Hartigan began incorporating recognizable items and characters from the media into her colorful paintings, and moved fluidly between figuration and abstraction throughout her long career. In this, her work is considered a precursor to Pop art.
ChildhoodAs a teen in New Jersey, Hartigan practiced art and was sent to Newark College of Engineering at night in lieu of college, which her parents could not afford. Married at seventeen, Hartigan found herself challenged with raising a baby boy whose father was away in the Army, yet she managed to study mechanical drawing, and worked as a draughtsman. She taught herself to draw and paint under the tutelage of a single night school professor, Isaac Muse, practicing in the evenings while caring for her child. For enduring this test, Hartigan is viewed as a strong feminine role model, and her strength served her well in the competitive artistic environment she would encounter in post-war New York City.
Early TrainingHartigan moved to New York in 1946, where she befriended many artists, such as , Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and more. Her first paintings were influenced greatly by de Kooning and Pollock. In 1950, she was selected for the New Talent exhibition by and Meyer Shapiro alongside her friends. Her first solo show was held in the following year at Tibor DeNagy gallery. She became known as a brilliant colorist and for being a central member of the New York School. Though she revered Pollock, she yearned to develop her own style.
Mature PeriodShortly after her second solo exhibition in 1952, Hartigan renounced her aversion to figuration and began to incorporate recognizable imagery into her abstractions. Having had a "bout of conscience," the artist said, "I thought I was a robber, that I had taken from (other people)..I thought I didn't deserve it and I started to paint through art history." Living in New York's East Village, Hartigan enjoyed studying the masters, and made several paintings after some classics. Moreover, she observed daily life on the city streets, and began incorporating it directly into her work. Between 1952 and 1959, a variety of objects such as fruit and clothing apparel become evident in her abstract compositions. Hartigan said she was always interested in "the face the world puts on to sell itself to the world." To further engage with the New York artistic community, Hartigan collaborated with several poets such as Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch. Subconsciously, Hartigan sought to create her own mythology through subject matter. In the early 1960s forward, beginning with her "Pallas-Athena" series, the artist discovered how to visually manifest ideas about the earth, nature, and Classical goddesses through paint. Her interest in the sublime and in spiritual matters would increase in coming years.
Late Years and DeathHartigan'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. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hartigan took up printmaking, though she continued constantly with her painting practice, often applying thin layers of paint, or stains, to the canvas rather than using thick brush strokes. Hartigan's interest in spiritual expression can be seen in later paintings that have a Lyrical quality - a passion for line and color. Her work suffered critically when Pop art and Minimalism became popular, and she relocated to Baltimore in search of artistic freedom from painting trends. After she left New York, Hartigan found much satisfaction in teaching in the MFA Painting Department at Maryland Institute College of Art. During her long period as a college professor, Hartigan became an admired pioneer of feminist art, though she disliked her paintings being judged according to gender. Hopefully, the tragedy of her recent death will encourage a reassessment of this painter's oeuvre.
LegacyHartigan is revered for having, as one critic noted, "resolved the problem that doomed many artists of the New York School: where to go from art in the 1950s." Since she was able to reconcile abstraction with her usage of realism and iconography, she influenced many painters in future generations, including Neo-Expressionists like David Salle and Julian Schnabel. Her unending exploration of "self-expression, self-identification, and self-creation" shows in each work on canvas, and it is this willingness to expose the deeply personal that many contemporary artists admire in Hartigan today.
Below are Grace Hartigan's major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.
Peter Paul Rubens
Years Worked: 1940s - 2008
Quotes"Well, it is not very comforting when you are going through it. But after you have gone through it, won the facility after years of hard work, and are able to say what you feel and think, then it is a sweet triumph."
"A line is like a lasso. You throw it over your head and you grab something..It's like writing. You can read a line in painting almost the way you can read a word. Drawing is really like writing poetry. Color itself is not like a poem. It diffuses from the very specific. It's changeable - its images change."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
BiographyThe Journals of Grace Hartigan, 1951-1955: William T. LA Moy: Books
Books about Hartigan's PaintingsHirsh, Sharon L., Grace Hartigan: Painting Art History. Carlisle, PA: The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, 2003.
Mattison, Robert S., Grace Hartigan: A Painter's World. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990.
Interview with Grace Hartigan
By Julie Haifley
May 10, 1970
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
|Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the 20th century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Pollock, Still and Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg Page
|Peter Paul Rubens was a seventeenth-century Baroque artist who painted richly-toned allegories, history cycles, and religious scenes. His works are often populated by fleshy female nudes and figures in dramatic, twisting postures.
|Diego Velazquez was a Spanish artist, court painter for King Philip IV, and one of the leading figures in the Baroque period. Known as a master of detail and light, Velazquez's work has been a significant influence on generations of artists and movements, from Realism to Surrealism.
|Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting, and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso Page
|Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
ArtStory: Georges Braque Page
|Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cut-outs, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse Page
|Meyer Schapiro was an important art historian and theorist who wrote on the social and political dimensions of art and its historiography. He made seminal contributions to the fields of Romanesque and medieval art as well as to theories of modernism, abstraction, and Abstract Expressionism.
ArtStory: Meyer Schapiro Page
|Milton Avery was an American painter during the early-to-mid 20th century. Never belonging to any particular school or artistic style, Avery painted colorful, quasi-Fauvist landscapes, causing many to dub him the "American Matisse." He was also close friends with abstractionists Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko.
|Adolph Gottlieb was an Abstract Expressionist painter who commonly used grids, pictographs, and primitive symbols in his work.
ArtStory: Adolph Gottlieb Page
|Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism Page
|Julian Schnabel is an American painter, interior decorator and filmmaker. In addition to being a major figure in the Neo-Expressionist movement, he is most well known as the director of such films as Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
ArtStory: Julian Schnabel Page
|David Salle is a contemporary American artist whose work uses imagery from the world of advertising and consumerism. His paintings, installations, and found photographs often deal with voyeurism, sex, and the gaze.
|Philip Guston was a Canadian painter during the 20th century. Initially associated with the New York School of abstract art, Guston famously abandoned pure abstraction in the 1950s and turned to figurative art and quasi-abstract cartoon imagery. His later work, for which he is best known, was a major influence on the development of Neo-Expressionism in the U.S.
ArtStory: Philip Guston Page
|Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract painter in mid-20th-century New York. Along with Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, Frankenthaler is considered a pioneer in the practice of color-field painting.
ArtStory: Helen Frankenthaler Page
|British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art Page
|Neo-Expressionism began as a movement in German art in the early 1960s with the emergence of Georg Baselitz. It gained momentum in the 1970s, with the addition of painters such as Anselm Kiefer, Markus Lüpertz and Eugen Schönebeck. Drawing inspiration from German Expressionism, many of its practitioners focussed on the country's troubled modern history. In the 1980s, it inspired many successful painters across the world, including Julian Schnabel.
ArtStory: Neo-Expressionism Page