Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Louise Nevelson: Sculpting Her Vision of Art

"I believe in my work and the joy of it. You have to be with the work and the work has to be with you. It absorbs you totally and you absorb it totally. Everything must fall by the wayside by comparison." ~ Louise Nevelson

And in this vein Louise Nevelson led her life. Over the 88 years that she walked the earth, she worked at creating her own unique version of artwork and was absorbed by it every step of the way. Born September 23, 1899 near Kiev, Russia, Nevelson's life began in a rocky way. Her father Isaac emigrated to the United States in 1902, leaving young Nevelson and the rest of the family behind. Once he had established himself in the lumber industry in Rockland, Maine, the rest of the family relocated in 1905 to join him in the USA. While these stresses brought the family closer together in some ways, they did not make for an easy beginning for Nevelson. That was not enough to keep this up-and-coming artist down though.

Untitled - 1950
When Nevelson came across a plaster cast of Joan of Arc in the Rockland Public Library at the age of nine, she knew that art would be a part of her life forevermore. She began her art career by studying drawing in high school. In 1920, she married Charles Nevelson and moved to New York, where she further studied painting, drawing, singing, acting and dancing. From 1929-30, she studied at the Arts Student League under Kenneth Hayes Miller and Kimon Nicolaides. When her husband moved the family out of the city, she became disillusioned with marital bliss and by 1932 she separated from her husband. Recognizing the importance of this focus on herself, Nevelson flew to Europe to further explore different styles of art. While there, she studied under Hans Hofmann in Munich, as well as worked as an extra in films in Vienna and Berlin.
Sky Cathedral - 1958

Nevelson returned to the US in 1932, where she once again studied with Hofmann. She was introduced to Cubism and collage, which influenced her greatly throughout her career. The following year she met Diego Rivera and worked as an assistant to him on his "Portrait of America" murals. The further she delved into the art scene, the more she embraced a style that was all her own. She began to teach mural painting at the Works Progress Administration in 1935. Despite this, money was tight. Perhaps because of this, the materials she collected for her sculptures were often found pieces, like castoff lumber.

Royal Tide 1 - 1960
It wasn't until 1941 that Nevelson had her first solo exhibition, held at the Nierendorf Gallery. While this helped to bring attention to her Modernist sculptures, success was still slow in coming to her. By the 50s, her reputation had grown and the Museum of Modern Art purchased one of her Sky Cathedral pieces. She travelled to Latin America and the Mayan artwork she came across was soon evident in her newest creations as the decade came to an end, with gold and white taking over from her previous all black pieces.

Dawn's Landscape XXIV - 1975
Finally achieving the fame she sought, the size of her pieces grew into monumental displays. Nevelson's name became synonymous with sculpture, but she also became a figurehead in women's art as a whole. She  challenged the idea that only men could become great artists. The fact that her estate was worth over $100 million when she died in 1988, seems to support the fact that women too could crack that gender bias.

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