Grace Hartigan has passed away – right at a time when I am reading Art Talk: Conversations with 15 Women Artists by Cindy Nemser. She’s in there.
Even in this book, written by a feminist in the 1970s, the first sentence to describe Hartigan is “blond, beautiful and vivacious.” No wonder she spends a considerable amount of energy throughout the entire interview assuring us that being a woman painter in the art world machts nichts to her.
Nonetheless he son bitterly opposed her painting. He went to his father at age twelve and never saw her again (or at least not by the time of the interview). She chose art over everything else - something many women artists were not really doing as they worked to support their genius mates. She had no trust-fund, no room for romantic notions about living as an artist. No wonder she had no mercy and cut no one, herself included, any slack.
CN:…you had a very sensuous stroke…
Hartigan: You’re saying that because I’m a woman.
CN: No, not at all.
Hartigan: I don’t know that there is any more sensuous a touch than Rothko’s for instance.
They bat the ball like that quite a bit. She lived during the Georgia O’Keeffe fallout, when women painters of any lushness at all had sexual predilections attached to their work as a matter of course. But who is really on Hartigan’s mind? Goya, Velasquez. And of course she was a great admirer of Francis Bacon.
She disappearred when the 60s became defined by Pop and she was first female Ab Ex artist to be thoroughly exorcised by John Canaday at the New York Times. But when the chroniclers were coming to her later, ready to write her story and make sure she is a part of history, that she has her retrospectives and all, she said she didn’t want to think of herself in that way. “I just think about the next painting.”