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A girl’s best friend is her automobile: That time Dodge marketed a car exclusively for women
11.01.2017
11:24 am
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Dodge hasn’t always been a man’s car. In fact, there was a once time when the manufacturer of such testosterone-pumping machismo machines as the Viper, Challenger and the Charger had seriously considered a woman’s role behind the wheel. This speculation came at a time when post war America was seeing a serious shift in gender roles, allowing more women to find their independence out on the open road. And with style, no less.

After receiving favorable feedback on Chrysler’s refined showroom model “La Comtesse” in 1954, Dodge began production on a new line of automobile that was marketed for the female motorist. Costing just an additional $143, the Dodge “La Femme” was a special option of the 1955 Custom Lancer, complete with a feminine twist. The hardtop two-door coupe came in a color combination of painted “Sapphire White” and “Heather Rose,” featuring blossoming rosebuds to decorate its elegant upholstery.
 

 
The most unique ploy on Dodge’s part wasn’t only that this was a vehicle of grace and class, but should also be seen as an everyday fashion accessory. Each La Femme came outfitted with a pink calfskin purse (bundled with coordinating paraphernalia), a matching rosebud-inspired raincoat, rain bonnet, and umbrella. The items could be conveniently stored in compartments behind the two front seats—so you never had to leave the house empty-handed. The American woman didn’t just drive La Femme, she lived La Femme.

Although the chichi cruiser returned the following year with a new orchid palate, the La Femme’s supposed fanfare wasn’t enough to keep Dodge from discontinuing the “project” in 1957. It is said that out of the 2,500 lady vehicles produced, only about 60 exist today. What a damn shame.

(This post on an unusual Dodge product comes by inspiration of pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix and his stellar new book, Addicted to Americana. If roadside attractions, cosmic kitsch, and wondrous cultural curiosities are your thing, it is without question that this is the book for you.

Some photos of the La Femme below:
 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Bennett Kogon
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11.01.2017
11:24 am
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Meet the woman who photographed Frida Kahlo, the Kennedys, Elizabeth Taylor, fashion & war

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Fashion of a woman, wearing a long gown, floating in water, Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida, 1947.
 
Toni Frissell (1907-88) was one of the greatest photographers of the 20th-century. During her lifetime, Frissell produced a staggering amount of diverse work including fashion photography, photojournalism, and portraiture.

In 1971, she donated her entire photographic collection of some 340,000 items to the Library of Congress. This included “270,000 black-and-white negatives, 42,000 color transparencies, and 25,000 enlargement prints, as well as many proof sheets.” Some of her work has yet to be processed for public use.

Frissell came from a well-established and fairly affluent family. Her grandfather was the founder and head of the Fifth Avenue Bank in New York. Having the stability of a wealthy family allowed Frissell to pick and choose what she wanted to do. She originally trained as an actress then worked in advertising before taking up her career as a photographer. Her brother Varick, a documentarian and filmmaker, taught Frissell the basics in photography. After Varick was killed in a freak explosion (along with 26 others) during the making of his feature film The Viking in 1931, Frissell started her career as a photographer in earnest. She apprenticed herself to Cecil Beaton (whose influence can be seen in her early photos) and began working as a fashion photographer for Vogue.

It was more than obvious from the outset Frissell was a natural photographic talent. Her fashion work pioneered the use of outside locations, often photographing models in a highly cinematic style against famous monuments or exotic locations. She claimed she preferred working outside as she didn’t “know how to photograph in a studio.” Whether this was her being disingenuous or not, Frissell did shoot the majority of her work outdoors using natural light.

When America entered the Second World War in 1941, Frissell volunteered her services as a photographer to the American Red Cross. She worked with the US Airforce then became the official photographer for the Women’s Army Corps. After the war, Frissell still continued with her fashion work but mainly concentrated on photojournalism and portraiture—capturing some of the most famous names of the day from politicians like Winston Churchill and the Kennedys, to artists like Frida Kahlo, and Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Rex Harrison.

Unlike many other photographers who find one style and keep reproducing it time and again, Frissell developed, changed, and pioneered many different styles throughout her career. Her work is now rightly regarded as among the most influential and iconic imagery of the 20th-century.
 
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Fashion model Lisa Fonssagrives poses with an English bobby in background on a railway station for Harper’s Bazaar in 1951.
 
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Fashion shoot, Washington DC, 1949.
 
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Back view of fashion models in swim suits for Harper’s Bazaar, 1950.
 
More iconic photographs, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.24.2017
09:06 am
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Bunny Hop: Peep inside the Playboy Clubs of the 60s, 70s & 80s


A photo taken at the opening of the very first Playboy Club in Chicago in 1960.
 
The first Playboy magazine hit the shelves in 1953 and in 1960, the late Hugh Hefner opened what would be the very first Playboy Club in Chicago. Other clubs would quickly emerge in more than twenty locations including Boston, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles, as well as more elaborate Playboy Club Resorts which you could visit in Jamaica and Manila. Entrance into the various clubs would run a member $25 a year for which they would receive a special key that when presented to a designated “Door Bunny” would get them inside. The clubs were designed to emulate the “Playboy lifestyle” projected by Hefner, though that’s not what initially ignited the vast existence of Playboy Clubs. The actual inspiration for the clubs began with an article in Playboy published in 1959 that detailed the goings-on at the historic Gaslight Club in Chicago’s River North area. The club was the brainchild of Burton Browne who modeled the club around the “Gay 90s” (aka the “Naughty Nineties” or the decade beginning in 1890) a debaucherous period where creativity and libidos ran wild.

Like Hefner’s future Playboy Clubs, entrance to the Gaslight required a key. Naturally, Hef was already a member of the Gaslight Club as it featured his favorite thing—half-naked women with large breasts everywhere you looked. According to Victor Lownes III, the executive of HMH Publishing Company (which would later become Playboy Enterprises in 1955) he recalled that the article received over 3,000 letters from readers of Playboy inquiring as to how they too could join this exclusive club. This set the wheels in motion for Hefner who knew how to recognize an opportunity, though at the time his vision for his Playboy-themed clubs didn’t include expansion beyond Chicago. When the doors to the fledgling club opened, it employed approximately 30 girls between the ages of 18-23 who were said to be “single, beautiful, charming, and refined.” It also somehow qualifies the old saying that people really did read Playboy articles. At least they read one in 1957. And that’s a fact. 

As you may have already assumed, and much like Hefner’s storied, celebrity-studded events at the Playboy Mansion, Playboy Clubs were frequented by Hollywood’s elite, such as Frank Sinatra. The Playboy Resorts featured entertainment from acts like Sonny & Cher, Melba Moore, and Sinatra’s pal and Playboy Club regular, Sammy Davis Jr. The first Detroit club which was located right across from a church attracted prominent members of that city’s vibrant jazz scene. Even Detroit’s mayor at the time Coleman Young (who held the position for twenty years starting in 1974), was an honorary member of the Playboy Club.

The St. Louis location regularly hosted comedy acts like George Carlin, Flip Wilson, Joan Rivers and Steve Martin. One of the more creative locations was opened on Lake Geneva in Wisconson that featured a ski slope, chairlift and according to former Bunny Pam Ellis, a DJ booth known as the “Bunny Hutch” where Bunnies would spin records while a bubble machine and disco ball set the mood. Most if not all of the girls at Lake Geneva lived in the “Bunny Dorm” which Ellis says was surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. If a girl didn’t live in the dorms, a car would be sent for them to their home to bring them to work where they could also eat for free. Ellis looks back on her time at Lake Geneva’s Playboy Club with fondness—especially the fact that she met her husband while she was DJ’ing in the Bunny Hutch.
 

Frank Sinatra hanging out at the Playboy Club in Las Vegas back in the day.
 
I had been working on this post for a while and had just started to get some words committed to “paper” when Hefner passed away on September 27th at the age of 91. Given that somewhat unexpected event, I held off on finishing it until today as I wasn’t crazy about having DM readers think that capitalizing on the death of someone as well-known and controversial as Hugh Hefner is something we aspire to. However, I do, like so many people, look back with fondness to a time where girls in bunny tails and ears were as glamorous as the movie stars that cavorted around the same clubs with them. Below I’ve posted a huge collection of photos taken inside and on the grounds of various Playboy Clubs including some rarely seen images from the Lake Geneva location that were kindly provided to me by Adam Levin with the help of Christina Ward of Feral House.
 

Bunnies on top of a locally made tractor at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club in Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Adam Levin.
 

Bunnies having fun at Dunn River Falls in Ochos Rios, Jamaica in 1972.
 

New York 1960s.
 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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10.18.2017
09:37 am
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That time 100,000 Iranian women protested against mandatory wearing of the hijab, 1979.

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There was once a strong belief among many Iranians that if they wanted something, then they just had to go out onto the street and demand it. This idea was fostered by the role many Iranians had in deposing Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and bringing back the radical Muslim cleric Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in France in 1979. This ended 2,500 years of Persian monarchy, replacing it with an Islamic Republic.

The Shah was seen as an autocratic, brutal, and oppressive dictator, who was attempting to westernize the country against the will of the people. The opposition to the Shah and his alleged evil western ways brought together an odd mix of Marxists, socialists, Islamic fundamentalists, and even the misguided media outlet the BBC. Together this unlikely coalition succeeded by demonstrations, strikes, marches, and news propaganda in forcing the Shah (and his supporters) to flee Iran and to bring in the Ayatollah and his Islamic revolution.

Many Iranians thought they were taking back control of their country for themselves. It wasn’t quite so simple. Political coalitions, no matter how well-meaning, only ever work in favor of those who appear to have the most power. The Ayatollah Khomeini was a figurehead around whom the country could unite. Therefore, Khomeini appeared to have the most power. Rather than working together to curtail the Khomeini’s influence, the socialists and the Marxists and the liberals all tried to win his support. This only confirmed to the Ayatollah Khomeini (and the Muslims who supported him) that he was in control.

An estimated one million people greeted the Ayatollah Khomeini’s arrival in Iran by Air France jet, in February 1979. By the end of March, the people had voted by an overwhelming margin of 99% to make Iran an Islamic Republic.

Though women were credited by the Ayatollah Khomeini for their essential role in bringing about the Iranian revolution, in early March 1979, he paid back their actions by implementing an edict that made it compulsory for all women to wear the hijab (veil) in public. Suddenly, any promise the Ayatollah offered of a new, better, fairer Iran was revealed as nothing more than a chimera. Khomeini was a hardline fundamentalist and he had no time for individual freedom—not when he knew what his invisible friend wanted. And Allah apparently wanted women covered up.

On March 8th, 1979, 100,000 women marched on the streets of Tehran against the mandatory wearing for all women of the hijab. Photographer Hengameh Golestan was present that day and believed it was her responsibility to document the demonstration as she was witnessing “something historic.”

It was a huge demonstration with women – and men – from all professions there, students, doctors, lawyers. We were fighting for freedom: political and religious, but also individual.

~Snip~

“They were demanding the freedom of choice. It wasn’t a protest against religion or beliefs, in fact many religious women joined the protest, this was strictly about women’s rights, it was all about having the option.”

~Snip~

I was walking beside this group of women, who were talking and joking. Everyone was happy for me to take their picture. You can see in their faces they felt joyful and powerful. The Iranian revolution had taught us that if we wanted something, we should go out into the street and demand it. People were so happy – I remember a group of nurses stopping some men in a car and telling them: “We want equality, so put on some scarves, too!” Everyone laughed.

I wanted to join in all the protests during the revolution, but I knew I had to go as a photographer. My first thought was: “It’s my responsibility to document this.” I’m rather small, so I was ducking in and out of the crowd, constantly taking photos. I took about 20 rolls of film. When the day was over, I ran home to develop them in my darkroom. I knew I had witnessed something historic. I was so proud of all the women. I wanted to show the best of us.

This turned out to be the last day women walked the streets of Tehran uncovered. It was our first disappointment with the new post-revolution rulers of Iran. We didn’t get the effect we had wanted. But when I look at this photo, I don’t just see the hijab looming over it. I see the women, the solidarity, the joy – and the strength we felt.

The women lost. The demonstration ended with the women being attacked and some even stabbed on the streets of Tehran. The men and their sexist, superstitious beliefs won. It’s a way of having power over women that continues to this day in many different forms.

Pioneering photographer Hengameh Golestan has been documenting life in Iran for 28 years, see more of her work here.
 
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See more photos, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.17.2017
09:40 am
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Fish heads & the feminine form: The dazzling candy-colored art of Hannah Yata
10.12.2017
08:24 am
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A painting by Hannah Yata.
 
I was flipping through the most recent issue of High Fructose magazine and came across the beyond enchanting artwork of Hannah Yata and was instantly drawn to her intriguing human/animal hybrids which she expertly drenches in vibrant colors. Much of her work includes images of elegant female forms with animal heads (or “masks” as Yata calls them), such as tropical-looking fish—or in one masterful mashup a woman emerging from the water with the head of a hairless Sphynx cat with a set of curved horns. Themes concerning the animal kingdom and the natural world predominate in Yata’s work and with good reason. Raised in a small rural country town in Atlanta, Georgia, Yata was surrounded by the gorgeous environment that runs deep through the lush Kudzu-covered landscape of that state and her love of animals and mother earth became ingrained in her.

When she enrolled in the University of Georgia, she studied several disciplines in addition to art including feminism and psychology. As I mentioned, Yata’s extensive use of the feminine form in her work speaks volumes about her core values, which the artist spoke about in depth in an interview with WOWxWOW back in 2014. As the topic of female objectification and rape culture is once again burning up our social media feeds, here’s Yata on the moment she realized she was a feminist and how she channeled the power of that revelation into her artwork:

“For me, it started in a class in college that studied the history of bodies in art, which basically focused on women. I was floored. I didn’t know I was a feminist before this class. The only things I’d heard about feminists was talk about some girls not shaving their armpits, hating on men, etc. I had never looked into it myself before. When the class began talking about how women are portrayed not only throughout the history of art but especially in the present day, I realized how much it had affected not only me but pretty much every female around me. Yes, I’ve had a lot of men argue that art and advertising does the same thing to men now, fetishizing and sexualizing them in very compromising ways, but the reality is that it isn’t as ridiculous and far-reaching as what women deal with, nor are the consequences as serious. You hear about women getting beaten up, raped, murdered and dismembered daily and I believe this problem is propagated by images and videos that see women as sexual objects and not human beings with agency.”

Her incorporation of animals are also symbolic for the same reasons Yata’s women convey a sense of struggle associated with just trying to exist, specifically, how our behavior and our insatiable consumption for all things as humans continue to decimate the animal kingdom, our natural surroundings, and even our bodies all so our lives can be somehow made “better” because of the abundance of triple bacon cheeseburgers and 72-ounce steaks. Right now Yata’s work is a part of a dual exhibition called “ORIGINS” along with her husband and fellow artist Jean Pierre Arboleda at the Parlor Art Gallery in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The show runs through October 30th. Much of Yata’s exquisite work that follows is NSFW.
 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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10.12.2017
08:24 am
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Power, Beauty & the Feminine: The collage art of Deborah Stevenson
10.11.2017
10:37 am
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‘Cross Pollination.’
 
I could probably spend days looking at artist Deborah Stevenson‘s collage artworks. Well, maybe a slight exaggeration but let’s say hours or at least some considerable time, definitely, as each of Stevenson’s brilliant, complex pictures sets in motion a series of associations and ideas—whether intended or accidental—that connect towards a unifying narrative.

Take for example Cross Pollination which instantly startles with its reworking of Ingres’ portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière with Harold Edgerton’s photograph Bullet Through Apple.

Okay, so let’s go for basics. My first (obvious) thought was Adam and Eve and the eating of the apple and the start of institutionalized misogyny. Then I noticed the clothes worn by Rivière. Adam and Eve had supposedly been naked in the Garden of Eden. Being naked often signified the status of being a slave in ancient times. While being clothed is about power, freedom, and performance. Ingres’ portrait shows the teenage Rivière (she was about fourteen at the time) as a “ravishing beauty”—even Ingres’ words have multiple connotations—dressed in her finest clothes. She is presented as pure and virginal with the loop of a boa encircling her arms and body like a snake from the Garden of Eden.

Ingres has idealized this portrait and sexualized Rivière. The painting was not well-received when first exhibited as it was considered too Gothic and shockingly eroticised. Mademoiselle Rivière died within a year of the painting’s completion.

Then there is the violence of the exploding apple which is used to replace Rivière’s head. This could suggest the whole history of violence against women or the frustration of being a woman in such oppressive times. What it may also suggest is that in this collage, this photographic image captures one fleeting moment in time. Edgerton invented the electronic flash which enabled him to take his incredible photograph of a bullet passing through an apple. This image, this portrait, is similarly only one fleeting glimpse, one two dimensional aspect of something far more incredibly complex and subtle of which we only have but a small understanding.

Then there are the conversation pieces about identity, the male gaze, religion, and science, and the female body. And so it goes on… Of course, whether Stevenson’s intends all of this micro-reading I dunno, but you get the idea. You can, or at least I can riff on Stevenson’s work for hours. Whether that’s of any value to you, is for you to decide. What I do know is this is one of the things that makes Stevenson’s collage work so rich, so important, so beautiful, and so utterly compelling.

American artist Deborah Stevenson first came to prominence as a painter. Her work includes a series of Brooklyn skylines and another on structures and buildings. These works are beautiful, iconic and idiosyncratic. They mark the talents of an artist who can surprise the viewer by making them aware of the strangeness and beauty in the most unexpected of places.

About seven years ago, Stevenson started making collages. As a painter, she found the process of making collages accessed a different part of her consciousness. This was no longer representational work of urban landscapes but something that worked intuitively as she explained to Klassic Magaizne:

I don’t set out to do a specific image. My work table is crowded with stacks of images I have cut from a variety of print sources (I only use original material, never printing out or doing digital) and I shift them around until something strikes me. I may pick out one image as particularly striking, and then continue moving the images around until I see something that seems to ‘fit’ with the first one. It is an adventure with my muse, and most important to the process is my ability to pay attention and listen to the whispers the muse makes to me, then I see the piece. There are recurring themes in my work: the Feminine, current events, moods and internal states of being, and fashion mash ups. Finding pieces to put together is the easy part: it is the cutting and pasting that can be very labor-intensive and delicate.

Stevenson’s collages aren’t decorative work but intended to express “ideas that would be difficult to put into words, but come out very easily and clearly in imagery.” Her work is an “exploration of concepts of power, beauty, the Feminine, and mysterious archetypal conjunctions.”

The work arises in an ‘automatic’ way; I do not set out with an objective or goal in my mind when I sit down to make something. The images compose themselves spontaneously as I mix and move the masses of paper around on the table in front of me. I feel as though my eyes and hands facilitate the ‘arrival’ of the pictures that I make.

See more of Deborah Stevenson’s work here and here.
 
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‘Cover Up.’
 
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‘Show Horns.’
 
See more of Deborah Stevenson’s collages, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.11.2017
10:37 am
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Teenage Vics: Prim and proper young ladies of the 19th century
09.29.2017
08:02 am
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Witness, if you will, these photographs of young teenage girls from the mid-19th-century.

Some of the girls look happy. Some look troubled and apprehensive as only teenagers can. These youngsters will grow up into a world where women have limited rights. Where they have no vote. Where a man is always head of the household. Where, in some instances, they will not be allowed to own property or even keep their own money.

These girls will be expected to marry and have sex with only their husband. If they have sex with other men, they will be ostracized from their society and quietly described as “fallen women.”

Witness too, their limited range of pastimes. Reading, embroidery, and music. Sporting activities were generally frowned upon as damaging to a woman’s health. For example, riding a bicycle was thought to cause orgasms which could inspire an unhealthy interest in sex.

It’s a strange, distant world, but one that is still closer than we think. Yet, each of these portraits is filled with a sense of hope. Each of these young girls (and millions of others like them throughout the years), made a difference just by existing. They were part of a progression, a slowly changing (r)evolution, that furthered the reach and ambition, and eventually lead to the world we live in today.
 
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More teenage girls from 19th-century, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.29.2017
08:02 am
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‘Girls’: Drawing porn with eyes wide shut (NSFW)
09.12.2017
08:58 am
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Take a pencil and a piece of paper. Sit in front of a mirror and look at your face. Now close your eyes and draw your own portrait in one continuous line. This will give you an idea of the technique used by multi-media artist Katie Dunkle to “blindly” draw images taken from pornography.

In her series of “blind contour” line drawings titled Girls, Dunkle re-creates pornographic pictures in ink, pencil, chalk, and watercolor without looking at her canvas. The finished drawings are recognizable yet disturbing representations of erotica from which the viewer can step back and “reconsider what it means to pose nude for the visual stimulation of others.”

In her artist’s statement for Girls, Dunkle wrote:

The digital adult industry allows females to be groped in the darkness by a disconnected set of hands, transforming a real person into a two-dimensional cluster of flesh-tone pixels. In this respect the artist chooses to literally be blind to her artwork’s unfolding creation to honor these unknown women all the while asking and wondering, who are these women?

Katie draws attention to the countless women who are showcased for pleasure and then hastily discarded. Her priority as a female artist is to give these women a new pedestal for a different audience, whilst honoring the female body in all its glory. Her artwork gives these women a new soul and through the use of mixed media on paper allows the creations to radiate emergent emotional content, which takes the viewer on an intuitive journey through everything from anguish, seduction, pleasure and mystery.

Dunkle’s inspiration for Girls is “the insatiable urge of humanities demand for sexual stimulation.” Dunkle’s intention is to open debate about the nature of pornography and to “breathe life back into” these women making them more than just naked sexual objects for the viewer’s pleasure. See more Katie Dunkle’s work here.
 
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‘Stephany.’
 
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‘Roxanne.’
 
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See more of Katie Dunkle’s ‘blind contour’ drawings, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.12.2017
08:58 am
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Meet the Swedish mystic who was the first Abstract artist

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The artist and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) never described the 193 paintings she produced between 1906-15 as “Abstract art.” Instead, af Klint thought of these paintings as diagrammatic illustrations inspired by conversations she (and her friends) conducted with the spirit world from the late 1890s on.

That af Klint did not call her work “Abstract art” is enough for some art historians to (foolishly) discount her art as the work of the first Abstract artist. In fact af Klint was painting her Abstract pictures long before Wassily Kandinsky made his progression from landscapes to abstraction sometime around 1910, or Robert Delaunay dropped Neo-Impressionism for Orphism and then moseyed along into Abstract art just a year or two later. But these men were members of voluble artistic groups and Kandinsky was a lawyer who knew the importance of self-promotion. Unlike af Klint who worked alone, in seclusion, and stipulated that her artwork was not to be exhibited until twenty years after her death. Af Klint died in 1944. In fact, it took forty-two years for her work to be seen by the public as part of an exhibition called The Spiritual in Art in Los Angeles, 1986.

And there’s the issue. The word “spiritual.” In a secular world where anything with a whiff of bells and candles is considered irrelevant, contemptible, and generally unimportant, it has been difficult for af Klint to be seen as anything other than an outsider artist or a footnote to the boys who have taken all the credit. Of course, a large part of the blame for this must rest with af Klint herself and her own prohibition on exhibiting her work. It’s very unfortunate, for this self-imposed ban meant that although af Klint may have been (I’ll say it again) the very first Abstract artist, her failure to share her work or exhibit it widely meant she had no or very limited influence through her artistic endeavors.

But now that af Klint has been rediscovered, it’s probably the right time to rip up the old art history narrative about Kandinsky and Delaunay and all the other boys and start all over again with af Klint at the top of that Abstract tree.

Hilma af Klint was born in Sweden in 1862 into a naval family. Her father was an admiral with a great interest in mathematics, who could play a damn fine tune on the violin. Her family were Protestant Christians but took considerable interest in the rapid advances made by science into the world—from medicine and x-rays to the theory of evolution. Unlike today, religious belief and scientific investigation were not mutually exclusive. In the same way, there was (at the time) a scientific interest in the spiritual.

Af Klint was passionate about mathematics, botany, and art. Some of her earliest paintings were detailed examinations of plants. Her father had little understanding of his daughter’s passion for art and would ruefully shake his head when she enthused about painting. Af Klint studied portraiture and landscape at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm 1882-87, graduating with honors. Her paintings are exceedingly good and technically very fine but not extraordinary or even offering much of a hint of what was to come.

The turning point for this great change roughly stemmed from the death of her younger sister. After her sister’s death in 1880, af Klint joined a group of women known who shared an interest in the spiritual, in particular, the occult theories and Theosophical ideas of Madame Blavatsky who promoted a unity of the scientific and the spiritual. These women became known as “The Five.” They held séances together with af Klint often acting as the medium. The group made contact with spirit entities which they called the “High Masters.” Under their guidance, these women started producing works created by automatic writing and automatic painting—this was almost four decades before the Surrealists laid claim to inventing such techniques.

It was through her contact with these High Masters that af Klint began her series of Abstract paintings in 1906. These pictures, she claimed, were intended to represent “the path towards the reconciliation of spirituality with the material world, along with other dualities: faith and science, men and women, good and evil.”

Af Klint detailed her conversations with these spirits including one with a spirit called Gregor who told her:

All the knowledge that is not of the senses, not of the intellect, not of the heart but is the property that exclusively belongs to the deepest aspect of your being […] the knowledge of your spirit.

In 1906, af Klint began painting the images these spirits instructed her to set down. Her first was the painting Ur-Chaos which was created under the direction of the High Master Amaliel, as af Klint wrote in her notebooks:

Amaliel sign a draft, then let H paint. The idea is to produce a nucleus from which the evolution is based in rain and storm, lightning and storms. Then come leaden clouds above.

Between 1906 and 1915, af Klint produced a total of 193 paintings and an outpouring of thousands of words describing her conversations with the High Masters and the meaning of her paintings. Her work depicted the symmetrical duality of existence like male/female, material/spiritual, and good/evil. Blue represented the feminine. Yellow the masculine. Pink signified physical love. Red denoted spiritual love. Green represented harmony. Spirals signified evolution. Marks that looked like a “U” stood for the spiritual world. While waves or a “W” the material world. Circles or discs meant unity. Af Klint believed she was creating a new visual language, a new way of painting, that brought the spiritual and scientific together.

These paintings were often over ten feet in height. Af Klint stood around five feet. She painted her pictures on the floor—the occasional footprint can be seen smudged on the canvas. Af Klint worked like someone possessed. She believed her work was intended to establish a “Temple.” What this temple was or what it signified she was never exactly quite sure. All af Klint knew was that she was being guided by spirits:

The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.

All through this, af Klint continued her own rigorous investigation into new scientific and esoteric ideas. This brought her to the work of Rudolf Steiner who was similarly following a path towards creating a synthesis between the scientific and the spiritual. When af Klint showed her paintings to the great esoteric, Steiner was shocked and told her these paintings must not be seen for fifty years as no one would understand them.

Steiner’s response devastated af Klint and she stopped painting for four years. Af Klint spent her time tending to her blind, dying mother. She then returned to painting but kept herself and more importantly her work removed from the world. After her death in 1944, the rented barn in which she kept her studio was to be burnt by the landlord farmer. A relative quickly decanted all of af Klint’s paintings and notebooks into wooden crates and stored them in a tin-roofed attic for the next thirty years.

In 1970, af Klint’s paintings were offered to the Moderna Museet (Museum of Modern Art) in Stockholm which was surprisingly (some might say foolishly) knocked back. Thankfully, through the perseverance of her family and the art historian Åke Fant, af Klint’s work was eventually exhibited in the 1980s. In total, Hilma af Klint painted over 1,200 abstract paintings and wrote some 23,000 words, all of which are now owned and managed by the Hilma af Klint Foundation.
 
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‘The Ten Largest #3’ (1907).
 
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‘The Ten Largest #4’ (1907).
 
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‘The Ten Largest #7.’ (1907).
 
More Abstract art from Hilma af Klint, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.30.2017
10:27 am
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In Dreams: Grete Stern’s powerful feminist surrealism
08.18.2017
11:17 am
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In 1948, the photographer Grete Stern was asked to contribute photographic illustrations for a weekly column on the interpretation of dreams in the Argentinian women’s magazine Idilio. The column entitled “El psicoanálisis le ayudará” (“Psychoanalysis will help you”) was written by Italian sociologist Gino Germani under the novel pseudonym of Richard Rest. Psychoanalysis was then considered the cure-all for everyone’s ills—though goodness knows what strange subconscious thought inspired Germani to choose the name “Dick” Rest….

Anyway…while Rest analyzed one of the many dreams submitted by the mainly working-class female readership, Stern produced a photomontage that recreated some aspect of the reader’s dream. These illustrations usually depicted women struggling to free themselves from the oppressive patriarchy of Argentinian society.

For example, in one image a woman is trying to communicate on a phone without a mouth. In another, a woman is trying to grow in the light which can be turned off on a whim by a giant man’s hand. Or there is the woman whose reflection in a mirror has shattered into fragments, or the woman housed in a birdcage like some exotic bird. And so on. During her tenure with Idilio, Stern produced around 150 photomontages between 1948 and 1951.

Grete Stern was born in Elberfeld, Germany, on May 9th, 1904. Her family were involved in the textile and fabric industry and made frequent visits on business to England, where Stern first attended school. Returning to Germany, Stern studied graphic design and typography at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Stuttgart between 1923-25. After college, she became a freelance graphic designer producing adverts for magazines and papers. However, it was after seeing an exhibition by the American photographer Edward Weston, that Stern decided on a career as a photographer.

Stern moved to Berlin where she became a photographic student under the tutelage of Walter Peterhans. Stern later said that Peterhans taught her that the camera was not just a mechanism for taking pictures but a whole new way of seeing. Peterhans went onto become the leading photographer with the Bauhaus movement. During her studies, Stern became close friends with another pupil Ellen (Rosenberg) Auerbach. Together they formed the advertising and portrait studio ringl+pit. The company name was concocted from the pair’s nicknames—Ringl for Grete and Pit for Ellen. Their work became highly successful—in particular their mixing of photographic images with text. During this time, Stern met and started a relationship with Argentinian photographer Horacio Coppola.

When Adolf Hitler and his band of Nazi thugs came to power, Stern left ringl+pit and moved with Coppola to England where she formed her own studio in 1934. Here she documented many of the German exiles like Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel. In 1935, Stern and Coppola married. With the threat of war more apparent, Stern and Coppola moved to Buenos Aires, where they set up a graphic, advertizing, and photographic studio and held the first major exhibition of “modern photography” in the city.

Stern was way ahead of the curve. She was a pioneer for women working in a male-dominated and, let’s be honest, primarily sexist industry. Stern became a highly successful and inventive portrait photographer with her work exhibited and published across the world. However, the photomontages she produced for Idilio were long discounted as just hack work until their reassessment labeled them as what they are: powerful, imaginative, feminist artwork.

Stern died at the age of 95 in 1999.
 
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More of Grete Stern’s dream work, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.18.2017
11:17 am
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