I had the good fortune to go to a very good group show at the MoMA recently with the provocative title ‘What is painting?’. One among the many works that I ran into was by a lady artist of the 1970’s Lee Lozano. Not having studied at art school, I did not know much about her (well, I did later find out that she really is not a household name) until I came back home and read up a little bit about her. The more I read, the more I was fascinated by how she had managed to integrate art and life into a seamless whole. From reading, I surmised that her desire for painting went beyond the confines of the canvas and she tried through her art/life to incorporate the viewer and her life in a strange union.
In an interview on Artforum, the painter David Reed throws some light on her enigmatic personality.
I knew about her work, saw her at openings, and knew her slightly when I first came to New York. The most direct contact would have been around 1971, after she had lost her loft on Grand Street. She was looking for places to stay and considering that process part of her work, and ended up staying with me. Lee was very moody, drinking a lot of cheap wine and smoking lots of dope. I was raising my young son and had to ask her to leave after a few days. I remember thinking that she was a kind of warning about what could happen if you mixed art and life too closely, that it could get very dangerous if you had no boundaries.
Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt manages to stoke the persona further…
Lee’s relative disappearance from the historical records is sort of mysterious; the work was hardly negligible, so it’s hard to say why she didn’t have more of a career. It was definitely hard to make it as a woman artist, and she herself really withdrew from the world. The thing about not speaking with women went way beyond an art project. I remember sitting in a restaurant with her once and a waitress came to the table; not only would Lee not talk to her, she would hide her eyes. She had an extreme dislike for the company of women, thought they were evil. When she came to my studio, if my girlfriend opened the door, Lee would turn on her heels, run down the stairs, and be gone. Her wounds were self-inflicted; the withdrawal from the art world and the anti-feminism. Eventually she stopped making artworks altogether. She became a spirit who would appear and then vanish, but her work was saved by friends and those who had faith in her vision.
Critic Lucy Lippard talks about her depth.
Lee was extraordinarily intense, one of the first, if not the first person (along with Ian Wilson) who did the life-as-art thing. The kind of things other people did as art, she really did as life–and it took us a while to figure that out.
The more I read about her, the more I was impressed and humbled. The ‘art as life’ thing is hard even in small portions. In fact, many of the successful commercial artists of today treat art as a money spinner and life as a consumerist paradise awash in the glam of the cleanly laundered money spun thus.
Personally, I find it difficult to even live a small portion of my life according to some of the unconscious precepts that are dissolved into my paintings. How many of us manage to weave at least some portion of the art that we believe in into the fabric our daily lives? Have you any examples? Is it not very difficult? Is it even possible to live this ideal in a world where most artists have a ‘day job’, while, the work they do as ‘artists’ might earn them unnatural stares from their day job friends…
Lee Lozano, ‘Untitled ‘(trumpet penis)’, Crayon and graphite on paper, 11″ x 17″
Lee Lozano, ‘Grass Piece’, 1969, Ink on paper, 27.9 × 21.6 cm
Lee Lozano, ‘Ream’, 1964, Oil on Canvas, 78 x 96 inches