Meet the Artist: Grace Hartigan

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  • GRACE HARTIGAN: I was very much interested and influenced by what came to be known as abstract expressionism.

    What happened when I left New York and married my late husband is I found myself in a provincial town. Here I went from the Lower East Side filled with pushcarts and loads subject material for popular culture that I work from, and I came into a provincial backwater. I felt tremendously isolated. I didn't have any friends here.

    I think that, looking back, I did three “Pallas Athena” paintings in that period. I think I chose Athena for myself because she was full-blown from the head of Zeus. She'd had no nurturing, and she was an intellectual goddess. I was fighting my way to find in abstract expressionism my own voice. This painting is completely abstract. The painting is the image. Every part is just as important as every other part, and the painting projects from the surface rather than receding as it did with perspective.

    I'm a process artist. You start off with an idea, and then ideas keep coming as you're creating, and eventually the painting tells you what it wants.

    Every artist has a certain gift that is natural to them. I'm a natural colorist, but I had to teach myself how to draw. That's the kind of thing that every artist keeps secret, that you work with your gift to try to strengthen the things that aren't your natural gift.

    I got onto a period of working from the masters. I have also worked from coloring books and paper dolls. I decided I’d paint two brides, one American and one African. Bridal theme is something that is sort of one of my empty ritual ideas. It just seems ludicrous to me to go through all of that fuss. I paint things that I'm against to try to make them wonderful very often, to give them the magic that they don't have.

    I was never conscious of being a female artist, and I resent being called a woman artist. I'm an artist. Actually, I don't like even being called an artist anymore. I'm a painter.

    An interview with the artist Grace Hartigan. Grace Hartigan grew up in New Jersey, where she married the boy next door after graduating from high school. They ended up penniless in Los Angeles, however, and Hartigan returned to the East Coast pregnant and alone. In 1948 she was mesmerized and fascinated by a Jackson Pollock exhibition and lived briefly on Long Island with the artist and his wife. She worked odd jobs in New York through the 1950s to pay for paint. In 1959, Hartigan married Dr. Winston Price and moved with him to Baltimore, where she worked in a large studio in Fells Point for decades. (Mattison, Grace Hartigan: A Painters World, 1990)

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