Against all odds: Jewish and feminist artist’s struggle for respect
There it was in black and white, “ugliest painting of the year.” The words flashed before her eyes, and she was heartbroken. She could not understand it; the painting she had worked so hard on was singled out amongst the entire room of art.
The artist of this portrait entitled “Jolie Madame” was Audrey Flack, a nationally recognized photorealist painter and sculptor. Flack spoke to the audience at Fairfield’s Quick Center for the Arts Tuesday night about how she struggled to gain respect for being artistically different as well as coming to the realization that she was both a Jewish and feminist painter.
The 1970s, she said, were very restricting for her as an artist because the technique of photorealism, creating a painting that looks like a photograph, was not respected and was heavily criticized. She felt like she was being singled out for being interested in different ideas and stroke patterns. “Jolie Madame,” for instance, depicted imagery with light reflection that had not been used before.
Not only did Flack introduce a whole new style of art, she also illustrated topics that had not been painted prior to her doing so. The two main topics that she, unconsciously, continually depicted were women and the Jewish faith.
It was her Jewish art, however, that helped her to stand out as she became one of the first artists to paint a Holocaust scene. Born and raised Jewish, Flack felt that by 1978 she had to do something for her people in respect to the tragedy of World War II. She paralleled herself to Picasso and his depiction and revelation of the Spanish tragedy at Guernica, his people.
Audrey Flack was raised in a Jewish neighborhood in New York during the 1930s. She spoke of the effects of living through World War II and the difficulties of being Jewish during this time as well as coping with the stress of her brother fighting in the war. She believes her early experiences greatly influenced her work, though she did not come to this realization till after the fact. Flack went on to study at Yale University, a predominantly Catholic and male-populated school at the time.
Her painting “World War II” was berated by the critics who used adjectives such as “hideous” and “grotesque” to describe the scene. It was not until she was honored by a group of female Holocaust survivors that she saw just how much art had impacted her life. These survivors were in awe, according to Flack, that she was able to so fittingly depict how they were feeling during this dark time.
The demand for Flack began to pick up; she became a well-respected artist and was congratulated for being different.
Those who attended her talk Tuesday night could feel her passion for both Jewish and feminist art.
“It was refreshing to hear her stand up for her controversial art … she has always been okay with being different,” as Henry Fischer, a Fairfield resident, stated.
Danielle Renzi ‘15 voiced that “The connection between her early years and the themes in her artwork was … crazy, like it was her destiny to be a voice for both Jews and women.”