Back to the Futurism

A lot can happen in a lifetime, even when that lifetime is only 32 years long.  Russian artists at the beginning of the 20th Century witnessed massive amounts of upheaval.  1914 marked the start of the First World War.  Russia allied with Britain and France against Germany and Austria-Hungary.  This violent conflict ended in 1918.  In 1917, the Tsarist rule was overthrown in the Russian Revolution and a Communist government took over, eventually placing Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks in power.  Civil war followed.  The Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established in 1922.  That’s a lot of shit for 8 years.

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Olga Rozanova was born in a village in Russia in 1886.  In 1904, she moved to Moscow and studied at K. Bolshakov’s and Konstantin Yuon’s art studios.  She also attended the Stroganov School of Applied Art.  Her art was seen in exhibitions in St. Petersburg starting in 1911.  Rozanova was very interested in Italian Futurism.  She became friends with many of the Russian Futurist poets of the time and married one of them, Aleksei Kruchenykh. She illustrated her husband’s books of poetry starting in 1912.   Her work was seen in Rome in 1914.  In 1916, Rozanova worked at the Verbovka Village Folk Center along with many other Russian artists.  Also in 1916, Rozanova joined Supremus, a group of avant-garde artists led by Kazimir Malevich.  But her art soon grew beyond Futurism and Suprematism, becoming more and more abstract, and utilizing more vibrant colors. She did a series of paintings that reinterpreted playing cards.

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As the country transformed, so did Rozanova’s artwork.  By 1917 and 1918, Rozanova’s paintings, which she called tsv’etopis’, were completely abstract and non-objective.  Rozanova died in 1918 from diphtheria, a bacterial infection that destroys the tissues in the respiratory system.  Diphtheria is pretty fucking gnarly and even with treatment 1 in 10 infected patients die.  Without treatment, that the mortality rate is 1 in 2.  Thank goodness there is a vaccine that prevents the disease.  At least until the anti-vaxers decide that the mumps and whooping cough are passé and need a new disease to bring back into the mix.  Get your kids vaccinated, for fuck’s sake.  Olga Rozanova would approve.  Shit, she’d be first in line.

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Rozanova had two posthumous exhibitions: one in Moscow in 1919 and one at the Tretyakov Gallery in 2007 that featured her artwork and documents.  Despite her short life, Rozanova’s art explored key artistic movements of the 21st century and her abstract work was beautiful and revolutionary.  Tumultuous times makes for great art and Olga Rozanova certainly made some wonderful, kick-ass art.

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Carmen Get It

101 years old.  Each morning you go into your studio to make art, same as you’ve done for the last seventy-something years.  Every now and then, you take a break and have a scotch.  Then you get back to your painting.  Your mobility has decreased, you are in a wheel chair, and have assistants that can help you when you need it.  You are successful and your work is internationally recognized.  When I am 101 years old, if I get there, I imagine I will just lie in bed and moan and drink tea with my dogs.   But Carmen Herrera, Cuban centenarian and brilliant abstract artist, just keeps on creating.

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Herrera was born in Cuba in 1915.  Her father was the editor of the El Mundo newspaper.  Her mother worked there as a reporter.  In the early 1930s, Herrera traveled to Paris.  She returned to Cuba in 1935 and started studying architecture.  In 1939, she met and married Jesse Loewenthal, a teacher, and they moved to New York City.  In New York, Herrera began studying art at the Art Students League.  She returned to Paris 1947.  While in Paris she began to simplify her style and focus on spatial relationships in her paintings.  Herrera said of this period, “I began a lifelong process of purification, a process of taking away what isn’t essential.”  She exhibited her work at the Salon des Realites Nouvelles.  Herrera returned to New York in 1954 and has remained there ever since.  Over the next two decades, she showed her work at the Galeria Sudamericana, the Trabia Gallery, and the Cisneros Gallery.  Herrera received a Fellowship from the Cintas Foundation in 1966 that ran through 1968, and a Creative Artists Public Service Grant in 1977.  In 1986, she exhibited at the Alternative Gallery.  She continued to remain pretty unknown, but kept getting up every day and painting.  She explained that “I do it because I have to do it; it’s a compulsion that also gives me pleasure.”  It wasn’t until 2004, at the ripe old age of 89, that Herrera sold her first painting.  So much yay!  Since then, she has enjoyed growing recognition and success.  In 2009, there was a small retrospective of her work in the IKON Gallery in England that also traveled to the Pfalzgalerie Museum in Germany.  A large retrospective is planned for the fall of this year (2016) at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  Herrera’s art is in the collections at the Tate Modern, MoMA in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C., the Whitney Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  A documentary, directed by Alison Klayman, was made about her life, The 100 Years Picture.  It may have taken 90 years, but the world is finally paying attention to this kickass painter.

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Herrera’s art is abstract, geometric, and colorful.  She begins a painting by doing a pencil sketch on graph paper.  Then she makes a small color sketch on velum with paint markers, and sometimes does a larger color sketch on paper as well.  After that, she paints.  To get sharp clear lines and saturated colors, Herrera uses tape and rolls the paint on with a roller in several coats.  Once it is complete, it is hung on the wall and she thinks about it.  Sometimes she keeps it, sometimes she scraps it and starts over.  Herrera’s love of painting began almost a century ago, her success followed decades later.  Her paintings combine her intellect and her heart in minimal compositions with vivid colors.  And they keep on coming.  We should all be so lucky to find a passion that carries us through the centuries.  Carmen Herrera, you are a fucking inspiration.  Keep creating!

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