WOMEN IN ART SERIES #14
“Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.”
So said Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) an artist as known for her monochromatic abstract sculptures as her flamboyant appearance.
Born in Kiev, Russia, Louise was born Leah Berliawsky. Even though her father had a successful lumber business, he left for the United States in 1902 when Tsarist Russia started making it difficult for the Jews. Little Leah was so traumatized by her father leaving, she stopped speaking for six months.
In 1920, disgruntled with life in a small town, she changed her name to Louise and married Charles Nevelson who was from a wealthy ship-owning family. In 1922, she gave birth to her only child, Myron (known as Mike), who also became a sculptor. Louise didn’t like the upper-middle class lifestyle and after 11 years of marriage, she took her son to live with her parents in Maine.
In 1932 Louise travelled to Germany to study with Hans Hoffman, and stayed until the Nazis forced the school to close. Following Hoffman to New York and she began taking classes at the Art Student League, alongside abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock. She preferred not to align herself to any art movement and worked hard to establish herself in a male dominated world – she did not want to be known as a “woman artist”.
“Women at that time were supposed to look pretty and throw little handkerchiefs around…well I couldn’t play that role.”
She began experimenting with different styles and materials frequently utilizing wood and junk she found on the streets of New York. While gaining a reputation for her art, she began cultivating a personal lifestyle that included heavy face makeup, dramatic clothing, colorful scarves and false eyelashes. She was friends with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, who wrote a play about her in 2002 – Occupant (Anne Bancroft played her initially – later Mercedes Ruehl) which is a two-act play featuring Nevelson answering questions after her death to an un-named interviewer.
She was photographed for the cover of Life magazine as early at 1958. About that time, her works were featured in the Museum of Modern Art. But, even with all this publicity, she did not depend on a steady income from art until she was in her 60’s.
Along the way, Louise briefly worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan in 1988 amd was the subject of a set of commemorative stamps issued in 2000.
For most of her life, she lived simply, not wanting material possessions. She worked into her 80’s just completing a 35-foot black sculpture for the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland when she died of natural causes on April 17, 1988.
“Only a few basic forms unify the art of all periods, the rest are variations.”
When you are centered, people can’t control you because they are your reflection. By the same token, you are their reflection.”
“Black creates harmony and doesn’t intrude on the emotions.”
“But when I fell in love with black, it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an an acceptance…Black is the most aristocratic color of all…You can be quiet and it contains the whole thing. “
“Everytime I put on clothes, I am creating a picture.”
“When I look at the city from my point of view, I see New York City as a great big sculpture.”
Louis Nevelson, larger than life!