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 Grace Hartigan  (1922 - 2008)

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Lived/Active: New York/Maryland/New Jersey      Known for: mod figure and abstract expressionist painting

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Grace Hartigan
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Called a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Grace Hartigan has created work that strikes a balance between abstract and figurative. Typically her figures are boldly outlined in black, and she fills them in with blocks of coloration.  Of her painting she said: "I do not wish to describe my subject matter, or to reflect upon it---I want to distill it until I have its essence.  Then the rawness must be resolved into form and unity; with the 'rage for order' how can there be art?" ((Herskovic 162)

In her book, American Women Artists, Charlotte Rubinstein described Hartigan's painting as "gutsy, slashing compositions that incorporated fragments of city imagery---store windows, pushcarts, glimpses of figures---with bold brush-strokes." (279)

Along with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko and others, Grace Hartigan is internationally recognized for carrying figurative painting into abstraction.  Conscious of the lesser regard for women artists and the male-dominated abstract painting group with which she was associated, she signed her early work 'George Hartigan'.

In 1922, Grace Hartigan was born in Newark, New Jersey to an English-Irish family.  From childhood, she was unconventional and obviously very intelligent, but her folks could not afford to send her to college.  She married at age seventeen and became pregnant soon after.  Her husband, like her parents, recognized her talent and encouraged her to study art, which she did at night classes.

Her husband was drafted into World War II, and she attended the Newark College of Engineering, and supported herself with mechanical drafting in an airplane factory from 1942 until 1947.  During this period she began studying at night with avant-garde painter Isaac Lane Muse, and for four years she took classes from him, whom she has credited with bolstering her ego by praising her talent.  When Muse moved from Newark to New York City, Hartigan followed with her young son and became an active member of the group of abstract painters.  She had little income and eventually sent her boy to live with his father in California.

In 1948, Hartigan first visited the studio of Jackson Pollock and was overwhelmed by the energy and innovations of his gestural painting. She became friends with Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner, and through them met other Abstract Expressionists including Franz Kline and Willem DeKooning.  Hartigan spent the year of 1949 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

A breakthrough for her career was in 1950 when art critics Meyer Shapiro and Clement Greenberg selected her for the "New Talent" exhibition at Kootz Gallery. The following year, she had her first solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Conscious of needing to have a style that was her own and not overly influenced by the artists with whom she was associating, Grace Hartigan decided to 'paint her way through history' and study the Old Masters, copy their work and utilize what she learned from those processes in her own painting.  Pollock, Kline and Mark Rothko saw this as a defection from their commitment to pure abstraction, but she persisted in the face of their criticism and concluded that her paintings that truly expressed her leanings had to have "fragmentary elements from the real world" (Rubinstein 280).  Titles of her work from that period include Shop Window (1955) and City Life (1956).

Her reputation grew, and in 1958, she was the only woman chosen by curators to exhibit for the Museum of Modern Art in "The New American Painting".  This exhibition traveled to eight European countries, and her sales skyrocketed, with very little from that period unsold.

In 1960, she married a research scientist from Baltimore and moved there, which caused her adjustment problems because she felt isolated from her art-world friends in New York.  She began teaching at the Maryland Institute, and from 1965 to 1969 was an enthusiastic artist-in-residence teacher at the Maryland Institute Graduate School of Painting.  Her painting style from that time forward combines abstraction and realism with calligraphic and other images ranging from city life figures, plants and animals, to mythological subjects.

Primarily working with oil on canvas, or watercolor and collage, Hartigan uses bright colors, sometimes outlined in thick black paint reminiscent of stained-glass windows.

Since Hartigan's artistic debut in 1950 and her first solo show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1951, she has achieved great success.  She has had at least 18 solo exhibitions and has appeared in many group shows.  Her work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum if Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and many other prestigious institutions.

Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Marika Herskovic (Editor), American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s
Peter Falk (Editor), Who Was Who in American Art

Grace Hartigan passed on November 17, 2008.

Biography from Levis Fine Art:
Hartigan's acceptance into the 1950 New Talent exhibition, held at the Sam Kootz Gallery and curated by Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg, marked a turning point for her career as a successful artist. In 1951 she had her first, of several, solo exhibitions with Tibor de Nagy, a gallery well-known for their dedication to the success of second generation Abstract Expressionists including Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Robert Goodnough. Five years later she was the only female artist chosen to exhibit in MoMA's 1956 Twelve Americans exhibition directed by Alfred Barr. By this time Hartigan had quickly become recognized as one of the leading members of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists.

While Hartigan's artistic language is primarily based upon the coaching aesthetics of great friends and icons Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, her appreciation for the clear and concise aesthetic of the Old Master's, Velazquez, Caravaggio, and Dürer, remained unequivocal throughout her career. As a result, her oeuvre represents a unique voice, one torn between abstraction vs. figuration, high art vs. pop culture, and images vs. words, all which challenge the traditions and standards by which art is judged.

Hartigan's work has always exuded a sense of playfulness in its finality and her themes and styles continue to evolve and change without losing her own personal voice, a difficult feat for artists to overcome. While Hartigan's abstractions attest to her brilliant understanding of the formal aesthetics of good painting, her figurations and portraits reveal a more intimate challenge for the artist, the question of identity.

Within this context Hartigan's portraits reveal an insight to the traditions and rituals of different cultures and genders. In an attempt to work through the problems associated with identity, both Hartigan's early portraits(Grand Street Brides Series) and late portraits, (Portia, 2005 and Tunisian Woman, 2000) draw on a variety of sources for inspiration, namely modern traditions and conveniences, paper dolls, imaginary heroes, famous paintings from art history, and great queens and empresses. Each portrait seems to 'transcend individual experience to express the isolation that exists beneath the customary rituals of modern life'. [Mattison, 1990]

In addition to pure abstractions, word imagery, collages, and portraits, Hartigan also pursued a much different approach to her work, particularly in the 1970's. In these canvases Hartigan deals with a more intimate issue than that of identity ; life and death, sin and salvation become dominating themes and allow a purging of personal inner turmoil on the canvas. Her achievements during this time period are characterized by image fragmentation, obsessively crowded spatial arrangements, and perhaps her most brilliant uses of color.

Grace Hartigan's work continues to evolve but never losing sight of the voice that made her such a legendary post-war artist.

© 2008 Levis Fine Art, Inc.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries:
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1922, second-generation Abstract Expressionist Grace Hartigan signed her work "George Hartigan" until 1951. She received critical attention in the early 1950s as a participant in two major group exhibitions: "New Talent," organized by art-world heavyweights Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro, and the "Ninth Street Show." She secured representation by the newly opened Tibor de Nagy gallery, a leading venue for the younger New York School artists. A prominent member of the New York art scene, Hartigan counted Willem de Kooning, Larry Rivers, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell as friends.

Throughout the late 1950s, Hartigan's work appeared in several notable museum exhibitions as well as in international shows in Japan, Brazil, Belgium, and Germany. This critical and institutional attention culminated in May 1959 when "Newsweek" magazine devoted its arts section to Hartigan and noted the strength of her paintings in the important traveling group show, "The New American Painting." Hartigan's works of the 1950s and 1960s reveal the innovative ways in which she tackled the legacy of Abstract Expressionism and engaged in the new painterly movements surging around her.

Hartigan left New York for Baltimore in 1960, prompting another period of experimentation and freedom in her work. She began combining an airier, more transparent painting technique with brighter colors.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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Grace Hartigan is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism
Women Artists

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