As a member of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Hartigan received major accolades from her participation in the 1950 New Talent exhibition curated by Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg, solo exhibitions at Tibor de Nagy, and her inclusion, as the only female artist, in the 1956 Twelve Americans exhibition at MoMA.
Hartigan’s work represents the voice of a true female Abstract Expressionist torn between abstraction and figuration, high art and pop culture, and images and words. From her first solo exhibition in 1951 at the highly revered Tibor de Nagy gallery to the present, Hartigan continues to form her own unique artistic language based upon the dedication and aesthetic of great friends and icons Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock as well as her appreciation of the Old Masters’ clear and concise artistic approaches to still life and portraiture.
Hartigan’s work has always exuded a sense of playfulness in its finality and her themes and styles continue to evolve. While her abstractions attest to her brilliant understanding of the formal aesthetics of good painting, her figurations and portraits reveal a more intimate challenge for the artist; the question of identity. Throughout each evolving style, Hartigan explores the varying relationship between traditions and rituals among different cultures and genders.
Within this context Hartigan’s portraits reveal an insight to the traditions and rituals of different cultures and genders. In an attempt to work through the problems associated with identity, both Hartigan’s early portraits(Grand Street BridesSeries) and late portraits, (seen here, Portia and Tunisian Woman) draw on a variety of sources for inspiration, namely modern traditions and conveniences, paper dolls, imaginary heroes, famous paintings from art history, and great queens and empresses. Each portrait seems to ‘transcend individual experience to express the isolation that exists beneath the customary rituals of modern life’. [Mattison, 1990]
In addition to pure abstractions, word imagery, collages, and portraits, Hartigan also pursued a much different approach to her work, particularly in the 1970’s. In these canvas’ Hartigan deals with a more intimate issue than that of identity; life and death, sin and salvation become dominating themes and allow a purging of personal inner turmoil on the canvas’. Both Clarissa’s World and Land and Sea are excellent examples of Hartigan’s achievements during this decade, ones characterized by image fragmentation, obsessively crowded spatial arrangements, and perhaps her most brilliant uses of color.
Hartigan’s work is represented in landmark institutions such as the Guggenheim, MoMA, the Metropolitan, the Whitney, the Corcoran, and the Smithsonian.
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