Painting like a Man

What can we say about the Northwest Matriarchs of Modernism atthe Marylhurst Art Gym that hasn’t already been said? It is a sad,sad situation. Bittersweet. Get a bunch of female artists togetherand what do they have in common? Being female. As a woman artist,my biggest goal is to be written up without that designation. Justartist alone will do. It has been said that the goal of theseartists was the same. All worked decades ago, but in 2004 theystill vie with the name and purpose of this exhibition.

We can say “they did it all anyway” and that this is somethingto celebrate. Examine, yes. Celebrate, I don’t know. We don’t needthe companion, the Patriarchs of Modernism, alongside. That’sbecause Modernism has already been written as patriarchy plus.

What we can celebrate, though, is the fact of their success. Ina world where it is still tough to be — shudder– a woman artist,you’ve got to hand it to this group. They were in the museums andmajor galleries even back then. They played hardball.

Still this exhibition, like so many others, is backtracking andretelling a story of the overworked and underpaid. Who had childrenor who did not is noted in signage and catalogues. No doubt thoseartists put in all kinds of time. As an art historian, however, Idon’t generally make lists of all the great male artists who weredaddies or who were not. And as to the underpaid, if you don’t haveyour schooling from real life, then you’ve had it from the GuerillaGirls.

What this show did most of all for me (and perhaps others) isprovide a brief tour on what happened. We have our history, made upof individuals, some male and some not. Names float around, youhear them, but you don’t always have the visual applications.

Get away from the various cold hard facts and it is a nice groupof artworks to be around. Two cases amongst many; I especiallyenjoyed the work of Eunice Parsons, collage artist extraordinaire.Her joy in the rip and tear of found materials was the perfect mixof historical slant with free form, so well suited to the collageartist. Mary Henry is another singular artist who has her owncorner — a sharp, clean, precisionist corner — all mapped out forher. Her territory sprang from her connection to the New Bauhaus inChicago (Moholy-Nagy to be exact) and continued here in theNorthwest, where she created bright, hard and unapologetic forms inthe 1960s tradition.

I say unapologetic because the slogan, heard here and elsewherein the world, is that some of these artists “paint like a man.” Wecan assume this is meant kindly without subtext, because otherwise,what a loaded term.

Whatever a man paints like, it is never a topic for discussionthroughout the ages, until a woman paints well.