Feminist Stories From Women’s Liberation: 1963-1970

Feminist Stories From Women’s Liberation: 1963-1970

Lee’s film yields a “complex and multilayered” account which she hopes will instruct her daughter, and future generations of girls, about the struggle that preceded them.

March 26, 2014 | 1 comment | Read More »

A Conversation with Amaranth Ehrenhalt

A Conversation with Amaranth Ehrenhalt

“Art was all that I ever wanted to do,” said Ehrenhalt. For a girl born in 1928, it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing.

March 7, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

In the key role of supporting actor is climate-denier, Sen. James Inhofe, 80, who has landed the part of a lifetime.

February 24, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

In the key role of supporting actor is climate-denier, Sen. James Inhofe, 80, who has landed the part of a lifetime.

February 24, 2015 | No comment | Read More »


A Conversation with Amaranth Ehrenhalt

In what was previously a school building on 108th Street in East Harlem, I entered into the universe of artist Amaranth Ehrenhalt. I first saw her work in an exhibition at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York. She is currently included in the gallery’s group show, “Abstract Approaches,” running through March 28.

Having briefly met Ehrenhalt, I became intrigued by the statuesque, older artist who had a backstory that included art world history in both the United States and Europe. I was inspired by her steadfast commitment to her art, and curious as to why she was—for the most part—under-the-radar. Here was a female artist, almost 90 years old, who was still producing.

I had to know more.

Amaranth PortraitFinal

Photo: Marcia G. Yerman

When Ehrenhalt opened the door to her apartment, I walked into a foyer that had boxes, flat files, and stacked paintings on either side. Deeper into her space was a passageway to the area that she had designated as her studio. A folding rack, filled to capacity, held prints and works on paper. Canvases were hanging on the walls and there was a painting on plywood in progress. African masks and Berber pottery from North Africa, collected on her travels, co-existed with ceramic bowls and plates made by Ehrenhalt  in Paris. Examples of her virtuosity were displayed via her sculptures, mosaics, tapestries, and prints. It was as if an artist in a frenzy had touched every surface with their talent. “Yes,” Ehrenhalt informed me, the pillows on the sofa were her design as well. She was wearing a long colorful scarf, one of her textile projects.

The kitchen blended into the work area. A dining tabletop was composed of her ceramic tiles. Framed prints were in a narrow hall. Articles and images pulled out of the New York Times were tacked up for reference. Ehrenhalt explained the layout of her duplex—which is totally geared to her practice. She said, “It’s the first thing I look at when I get up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I go to bed.”

Ehrenhalt exudes an aura of vitality; one would be hard pressed to guess her age. She is tall (“I was 6’ when I was 14 years old.”), with large, strong hands. Listening to a series of narratives, in response to my questions, it’s easy to imagine the vibrancy of her 20-something self. One of those stories was featured in the September 2012 issue of Vogue, where Ehrenhalt wrote of her days in Paris and friendship with sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

Beginning at the age of four, Ehrenhalt had a strong desire to paint. She grew up in Philadelphia, in modest circumstances. Her parents were first-generation American Jews, with old-school ways. Ehrenhalt clearly remembers, “Art was all that I ever wanted to do.” For a girl born in 1928, it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing. However, she did get an early start. A public school teacher told the principal that Ehrenhalt needed to be placed in the “creatively gifted” Saturday morning program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rather than leave the museum premises when her class was over, and unbeknownst to her parents, Ehrenhalt wandered around the galleries looking at everything from El Greco to Cezanne. She envisioned a future for herself making great works of art.

On a full tuition scholarship at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Ehrenhalt took classes in perspective, anatomy, still life, portraits, and the science of materials. One afternoon per week she attended an art history class at the Barnes Foundation, taught by Violette de Mazia. Ehrenhalt said, “It was an incredible grounding.” She added, “I came to know Violette and Dr. Barnes quite well.”

Determined that she would travel to Paris, Ehrenhalt worked and saved money throughout her teens. It was to be the next step after she graduated. Ehrenhalt sought support for her plans from her father—knowing that if he didn’t offer his blessings, she was going anyway. He didn’t approve, and Ehrenhalt was on the boat to France. She built camaraderie with the other students en route to exploring life and education abroad.

Settling in at the American building at the Cité Universitaire, Ehrenhalt met two American girls who invited her to hitchhike to North Africa with them. Rides were picked up with truckers from Les Halles market, headed to the south of France. After reaching Casablanca, Ehrenhalt journeyed on to Marrakesh. As if reliving the sights and sounds Ehrenhalt said, “Everything you see, you take in like a sponge. And I always had a sketchbook with me.”

Roslyn IIWEB

Roslyn II. Blue Portrait, 1951 Watercolor on Paper

It was at this time, at a youth hostel, that Ehrenhalt encountered another young artist—Friedensreich Hundertwasser (then known as Friedrich Stowasser). A black and white photograph of the two of them from this period sits on Ehrenhalt’s table, framed in silver and draped with beaded necklaces. Ehrenhalt related how the two of them crossed North Africa together, on the way to Sicily. She was the subject of three of his portraits.

Their parting came as a result of Hundertwasser’s return to Vienna, due to family concerns. Ehrenhalt continued on to Rome. When I asked her about her decision to continue solo—thereby ending an important relationship—she replied, “My first true love is, has, and always will be art.”

In Rome, needing money, Ehrenhalt secured a job teaching English. Continuing to paint, she sold works sporadically. Ehrenhalt developed relationships with other artists, including Alberto Burri. When his American dealer, Martha Jackson, came to Rome to make arrangements for his upcoming exhibit, Ehrenhalt served as his translator.

When Ehrenhalt returned to America, she moved to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The apartment she shared with three girls was so small that they had to keep their clothes under the beds. She eventually found a larger place, and began doing her artwork there. She spent evenings at the Cedar Tavern, where she met Franz Kline, Al Held, and Ronald Bladen. The evening before she left for a short excursion to Paris, Willem de Kooning told her, “As soon as you get back, call me. We’ll have dinner.”

It didn’t happen. The trip stretched out—indefinitely. She met the man who would become her husband, also an American artist. They each painted, showing their work in their home salon-style, and living off the sales. As Ehrenhalt describes it, circumstances didn’t sound easy. After two children and fifteen years of a difficult marriage, she got divorced. However, she made a point of sharing, “I couldn’t imagine my life without having children.”

Despite the hardships, life in Paris had plenty to offer. Ehrenhalt became part of a circle of expatriate Americans that included Shirley Jaffe, Sam Francis, and Joan Mitchell. It was during this period that she changed her first name from Roslyn to Amaranth. “I love words,” she remarked. “That’s why all my works are titled.”

Perhaps the most critical connection Ehrenhalt made while in Paris was with Sonia Delauney. Impressed by her abilities, Delauney became a patron. She told Ehrenhalt, “You’re a very talented artist. I’d like to see more of your work.” Realizing that Ehrenhalt was struggling, Delauney arranged for her to buy paints on her account. Ehrenhalt shared an anecdote about Delauney sending over Christmas dinner, art books, and presents for her son and daughter. Ehrenhalt met Alix de Rothschild, who purchased one of her pieces. The day the Baroness made a studio visit to Ehrenhalt’s flat, it was extremely cold. The following day, de Rothschild sent a heater to the family.

Ehrenhalt became well-integrated into the European art scene, with a core of collectors, numerous exhibitions, and frequent reviews. As early as 1962, poet and critic John Ashbery singled out her painting, Jump In and Move Around, in his review of the “New Forces” exhibition at the American Center. He wrote in the International Herald Tribune, “A key figure among these 31 artists from 14 different countries might be the American Ehrenhalt.” Discussing the canvas he stated, “It is both an excellent example of New York School abstraction (lush colors, fluent brushwork, bustling composition) and an attempt at a new possibly eerie form of figuration. The large flat areas juxtaposed with smaller, detailed ones seem always on the point of resolving themselves into a landscape or a portrait.” Ehrenhalt pointedly emphasized, “There’s no first name used, so you don’t know what gender I am.”

JumpInWEBJump In and Move Around, 196I
Oil on Canvas
59” x 77”

Ehrenhalt went on to specify the list of collections she was part of in France, including the Bibliothèque nationale de Paris. “Being in America—it’s so big. She said, “If you’re an artist in a small country, you get much more support.”

Returning to the United States in 2008, in order to be close to extended family, was a definitive transition. Ehrenhalt had a rude awakening regarding the art scene. There was palpable frustration evident as she lamented the lack of opportunities for an artist still producing prolifically at a later career point. “My newest work doesn’t have enough exposure,” she stated with exasperation.

I asked Ehrenhalt how many pieces she estimated she had in her studio. “I have a mattress on top of flat files! I have thousands of pieces of work,” she exclaimed.

Ehrenhalt was one of fifty-eight artists in the book American Abstract And Figurative Expressionism: Style Is Timely Art is Timeless (2009), along with Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, and both Elaine and Willem de Kooning. Her painting, Umatilla, is scheduled to be included in an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum in 2016.

Umatilla WEBUmatilla, 1959
Oil on Canvas
59” x 87”

Being frank about the art world, Ehrenhalt reflected on the past and the present. “It’s hard to survive. In my generation, women had to either be financially independent or have connections with a top male artist.” Commenting on the gallery system, she said, “A gallery can make or break an artist. They can take a young artist and put them on the map.” Of much of the work that she sees these days she admits, “It doesn’t touch me in a deep way.”

In 2006, Ehrenhalt was part of a show at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, entitled Encore: Five Abstract Expressionists. The subtitle was, “Less Well-Known Figures Emerge, Extending the Canon.” Her paintings have been acquired by American collections including Philip Morris, Downey Museum of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum. One of her catalogues featured a quote from Joseph Hirshhorn stating, “What makes an artist important is the fact that she develops her own language, which is what Amaranth is doing.”

#9inSeries8WEBNumber 9 in the Series of 8, 1973
Watercolor and Gouache on Arches paper
30” x 22”
Collection: Hirshhorn Museum

Showing me images of a series of oil on canvas paintings called Poggibonsi I—V, Ehrenhalt said, ”The more you see my work, the more you love it, the more you can’t live without it! I had a collector who bought one work from this group, and then he came back to purchase another and another—until he owned all five.”

Poggibonsi1WEBPoggibonsi I, 1999
Oil on Canvas
77” x 51”

As early as My Mother, there are precursors to what will become Ehrenhalt’s vocabulary for handling paint. Her use of shorthand—through pattern—to designate areas of the bed and floor, suggest the approach she will employ later on to evoke space and depth.

My Mother WEBMy Mother, 1946
Watercolor on Paper
15” x 11”

Six years after Jump in and Move Around, Ehrenhalt explored a different direction in Wend. Using a grid format over a mixed palette background, she introduces a third motif—that of a sinuous snake-like form. Her gradations of color reference the school of Orphism. Enclosed in the tail end is a photograph of the artist.

WendWend, 1967
Oil on Canvas
64” x 51”

In Snow Today, geometric and organic shapes share the paper surface with an energy of movement that refuses to be contained. As in future work, Ehrenhalt combines tightly manipulated forms with broad areas of wash.

SnowTodayJPEGSnow Today, 1974
Watercolor and Gouache on Arches paper
22” x 30”

A year later, Ehrenhalt transformed her imagery into a large-scale tapestry. In discussing the woven pieces, Ehrenhalt made clear that she was hands-on in the process, making decisions about all aspects of the project.

Euphrasia TapestryEuphrasia, 1975
102” x 75”

Constantly experimenting, Ehrenhalt takes previously established stylistic elements, and does a modern day “mash-up” of seemingly unrelated components. In the 1980s, she worked in acrylic, combining opaque areas of color bands with free flowing amoebic forms.

AlembertWEBAlembert, 1987
Acrylic on Canvas
79” x 85”

Ehrenhalt returned to using oil paint by 1991, engaging active stroke marks alongside scumbled patches. Throughout her oeuvre, color is primary. Tonalities are vibrant and intense. Each hue is consciously placed, creating a tense interaction within the visual field. During the same time period, responding to her paintings with works on paper, Ehrenhalt used line drawing and crayon-colored areas to explore another iteration of her large-scale work.

SusquehannaSusquehanna, 1991
Oil on Canvas
46” x 36”

In the late 90s, Ehrenhalt took on the challenge of doing individual works that could be configured in more than one way. She coined the term of “Double Look” to describe the possibility of viewing a diptych in two different configurations, using the process of inversion.

ZalmonZalmon (Dyptych: Two Views), 1997
Oil on Canvas
77” x 60”

Ehrenhalt showed no signs of slowing down in the new century. If anything, she expanded her repertoire to include the new medium of monotype.

Greg C WEBGreg C, 2007
20” x 28”

Having previously worked in etching and woodcut, I asked Ehrenhalt, questions about her techniques. “I just experimented,” she replied. “The first print I did was a woodblock. I used a spoon on the back of the paper!”

Querceta WEBQuerceta,1991
33.50” x 24.50”

Moving into three-dimensionality, Ehrenhalt combined her painting imagery on wood with the structure of marble. In a moveable, pivoting sculpture, Ehrenhalt both challenges and enables the viewer to observe her creation in several ways.

Blk Bear WEBBlack Bear Square, 2005
Marble and Painted Wood
20” x 20” x 4”

During seven decades of exploring her artistic voice, Ehrenhalt has achieved innumerable permutations of visual expression. She told me with pride that her public art project in Bagneux, France, was so beloved by the local residents that it had never been marred by graffiti.

DouzeSouriresMuralWEBDouze Sourires, 1990-1991
Mural at Bagneux
Glazed Ceramic Tiles

Recognition as an artist is a combination of talent and luck. Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. As I spoke with Ehrenhalt about her career trajectory, she said definitively, “I feel certain, and there has never been any doubt in my mind, that my paintings could stand up next to the best of either generation of the Abstract Expressionists—male or female.”

Regardless of what the curators and “decision-makers” of today’s art scene are looking for, Ehrenhalt is not waiting for anyone’s validation. “I know what I want to do,” she said resolutely, “and I’m my own best critic.”

Before I departed, Ehrenhalt reflected, “When I paint, nothing else exists. It’s just so intense.” She added, somewhat dryly, “When I stop painting, I’ll already be dead.”

Hopefully, there will be an opportunity for her to show the full range and depth of her works in a retrospective in the near future.

Cascara 2Cascara 2, 2004
Gouache on Arches paper
30” x 22”


Photo of Roslyn II: Courtesy of Hundertwasser Foundation

Photos: Courtesy of the artist

This article is from the series “Evolution of an Artist”

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Mar 7, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

New Congress Targets Climate with “Fifty Days of Nay”

Shades of NayWhile the public is coming off the Oscars, and a fascination with the new movie Fifty Shades of Grey, I have been focusing on a different story. It’s called Fifty Days of Nay. It’s the sad narrative of the first weeks of the new 114th Congress.

It may not be sexy, but it has a lot of the same elements you would expect in a less than savory tale. There’s big money, men who wield their power to bend others into submission, and plenty of questions about denial and morality.

Needless to say, Sen. Mitch McConnell is not going to get the leading role in any film, but he is a star player in this script. He has been practicing his lines of dialogue since the November election, with rhetoric about pushing through the Keystone Pipeline and vowing to deadlock any advancement in the regulation of coal. Backing moves to reduce the carbon pollution emanating from power plants is not in his screenplay—no way, no how.

However, McConnell has creatively managed to construct a scenario for undoing two decades of environmental legislation. In his rewrite, there will be no going back to the days when safeguarding the environment and health of Americans were embraced by both parties—and were not a mater of partisan politics.

In the key role of supporting actor is climate-denier, Sen. James Inhofe, 80, who has landed the part of a lifetime. He is now the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW). As the protagonist character, despite being “cast against type,” Inhofe will have dialogue coaches reeling as he delivers many of the off-the-cuff, improvisational remarks that have won him renown. (“Man can’t change climate.”)

Ironically, there is one scientist who Inhofe does put his faith in. His name is Wei-Hock Soon, and he is currently in the middle of a paparazzi media storm. Soon is a researcher affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He has testified in front of Congress to dispute the findings of 97 percent of his colleagues. Soon elucidated upon his doubts on the connection between the actions of humans and the causes of global warming.

Last week, Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, which got hold of records through the Freedom of Information Act, released documentation showing that Hock had received in excess of $1.2 million from those in the fossil-fuel industries throughout the past decade. Hock neglected to mention the fact of his funding in his published papers and findings on climate change. It’s possible that the additional $230,000 bestowed upon him from the Charles G. Koch Foundation made his memory foggy.

Over in the House of Representatives there is some encouraging news. The Safe Climate Caucus is up and running under the new leadership of Rep. Alan Lowenthal. He wrote in a mid-February blog, “This caucus aims to speak the truth, even in the face of denial.”

I’m hopeful. Maybe this story will have a happy ending.


Image: Courtesy of RVR Associates

This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force

Tell Your Senators to Help Stop Climate Change!

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Feb 24, 2015 | No comment | Read More »

Birds Tell an Urgent Climate Change Message

2012_Rufous_Hummingbird_Helena_Reynolds_AudubonPhotographyAwards“The canary in the coal mine.” That phrase has become part of the lexicon as a warning for danger.

Now birds are cautioning humans about the imminent threat of climate change—and the news is not good. This from a report based on seven years of research by the National Audubon Society. I checked out their website, which featured material on environmental events—both national and international. I learned that the Baltimore Oriole may no longer be in Maryland by the end of the century and that coastal species, like the sandpiper, were imperiled by rising sea levels.

I reached out to Gary Langham, Audubon’s “chief scientist,” to learn more. Langham has a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. We discussed a wide range of topics, and he passionately delivered his insights and concerns.

Langham explained that at Audubon, “Activism is part of the story.” The organization was founded 105 years ago by people alarmed by the slaughter of egrets being killed in order to supply women’s hats with “plumes.” Audubon spearheaded the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the first American law to protect birds from indiscriminate hunting. “Concerned citizen interface has always be part of the Audubon agenda,” Langham related. “All our conservation work to protect birds and nature is based on science, policy, advocacy, and education.” He paused, “So is standing up and doing the right thing.”

Walking me through the top points of the study, Langham detailed that 588 species were examined within the context of how climate change would impact them in 2020, 2050, and 2080. Taking into account the consequences of greenhouse gases, 314 species are going to be highly impacted unless, as Langham emphasized, “we recalibrate how we consume and generate energy.”

Having the longest running animal census in the world (since 1900), Audubon is strategically positioned to contribute to the conversation. Langham discussed “habitat shifts” that evolved as a result of a changed landscape over the past century and a half—an outcome of humans “converting land use to their own ends.” Alarmingly, in the past forty years, “even common birds have declined by 40 to 70 percent due to habitat shift.”

Langham underscored, “Birds have an urgent message.” The reason they are on the move is due to climate change. In the past two decades, more than 200 species of birds have moved their “habitat range” substantially north in order to achieve comparable living conditions. This migration then impacts the ecosystem where they resettle. Langham stressed, “All this disruption is not good. Birds are an excellent indicator of nature overall. What impacts them will impact us. As the birds go, so do we.”

On the bright side Langham assured me, “When you give nature half a chance, it can respond in a positive way.” The bottom line is, “Restorative measures are the key. If we take concerted actions, the birds can recover.” He gave the example of the country’s national emblem, the Bald Eagle, which was brought back from the brink after being devastated by the effects of DDT.

Commenting on the newly elected representatives in Congress, Langham observed that the “fingerprints of big oil and gas” were clearly evident. “Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he insisted. “It’s about doing the right thing for future generations. It’s about protecting nature and our children.”

When I asked Langham about the XL Pipeline, he was unequivocal in his response. Audubon is officially opposed to it because of the inherent risks and disruptions from spills. Regarding fracking, Langham pointed to the challenges facing birds that nest in the Bakken Shale area of North Dakota. He said succinctly, “Unregulated chemicals used in fracking are the wild card. What’s being pumped into the ground cannot be good for birds or people.”

Langham was clear. “Most of the opposition comes from the extractive industries. They just use nature for their own purposes. They cut it, burn it, or extract it. They want the fewest regulations with the most profits.” For Audubon, supporting renewable energy is a core belief, as is reducing emissions via legislation and public policy.

On how he would convey his concern to the average citizen, Langham said, “Birds often represent or symbolize places in ways that are meaningful to people. The Common Loon is a familiar bird for people out fishing or swimming in the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota. Our Climate Report suggests that loons may no longer be in Minnesota by the end of the century. The idea that one cannot share the call of the loon with kids or grandkids is troubling because it foreshadows not just the loss of the loon, but of one’s sense of place.”

Langham concluded, “Climate change threatens everyone’s sense of place by introducing ecological disruption on a scale never seen before.”

Photo: Helena Reynolds/Audubon Photography Awards

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.

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