Friday, June 12, 2009

Louise Nevelson ~ the Colorful Artist who Loved Black

Louise Nevelson, the artist who created this week’s piece for Fifty Two Pieces, has always acted on her vision of the world. In 1975 at a dinner given by the Israel Museum in honor of Louise Nevelson, the sculptor stood up and said, "First of all, I want to thank . . . myself." This incredible persona can be traced back to her early childhood. Born in Russia in 1899, she felt her father had abandoned her when he left for Rockland, Maine in 1903 to start a new life for his family. She stopped talking. Fortunately for us all, Nevelson’s father sent for his family in 1905. At age nine, she saw a statue of Joan of Arc at the Rockland Public Library in Maine and decided to sculpt, telling the local librarian

"I'm going to be a sculptor. I don't want color to help me.”

Following the ribbon of her life, you’ll see her craft her way out of rural Maine where her family had risen from poverty but not free of anti-Semitism. Her father had originally supplmented his income as a timber merchant by scavenging for junk to resell. In 1920, she met and married Charles Nevelson, part of a family who owned a shipping company, and found herself in New York City, an environment where she could take art classes, dance classes. Marriage and motherhood would get into her way though. In 1922, she gave birth to Myron, her only child. Charles’ family disapproved of her desire to be an artist and Charles most certainly wanted a wife who would be part of the social scene. So she started over. In 1931 when the country was well into the Great Depression, Nevelson left Charles, took Myron to Maine to live with her mother and went to Europe.

Her goal was to study Cubism and to reach that goal she moved to Munich to take classes with Hans Hoffman. Her return to New York City was at the same time as Hoffmann’s, who went to America in 1932. She continued to study with him in New York at the Art Students League. As Amy described yesterday, she was an environmental artist. She began to gather wooden objects on the streets of New York. Following in the footsteps of her father, she was making her career from wood and junk. And this is where her passion for black came through. She had assembled her found objects into groupings and then painted them black. So when you see a sculpture such as the one from this week, painted black, it will likely be a Nevelson. They may be black and seem monochromatic but they all contain different objects, creating different worlds. And with black as described by Nevelson there was no need for other color, although there are occasional white and gold works. “black contained all colour... It was an acceptance... Black is the most aristocratic colour of all.”

Even though Nevelson’s work did not sell until she was in her fifties, she kept on creating, living her life fully, creating her art and a presence that eventually became known. “Through years without recognition the only thing that kept me going was that I wouldn’t be appeased.”

A search through Youtube produces this video of an interview of her in her characteristic long head scarf and long eyelashes. During the week we’ll continue to look into her life. It will be a fun ride...

***Update 15:53, LAS (Las Vegas)*** Louise Nevelson sighted in Smith's at the deli counter. She was on her way home from her daily visit to The Wynn.

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