Thursday, 28 February 2013

The 31 Women Number Four, Julia Thecla, artist, designer, curator,– today is her birthday

February28,1896 - June 29, 1973  American painter, theatre & ballet designer, performance artist, curator.


 Julia Connell Thecla was born in Delavan, Illinois and moved to Chicago in around 1920. She was a working artist from around 1920 to 1966, but she was not recognised outside Chicago and she was almost forgotten even before her death. Little is known about her family, she largely severed ties with them.

Julia attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, while supporting herself as a commercial artist, copyist and art restorer. These and other subsidiary activities sustained her over many years, she never earned much from her paintings. Even after her arrival in Chicago it was eleven years before she could exhibit. Her first exhibition was the Art Institute’s International Watercolour Exhibition in 1931, when Thecla was already 35. She contributed work to the Art Institute’s various annual shows until  her death.

Though she is sometimes described as a surrealist, Julia Thecla’s enigmatic and deeply personal pictures are out on the periphery of the surrealist movement. Much of her work is symbolist or just quirkily representational, rather than really surrealist. She was deeply involved in the artistic community and aware of surrealism and its connotations but, like many women artists, she took only what she liked out of it. Her first truly Surrealist pictures began to emerge in the late 1930’s with works such as Dreamer and Nudes 1937 which depicting a costumed woman, her eyes closed, holding four ropes which are stretched taut and disappear into the sea. Attached to the other ends of the ropes are a line of nudes.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Olga Moscow, artist, dies at 100

Painter, ballet dancer and teacher Olga Moscow, died on 24th February. Also known as Olga Lovell Harding, her married name was Olga Houghton-Evans, she was born on 4th November 1912.

The City, by Olga Moscow

Friday, 22 February 2013

Buffie Johnson, the 31 Women Number Three; her Birthday is 20 February.

Buffie Johnson was born on the 20th February 1912 in New York City.

In the 1950's she was commissioned to paint what was then the world's largest mural, which adorned the interior of the Astor Theatre in Times Square, but today she is undeservedly neglected. When she is mentioned, Buffie Johnson is grouped with the New York School of abstract expressionists, but as with many women artists this only tells a fraction of her story. She was a close friend of Mark Rothko, who can also only loosely be described as an abstract expressionist. The work of both these artists moves well beyond experimentation with abstraction and paint surfaces, and explores the deepest dimensions of the spiritual. Buffie Johnson was a spiritual artist from her childhood and her method of artistic exploration varied throughout her life, she cannot be defined by association with one school.

Buffie Johnson with one of her Numbering Series
canvases (photo from the Brooklyn Museum)
Born in 1912 into a well to do New York City family, Buffie Johnson was one of twins, her sister died at birth. She claimed many years later that a vision of this lost sister had appeared to her in San Francisco. Her parents separated when she was very small and despite a privileged standard of living her childhood was unsettled. She was shunted between her divorced parents, her grand mother and several aunts, then sent to a convent school which she hated. For some time she lived with her mother’s sister, Minnie Griffin and Minnie’s husband Percy, a New York architect.

Seventy years later Buffie still vividly remembered the view from her room in the Griffin's home, of the ships masts and funnels on East River and the illuminated signs in the city. Like all of the 31 Women artists, she drew and painted from early in her childhood. Her uncle Percy encouraged her artistic talent and aged eight, Buffie began painting a series of pictures of the spirits who she felt must exist in animals, the moon and stars and natural forces such as the wind. This interest in the spiritual and transcendental aspects of the natural world was to infuse her art for the whole of her career.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Writing exercises - one

Writing exercises - one

Originally began this blog because I was doing so little writing. So. Writing exercise from an old copy of Mslexia magazine…

choose four ordinary objects-

I chose the following:-

Cheque book                     light bulb             framed photo of a child                 old floppy disc

Without naming it, write a purely physical description of one…

I wrote:

There are lots of these. They are square, plastic and brightly coloured. This one is green. It has no label, no indication of what lies inside. You can slide the metal plate on the top to one side, revealing a dark, shiny surface, which reflects some light and gives no clues, then a tiny spring exerts just enough force to push the metal cover back into place. So you’re still left ignorant.

The trouble with choosing four objects is that I automatically select four that resound with dramatic potential. These are not mundane things! But then what is mundane? A trowel? It can plant seeds that burst into miraculous life. A carpet? Whose feet have walked on that? A dustbin – containing who knows what secrets! Mundane? Nothing is really mundane.


A floppy disc is something that I used to be dependent on – much of my life’s work still resides within a couple of boxes of these, even though some of the work has later revisions and anyway  they have been technologically superseded . Mundane? Not for me.

A light bulb, mundane? These simple inventions have revolutionised people’s lives! No need for smoky torches and braziers, dangerous and, unless you can afford hundreds, ineffectual candles. Ever tried reading by the light of one candle? Even a dead light bulb is redolent with the scenes it might have illuminated!

Framed photo of a child – mundane? Obviously not. Even better if you don’t know the child, from a fiction writer’s point of view anyway.

Chequebook. Mundane? A new one has such potential, it doesn’t have to only be used to pay the water bill! It could be used to buy a holiday in the Namib desert.., or a magic lamp. A used chequebook tells a story in the stubs.

OK, I don’t believe in mundane and this is obviously one of the aims of this exercise, writing a purely physical description is very hard, it leaves so much out; no emotions, value judgements, intimations…etc.  This may be the best thing that my time at Leeds Uni taught me. If you are a writer, there is always something to write about. I am a writer. Any writing is better than not writing and feeling sorry for myself.