Important Art by Luchita Hurtado
This drawing shows a lit gas stove burner, as seen from directly above. The metal components are rendered in grey graphite pencil, with only the small central ring of flames in blue. Although the drawing has the appearance of being hastily sketched, due to the imprecise and uneven pencil strokes, the artist has also made an effort to shade the metal trivet on the right-hand side, to give it a more three-dimensional and curved appearance.
This drawing, executed by Hurtado at the age of just eighteen, is deceptively simple. In fact, looking back at this early work, we see the introduction of several central themes and interests that would go on to characterize the artist's oeuvre over the next eighty years. Firstly, the bird's-eye view perspective would go on to become a signature style for Hurtado. In later years she returned to this vantage point repeatedly and most notably in her "I am" paintings of the late 1960s and 1970s (in which she painted her own body and closet floor).
Secondly, the early drawing, shows that the artist is interested in her own distinctly personal experience, and more specifically in a domestic and female experience. Here we see a section of Hurtado's oven, the appliance that she was constantly using to prepare food for her children. In many interviews, Hurtado has remarked upon the challenges she faced in juggling her role as a wife and mother along with her role as an artist, and we see in this drawing, as well as in her "I am paintings", references to the dual aspects of her identity (domestic responsibility and artistic aspirations).
Thirdly, this drawing represents an early attempt at capturing light (the blue ring of flame) on paper, through the use of color. Hurtado recalls, "I was really interested in fire. I remember being very intrigued, and loving those gas stoves, the old black ones, you know, with the ring of fire? I did a whole series of paintings of them." She would return to the challenge of painting fire in her "I am" paintings when depicting the flames of matches held in her hands. Also, later in the 1970s she attempted to depict pure light, most notably in her colorful Moth Lights series. Here she attempted to "paint light" on canvas so convincingly that it might attract moths.
This painting, which is Hurtado's first known work on canvas, depicts two tan-colored deer (represented as mere silhouettes) standing by a shimmering silver lake that occupies the bottom-right corner of the image. One deer is standing in profile, while the other, facing the viewer head-on, is bent downward with its front legs spread wide, drinking from the lake. The dark background contains the silhouette of reddish-black peaks, which appear to be desert sand dunes, under a black and turquoise night sky. Half of a white circle, presumably the moon, peeks out from behind the central peak of the landscape and mirrors the curvature and shimmer of the lake. Culture writer Tess Thackara asserts that this "soulful" work points toward Hurtado's connection with the Mexican Surrealists. The mystical image also references prehistoric cave paintings, like those discovered at Lascaux and Altamira, where Hurtado would later go camping in the late 1950s with her third husband Lee Mullican and their children. However, she painted this work in 1942, before having visited the caves. The composition was a sort of experiment for the artist, who thought that animals look quite funny when stooping down to drink. As is typical for Hurtado, there is often a very simple starting point for her work and always an appreciation staying lighthearted and keeping oneself amused. Later, looking back at the work, she felt so proud of the composition that she decided to recreate it in 1981.
This work is comprised of abstract geometric lines and shapes, using only five colors in flat, monochromatic sections: black, white, red, orange, and pink. A sense of texture is created by the way the ink puddles around the wax crayon.
Many of Hurtado's works from the 1940s through the early 1960s experimented with geometric abstraction in this way, and utilized bright colors. This particular piece, executed while she was living in Mexico, includes a fair amount of pink. Hurtado explains that she has generally avoided using pink in her art, as it reminds her of being forced to wear pink dresses in church when she was young, however she experimented with using the color while living in Mexico.
The influence of Dynaton artists (most notably, Hurtado's husband at the time, Wolfgang Paalen, and his friend Lee Mullican, who would soon become Hurtado's third husband) is apparent in Hurtado's works of this period. Much like in this work by Hurtado, Dynaton artists frequently produced boldly colored abstract patterns that appear to be woven together.
Hurtado recalls that she made a great deal of these crayon and ink pieces. It was a vast series that was all completed late at night once her children were sleeping, and as such the materials and scale (much smaller than her paintings on canvas) lend themselves to a slightly restricted practice. In this respect we are reminded of the career and words of Nancy Spero, who also worked late at night whilst her sons were sleeping. Spero produced very dark paintings during this time, and Hurtado's are angular. There is the sense that the combination of being a parent of young dependent children and being an artist brings struggle through which one must persevere to emerge stronger.