Grace Hartigan, Baltimore's grand dame of painting, passed away yesterday. She was 86. Hartigan, who taught at MICA for more than 40 years, burst onto the national scene in the 1950s with fellow abstract expressionists and running buddies such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Helen Frankenthaler. She was included in MOMA's landmark 12 Americans exhibition in 1956, as well as MOMA's traveling show, The New American Painting, in 1958. The latter show also included work by Kline, Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Clyfford Still.
For many years, Hartigan lived in Fells Point, at the corner of Broadway and Eastern Avenue, where her studio was located. When the building was bought by a developer a few years ago, she was forced to leave. I'd heard she was relocating to Lutherville, and I figured she'd be devastated. Quite the contrary. When I asked her about it, she was looking forward to the move, because her new studio had skylights—and she'd long coveted such natural light.
She adored the process and the physicality of painting. "I'm much more interested in paint than I am in the subject," she told Baltimore in 2004. "For me, the subject is just an excuse for the painting. I can be working on a head and be painting and painting and painting and suddenly say to myself, `Whoops. This is supposed to be a nose.' Because I'm so involved with painting and blotting and pouring."
The honesty and exuberance in that statement lives on in Hartigan's work.
(above) Hartigan, Self-Portrait