As we’re coming out of the pandemic, 2021 appears to be a year dedicated to women in the arts as several museums and art centers in Europe and the United States are hosting programs devoted to female artists, far too long left out of the history books.
When speaking with art historians and scholars, the often-cited reasons that left women behind were: they had no access to education, they were living reclusive lives and did not have as much access to sources of inspiration as men, women painters were not accepted in art shows and museums, they also did not sign their paintings, and finally they were deliberately left out.
In recent years books were written to correct that, including The Trouble with Women Artists by Laure Adler and Camille Vieville, published in 2019, and Broad Strokes by Bridget Quinn, published in 2017. They provide a wider perspective on the significant achievements and contributions made by women in the arts.
Earlier this year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam included for the first time ever works by women artists in the Gallery of Honor, alongside works by 17th century Dutch Golden Age masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals. Paintings by Judith Leyster, Gesina ter Borch, and Rachel Ruysch are now exhibited in the Gallery of Honor as a move by the Museum to highlight women’s contribution to Dutch cultural history.
Musée du Luxembourg in Paris is hosting the exhibition “Peintres Femmes 1780 – 1830”, which includes seventy paintings by forty female painters, most notably Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, both members of the famous l’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (the precursor of the Louvre Museum), and Marguerite Gérard, the sister-in-law of Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Curated by Martine Lacas, the exhibition can also be explored virtually.
Centre Pompidou is hosting the exhibition “Women in Abstraction” featuring one hundred and six artists, and more than five hundred works dating from the 1860s to the 1980s in various disciplines. Included in this exhibition are works by Louise Bourgeois, Barbara Hepworth, Verena Loewensberg, and many others. Centre Pompidou is also hosting an online class through June this year, free of charge, titled Elles font l’art and presenting a different history of modern art, one that focuses on women artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. This class is held in French.
In New York, of course, there is a long tradition of women being active in the art world going back to Sarah Cole, the sister of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of Painting (Luminism); Georgia O’Keeffe (Modernism) – married to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe enjoyed painting Lake George where she vacationed extensively; and Hedda Sterne (Surrealism), who was married to The New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg – both Sterne and Steinberg were born in Bucharest but met in New York.
In 2019 the exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” hosted by Guggenheim attracted more than 600,000 attendees, becoming the museum’s most visited show in its 60-year history, according to Artsy. This year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting “Alice Neel: People Come First”, a retrospective that positions Neel as a radical painter, champion of social justice.
Art in the Catskills has consistently featured works by women artists who have maintained studios in the Catskill Mountains including Amy Masters, Ann Lee Fuller, Ellen Wong, Helene Manzo, June Lanigan, Lisbeth Firmin, Molly Rausch, and many others.
“David creates a seamless rapport with each artist, drawing out their individual personalities with meticulously researched questions. Her interviewing style is so natural and unobtrusive that the reader feels like “a fly on the wall” privy to the authentic, unrehearsed lives of the artists. They divulge their thought processes, creative developments, media, materials and muses, but David evokes them into sharing a glimpse of their souls.”
Molly Rausch is a stamp artist. Her work has been exhibited throughout the Hudson Valley, New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, Oaxaca (Mexico), and Prilep (Macedonia), and is in numerous private and public collections. Molly’s work often deals with themes of communication and thresholds. She has participated in several public art projects, including a Lost and Found Drawing Booth in 2009. Her first museum exhibition was at the Museo de Filatelia in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2014. In 2015 she participated in the 58th Annual Contemporary Art Colony in Prilep, Macedonia: Molly’s work will be featured on an official Macedonian postage stamp in 2016. Molly holds an MFA in Painting from SUNY New Paltz, and a BA from St. Mary’s College in Maryland. She grew up in Maryland.
Simona David: How did you become an artist?
Molly Rausch: It’s a tough question, because I don’t really know how does one become anything. But I’ve always loved drawing. I have three sisters, and we’re all about two years apart, so we’re a little bit of a competitive family. I remember when my oldest sister was given some oil pastels – they were given to her because she was considered the artist of the family. I remember I was very upset, I thought that was unfair. The only reason she was drawing better than me at the time was that she was four years older. And I really wanted to have those pastels. I think that you find what you love to do, and that’s what you end up doing.
SD: I believe Picasso said that all children are artists, the question is how to remain an artist once you grow up. Are your parents artists?
MR: My mom draws, and my dad is a wood worker, but they aren’t visual artists. My father is a doctor, and my mother is a teacher. But to answer your question, how does one remain an artist once one grows up, for me it was about establishing a studio practice when I studied art in school. How do you continue to make art? What are your requirements? How do you like to work?
SD: You have formal training as an artist. What does it mean to be formally trained as an artist? And do you have any mentors or influencers?
MR: As an undergraduate I majored in studio art. The art classes were the hardest, and that’s where I felt I was learning the most. As a graduate student at SUNY New Paltz I had some amazing art teachers. It was important to have concentrated time to work in the studio. Literally it’s just a practice: you go in, and practice, and figure out what your practice is going to be like. I remember seeing a Jacob Lawrence exhibition in college, and that’s what made me work in gouache. Otherwise, it’s just a slow evolution. I usually work in series, and one series leads to the next. It’s one step at a time.
SD: Do you always work from memory, or from photography, or with the subject matter in front of you?
MR: I don’t like working from photography, I draw from observation. I like to see what happens when you try to depict things from observation and memory, and remember all the changes that happen. I have two main threads in my work right now: the postage stamp paintings, and a larger series of oils on plywood. For the postage stamp paintings I am using stamps as reference, but for the oil series I am working from observation.
SD: You are working both on very small works like the stamp paintings, and large ones like the oil paintings. It seems to me that it takes two different sets of skills to work on small and large scale. What do you think?
MR: I like having both threads going, and bounce back and forth between the two.
SD: From the viewer’s perspective is different too: these are two very different kinds of experience. I have the feeling that I see more details in small works.
MR: When it comes to the postage stamp paintings, I really like having that intimacy, I like having something small that’s going to make someone walk up to the wall and get very close to see what’s going on. It changes the way one relates to the artwork. When it comes to a small piece of art, you can relate to it as if it were a book: you can pick it up and hold it in your hands. You’re going to relate in a completely different way to a large oil painting. You step further away. And it’s different when it comes to painting it as well. My large work is very simplified. When you think that something is bigger, you’d think there is more information on it.
SD: Let’s talk about the artistic process: how do you start a new project?
MR: I work in series. I’m usually inspired by some new material that I’m introduced to. I have the material, and I have a problem to solve: how am I going to use this material? I play around with it until I hit on something. I get excited, and I create a series. Maybe I have twenty – thirty pieces, and then it feels like it’s done, and I don’t feel like I’m learning anything new from it anymore. Then I look for new inspiration and some new material to work with.
SD: Now let’s talk about your postage stamp art. What triggered your interest in mail art?
MR: The postage stamp paintings started with a bookbinding project. In 1997 – 1998 I took a bookbinding class. I was working on this very tiny book about 3 inch square. I didn’t know what to put in it. And it sat empty for a year or so, and then I finally started to draw on it, and I messed up my drawing on my first page. I needed something to cover it up. And I had this envelope full of old letters and stamps that my dad had given me – my dad used to collect stamps. They were all early 1900s, very beautiful. And because they happened to be the right size, I glued a stamp down on this little book to cover my bad drawing, and it just looked really nice in there. Then I glued another one on the next page, but this one looked like it needed a little bit more space on one side of it. The composition of the stamp was too symmetrical for me, so I glued it down and extended the horizon a little bit. The next page I thought that it needed some sky, so I added a little bit of sky. You can look through this book, and see the ideas grow from there. By the fifth page I thought I might be into something. That led me to drawing up maps on pieces of plywood. I did a whole series of paintings on that. Those were large, like 3 by 4 feet.
SD: Were you familiar at the time with other stamp artists? I believe this movement was started by the Dadaists in the 1920s. You did explain how you make your stamp art: you start with a stamp, then you build around it, and you imagine a world outside that stamp, as if the stamp was larger, and included a larger scene.
MR: Yes. I glue down the stamp and I basically just paint around it. I don’t paint on it, and I don’t research it. I just stare at it for a while, and figure out the edges: I figure out what needs to go in the final composition. As far as the content goes, I feel like it’s already there for me, like I’m following the cues that are in the original work from the original artist. I work in watercolor and gouache. And, all my postage stamp paintings are actually about 3 by 3 inches, they’re very small. If you make them too big, then the illusion disappears. Right now as small as they are, there is a moment when people are looking at them, and actually they look at a few in a row, and then suddenly I hear them say “oh, there is a stamp in there.” It takes them a little bit to see it, and then they go back, and they go around the room, and say “oh, there is a stamp in everyone of them.” I really like that moment of discovery.
SD: What amazes me about your work is the color palette that you use: you manage to stay on the same color palette that’s on the original stamp, and the brushstroke is also similar to the stamp as if it was done by the same artist.
MR: I feel like the mockingbird of watercolors. I get to play with different styles. I am trying to match the style and the color of the stamp; people often ask me how I match the color.
SD: Just to clarify: each of these postage stamp paintings is unique: you don’t reproduce and you don’t make any prints. Is that right?
MR: Yes, that’s true.
SD: Do you name these postage stamp paintings?
MR: Some of them have titles. There was a series I did on currencies, and those had titles. Sometimes the title is important. But for the most part the titles that I make up are just descriptions of the subject, for example French castles.
SD: You currently have a show on view at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM). What is included in this exhibition?
MR: There are twenty-nine paintings, about half of them painted this year. This is a series of postage stamp paintings that I started eighteen years ago. There is a stamp by Frederic Edwin Church for instance that I used in three different paintings, so it’s like a mini-series of paintings each of them less and less finished. I think of them as frames in some unknown film. This was the first time I had the same stamp on more than one painting. And I liked the idea of working in groups. There is also in there a series about currencies. This show will remain on view through January 3.
SD: You do other kind of work. You also work with typewriters. Let’s talk about that.
MR: I started this series of altered typewriter sculptures five or six years ago. It started with a joke: I was at work, and trying to write an email for some client that I was struggling with, and I made a joke to my co-workers like “I can’t find the sarcasm key on this computer.” At that point I had two typewriters – I still use the typewriter. So I started making these sculptures: take the keys off the typewriter, take all the letters off the keys, put other things in place, then put the typewriter back together. The first thing I made was a typewriter with all the letters blank except for the ones in the very middle where the letters “g” and “h” would be, and just says “yes” and “no.” Sometimes you just want to simplify things, and make them that binary, you just need an answer “yes” or “no.” There is a typewriter I made where all the keys say “me,” “me,” “me.” We’re all guilty of this sometimes. I made another typewriter where I took the “Shift” key off it, and made it “Sarcasm” key. The typewriters are fully functional – I didn’t actually alter the striking key: it doesn’t actually type “yes,” or “no,” or “me.” They still do what they’re supposed to do, they still type the regular alphabet, which is important to me conceptually, because I’m interested in this illusion we have about communication, and how you think you can only talk about one thing, you think you can only say “yes” or “no,” but in reality you could actually say whatever you want to. To me typewriters are beautiful, not just as mechanical objects, but I love the alphabet and the fact that twenty-six letters can be re-arranged to say anything and everything.
SD: What you said made me think of Marshall McLuhan’s famous assertion that “the medium is the message.” You like to write using either a pen, or a typewriter, or a computer. Does each of this medium trigger a different choice of words or perhaps a different thought process?
MR: It’s completely different. There is no editing when it comes to typewriters. I feel like the typewriter is the purist because on a computer I can edit everything, whereas with the typewriter I need more stream of consciousness. With the typewriter whatever comes out in whatever order is what it is, that’s it. Just like talking live on the radio.
SD: You’ve shown your work in many exhibitions throughout North America and Europe. What do these shows mean to you? Earlier this year you participated in an arts residency in Macedonia. What was your experience like? What did you learn?
MR: It’s always a thrill, it’s always an honor. It’s nice to get things out of my studio, and have other people see them. The opportunity to travel to go to Macedonia this year was amazing.
SD: Talk a little bit about what it means to get ready for a new show.
MR: I remember the first series of paintings that I made, it was very personal. I could never imagine ever parting with these paintings. I also remember thinking that I’d like to be able to show my work, and I can’t hang onto everything forever, and start making things that aren’t so personal. It’s about learning to let go of your artwork and send it out in the world, but there are a few pieces in each series that I think like “no, this one isn’t going anywhere, this one is mine.”
SD: What are you working on now?
MR: I’m working on a project trying to combine chalk board painting with concrete and piano roll paper. I’m working on a series of larger paintings on plywood that incorporate these three materials. I also have an exhibition coming up next year in New Haven, Connecticut, and I’m working on postage stamp paintings for them. I might include typewriters in this show as well, because the show will be hosted at the Library Institute, a beautiful, old library in New Haven. I’m imaging the postage stamp paintings on the walls and the typewriters set in the middle of the room.
Didier Cremieux is a New York City based painter and illustrator. Born and raised in Clermont l’Herault in southern France, Didier moved to the United States in 1977. He majored in literature and art history at the Université Paul Valery in Montpellier, France. Upon his arrival to the U.S., Didier furthered his studies in photography in Oklahoma City, and etching and lithography at Antioch College in Ohio, along with apprenticeships and jobs in printmaking and graphic design. Along his career, Didier experimented with various printing techniques from silk screening to etching and Xerox or letterpress printing. His artwork has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. Didier also designs book illustrations, posters for various events, and promotional materials for the music industry. As a painter, he is mostly interested in City scapes and still lifes.
Didier had an exhibit at the Orphic Gallery in Roxbury this past fall, called “Postal Mix Tapes.” The exhibit included hand-made stamp sheets and posters celebrating music and music history.
Simona David: Didier, talk a little bit about your training as a painter and illustrator.
Didier Cremieux: When I came to the U.S. my formal training was in literature and art history, and I was also a painter. Then slowly I moved into the graphic arts, as a source of employment, to supplement the fine arts.
SD: Do you still paint?
DC: I still paint quite a bit. I’ve always painted. It’s like I have two outputs that I have. The graphic art is a tradition that goes back to the history of the posters; that is something that I’ve always been fond of, and that I’ve designed for a long time. A lot of my work, for example, has to do with music. So I did music packaging, and posters for bands, and stuff like that. It’s just a tradition from the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec to the psychedelic posters of the West Coast, then the punk posters, and the Xerox machine. This is a tradition that I think I belong to.
SD: The golden age of illustration was roughly considered to be from the 1880s to the 1920s. And you mentioned Toulouse-Lautrec. How is your work today as an illustrator different than that of an illustrator’s from the early 1900s, both from a technical and artistic standpoint?
DC: With the arrival of the digital age we moved away from the traditional printing on paper and ink, and switched to digital files. From what I’ve seen in editorial illustrations for magazines, the artist may very well start with pen and paper, but then he would finish the layout on the computer. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s I used to deliver illustrations on paper. And then towards the end of the 1990s every single magazine I worked with switched to digital production. One thing that really changed is the way you work as illustrator. It used to be like the editorial team would meet and discuss the project. The illustrator would meet with the creative director and get the outline of the project, he would read the article or the draft of the article that was going to appear, and then would deliver pencil sketches via the fax machine. Now it’s all done by email using digital files. You don’t sit in an office anymore, and talk about how everything is done. There is no more human contact involved. It changed the human relationship that the illustrator has with the production team.
SD: There is A National Museum of American Illustration in Rhode Island; on their website at americanillustration.org they say that illustration is “the most American of American art.” There is a tradition of illustration in this country going back to Norman Rockwell. People value illustrations, they collect magazine covers, or clippings, or something like that. I hope this beautiful tradition will be continued in some manner. You seem to have adapted to digital technology.
DC: Yes. A lot of artists went from working with the brush to working with the computer, and replaced ink with pixels. But I think, in a positive way, that brought all kinds of new styles, with all kinds of possibilities. Again, illustration is part fine art, and part commercial art. And, there are a lot of parameters that have to be followed in commercial art. Personally, I really like doing this sort of thing on the computer, and making changes, and offering all kinds of versions with colors or anything else.
SD: You work both on fine art projects as well as commercial art. How is your work different when you work on a fine art project compared to a commercial one?
DC: I did less illustration work in the past few years; the market has gotten quite a bit smaller, because of the crisis in the paper publishing. When a magazine goes digital, they sometimes do use illustrations, but again, it’s different. Also, trade publications are using more and more in-house designers as opposed to hiring outside illustrators.
SD: Let’s talk specifically, when you work on a project, where do you start, how do you decide on a style or an approach?
DC: It really depends on the project. My approach is completely different for a fine art project than a commercial one. The illustration work is more the work of a collaboration, of your skills being used for a bigger project. If I create a piece of art that’s going to illustrate a story, I need to create a visual that supports the story and makes quick associations with the concept of that article, but it’s also a visual that appeals to people so they read the story. That’s for magazine illustration. For book illustration is a bit different. The book illustrator and the writer are kind on the same level; on one side you have the text, on the other side you have the illustration, and maybe sometimes the two combined; but the two of them are almost like equal. What you’re doing with the illustration is offering one possible visual to the world that is in the story that the visual supports. That’s how I work: this is the story, and this is my narrative, my view of the story. What I mostly like about illustration is this collaborative effort.
SD: Who influences you, who do you admire, and how do you go about improving what you do?
DC: I started designing posters when I was 14, growing up in southern France, in a small village. I started a print studio with friends, we really had to come up with something to entertain ourselves. We were driven, interested in the creative things. We would do posters for events, or just ideas that we had. And we started showing them to people, we started doing shows. When I paint or do prints for myself, personal aspects come first. When I work on illustrations for various projects, it’s the collaborative process that matters most.
SD: How do you decide what to work on?
DC: The show that I did at Orphic Gallery in Roxbury, called “Postal Mix Tapes,” is a project that goes back to the 1980s. Around that time in San Francisco I met a lot of artists that were involved in the mail art movement, if you can call such a thing a movement. It was all about mail art, it was about exchanging pieces of mail with art on the envelope; it was also about experimenting with new machines, like the Xerox machine, at first black and white, and then color. Artists were experimenting. But again, there was this whole idea of the mail art. Stamps have always exerted a fascination for me since childhood. It was a very popular, democratic process for people to just look at pictures. And these pictures were always commemorating something. When I was a child I was very fond of stamps from around the world commemorating space. It was very great art, but in a small format. In the 1960s I also liked a series of stamps commemorating castles and monuments in France. They were really beautiful, with really beautiful engravings. I really loved collecting those.
SD: Let’s talk specifically about your show at Orphic Gallery.
DC: When I got in touch with Philip Lenihan, and decided to do a show about postage stamps, about music, I went back to some of the work that I had already done, and started adding quite a bit more. The main idea was to really follow the concept of stamps, which is a commemoration. It’s like we put out this stamp to celebrate this or that event. What I wanted to celebrate with this show was my very personal interaction with music throughout my life. So I did different sheets of stamps for various styles of music that I’ve enjoyed throughout my life.
SD: I also collected stamps as a child. Going back to your profession of designing stamps, does anyone else today either collects or designs stamps? How common is this?
DC: I’m not really sure. Collecting stamps is still very traditional. But, as you noticed, in the last 10 – 15 years stamps have changed quite a bit – now they look more like stickers. You can also go online and print your own personalized stamps, even with your own images. Traditionally stamps have always been linked to history. When I was a child I had all these stamps from my father, who had stamps from his father, so it was just an album that just kept growing for three generations.
SD: Looking back at your career as a printmaker and illustrator, and you’re also a painter, how has your style changed over time?
DC: The style for me has always been about experimenting with paint, paper, cardboard, different materials that I use. And in the fine arts the evolution of the digital world just added another dimension to that. A lot of my work combines the analog and the digital method, like working on a computer print, then paint on top of that, or add elements of color that the printer could not do, such as for example gold bleach, or special varnishes in different areas.
SD: Is there any project you’re working on right now that you would like to talk about?
DC: I would like to talk a bit more about the show at Orphic Gallery in Roxbury. One thing about this show was the music, and the way my generation experienced music. In the late 1960s and 1970s music played such a big part in our lives; for one thing you bought an LP or a record, and the artwork was absolutely beautiful. One of my first experiences with art was looking at record covers, and really falling in love with that form of art – photography, illustration, painting. And then there was so much more in those albums than just music. It could change your life, and the way you looked at the world. That music may have had messages and aspirations that went way beyond just a commercial product. The show at Orphic Gallery was really about that. I really enjoyed the show because it gave me the opportunity to talk about this. A lot of people came to me, and shared experiences of their own.
SD: I attended the opening reception at Orphic Gallery on October 11; that was a very nice show. You showed stamps with icons like soprano Maria Callas, legendary jazz musician Thelonious Monk, a Balkan Band – I believe Goran Bregovic was on one of your stamps. I remember asking you if you had met all these musicians.
DC: It’s not that I met them. But in some ways once I discovered their music, it was something very powerful. For example, regarding the Balkan music, one day I stumbled into Central Park, and there was the Summer Stage Festival, and there was this musician and his Wedding Band Orchestra playing this music that I never heard before. I was really taken by the rhythm, by the power of the bass dominating every other sound. That was something extremely appealing, almost like a trance. I had never heard any kind of sound like that. I went to a record store, and asked about that kind of music. I had to hear more of that; it was truly fascinating.
SD: And you also paint. What subjects are you drawn into?
DC: I like to paint New York City scapes, this is my idea of landscape. I never work from an image, I always work from memory. The colors and the geometric shapes show New York City landscape, but a bit in a more abstract way. I also like to paint images that immediately bring you to the southern France, for example hills or this tree that I’ve always had a fascination for – cypress; it’s a tree that is found in Europe, especially in southern lands. And third, I like to paint still lifes – vases or pots with flowers. I do not work with any specific flowers, but it’s my own take on those shapes.
SD: So, it’s all about the visual appeal of a painting.
DC: Yes, and also it’s comfort. Looking at an abstract painting, but still seeing an image in that painting. It touches people, because this is how maybe they interpreted something – they didn’t see a landscape, they saw geometrical shapes. I am trying to tell people that this is my interpretation of my own experience with the landscape.
You can find more about Didier Cremieux at didiercremieux.com.