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 Betye Irene (Brown) Saar  (1926 - )

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: assemblage, collage-racial issues

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Ad Code: 3
Betye Saar
from Auction House Records.
Untitled (Clock with Charms)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Betye Saar, sculptor and installation artist, was born in Los Angeles, California in 1926. She received a B.A. degree (not in art) from UCLA in 1949, and an M.A. degree in graphic design from California State University, Long Beach in 1960. Then, deciding to be an artist, she returned to college at age thirty-four, and had another art experience more formative of her artistic vision.

As a child, she watched sculptor Simon Rodia build his now famous Watts Tower out of the accumulated junk, refuse and debris of his environment. This fascinating, inventive and nearly mystical experience, combined with her discovery of the boxes of Joseph Cornell in the 1960s, inspired Saar in her own search for an art of constructed, gathered objects.

Rather than someone simply engaged in the exploration of aesthetic processes and formulations like so many contemporary artists, Saar gives the impression of being a mystic with heightened symbolic awareness of the mysteries and meanings inherent in life and art. Her early boxes were filled with objects that she believed contained the power inherent in natural forces.

As a woman and artist of African, Indian and Irish heritage, Saar's work is a mix of personal, cultural and magical expression ranging from childhood memories and African motifs to social commentary such as "The Liberation of Aunt Jemima," 1972, clothed in a black power fist and carrying a gun. This militant work expressed her reaction to the 1968 death of Martin Luther King and was part of a series in which she incorporated racial slurs and stereotypical pop images of white folklore.

One of her themes is the demeaning life of the black nannies, and she incorporates them like mummies into box-like structures. She did an Aunt Jemima series featuring plastic figurines of the stereo-typical domestic.

In 1997-98, she did a series with that theme called "Workers + Warriors," nearly 30 assemblages of washboards decorated with mammy images.

She has also worked with her artist daughter, Alison Saar. Betye Saar teaches in Los Angeles at the Otis-Parsons Institute.

Sources include:
Jules and Nancy Heller, "North American women Artists of the 20th Century"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery:
Betye Saar, born in Los Angeles, California, graduated from the University of California and continued her graduate studies at California State University at Long Beach, the University of Southern California, and California State University at Northridge. Saar is best known for her multimedia collages, box assemblages, altars and installations consisting of found materials. She states: "I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories, fragments of relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology. It's a way of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously."

In her work, Saar voices her political, racial, religious and gender concerns in an effort to "reach across the barriers of art and life, to bridge cultural diversities and forge new understandings."

Saar has received numerous awards of distinction including two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1974, 1984), a J. Paul Getty Fund for the Visual Arts Fellowship (1990) and a Flintridge Foundation Visual Artists Award (1998). In 1994, Saar, along with artist John Otterbridge, represented the United States at the 22nd Biennial of Sao Paulo in Brazil. In 1998 with the series "Workers + Warriors", Saar returned to the image of Aunt Jemima, a theme explored in her celebrated 1972 assemblage, "The Liberation of Aunt Jemima". In her most recent series, "Colored: Consider the Rainbow", Saar continues to deconstruct racial stereotypes, in particular, the hierarchy of skin color.

A role model for generations of African American women, Saar has raised three daughters, two of whom - Alison and Lezley - are accomplished artists. Saar continues to work and live in Los Angeles. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery has presented three solo exhibitions of her work: "Workers + Warriors: The Return of Aunt Jemima" (September 10 - October 31, 1998), "In Service: A Version of Survival" (March 9 - May 6, 2000), and "Colored: Consider the Rainbow" (September 12 - November 2, 2002).

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Betye Saar is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Black American Artists

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