Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grace Hartigan and the Poets

Grace Hartigan's papers are at the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Library and were used in a 2006 exhibit “Imagine! Painters and Poets of the New York School." She gave this personal account of her collaboration with Frank O'Hara on the Oranges series: 
Grace Hartigan and Frank O'Hara
in Her Essex Street Studio

Black Crows (Oranges No. 1)
 Oil on paper
To the New York avant-garde in the late '40s and early '50s, fame or historical significance seemed impossible. As a result, the collaborations between painters and poets were casual and spontaneous.
 For example, one day in 1952, Frank O'Hara and I were talking about Apollinaire and his relationship to the Cubists. I said, "I'd like to do something with your poems, but I don't want to do only one." Frank said, "How about twelve? I have a dozen poems called 'Oranges.'?" I painted 12 oils on paper, at times writing the whole poem, other times just a line or two. All the images related to each poem. 

This turned out to be crucial for my own painting. I had been working in what came to be called Abstract Expressionism. Inspired by Frank's combination of "high" art and popular culture, I began painting images from my Lower East Side neighborhood. Grand Street Brides was based on Goya's Royal Family and used gowns from a bridal shop on Grand Street.

My dealer, John Myers, director of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, had worked for View, the Surrealist magazine, and he issued some small pamphlets of O'Hara's and Ashbery's poetry. He planned to show my Oranges in my 1953 show and have mimeographed copies of the poems available.

He suggested we put a dozen or two in folders and that I could paint a cover on each. I spread these folders on my studio floor and painted still lifes of oranges, each different, on the folder fronts. We priced them at $1.00 and sold very few. Elaine and Bill de Kooning each bought one.

Looking back at that time, it seems so magical, so innocent. In the words of a popular song, "It was a good time, it was the best time, and we thought it would last forever.

Grace Hartigan made these comments on her first lithographic prints:

In 1959 I was living at 25 Essex Street in New York's Lower East Side. Tatyana Grossman [sic] called me and asked if I would do some lithographs for ULAE [Universal Limited Art Editions]. I had never done lithos and knew nothing about it and she said she would bring me some stones. She came to my studio with Maurice, her husband and Bob Blackburn and left four stones with tusche, litho crayons and distilled water. 

I was working with poets at the time, and after a week stalking the stones, I plunged in with splatters of tusche, free drawing, rubbing, pounding with hands and with rags and did four lithos based on Barbara Guest's poem "The Hero Leaves His Ship."

I called Tatyana and she came with Bob B, took a look at the stones and sort of gasped and moaned, at the same time. Bob said "If it's on the stone I can print it."

In February 1960, poet Barbara Guest and Grace Hartigan began collaboration on a series of poems and lithographs entitled Archaics. In October 1961, Guest wrote of her deep artistic connection to Hartigan's work:

I feel your painting so acutely that often when I write a poem I begin to see it as you would paint it....How well you understood the poems. I did use "nature" midway in space between myself and life. I do think of nature pantheistically, almost as the remote God who conjoins with my own remoteness and it all moves mysteriously and must be lightly touched-unless, the great unless, if, one wishes to "enter" it, the enormous step that must be taken. This step appears before me now.

Hartigan's lithographs were printed at Tatyana Grosman's Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, Long Island, but not until 1966. Barbara Guest remarked upon this delay in a letter of 28 November 1966:

It's very good news about the Grossman [sic] project....I am very eager to see the work you have done. It is all such a long far off time ago. Really archaic in my head.

Read more about the 2006 exhibit “Imagine! Painters and Poets of the New York School," which was held at Syracuse University here

The Hero Leaves His Ship, 1960 
Lithograph on paper

Who Will Accept Our Offering
at This End of Autumn? 1966,
Lithograph on paper

1 comment:

  1. This seems fabulous. The combination of poetry with art, it is always ethereal. This is the good thing about art, it does not stick to just one medium, poetry, literature, painting or the blend of all, and it will still work.