Visual Arts
5:00 am
Mon August 6, 2012

Kemper Hosts First Museum Retrospective For Lois Dodd

Artist Lois Dodd is known for painting from the inside looking out and the outside looking in - from the cityscapes of the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the gardens near her farmhouse in rural Maine. 

Fifty paintings spanning the artist’s six-decade career line the walls of an exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Defying categorization

Lois Dodd, with her short white hair, crisscrossed wrinkles on her face, and deep laugh lines, resembles a kindly grandmother more than one of the founders of the legendary Tanager Gallery, an early 1950s cooperative space for young artists in downtown Manhattan. Now in her 80s, Dodd is both. (Her son, Eli, with ex-husband and sculptor William King, has two daughters).

But Dodd says she was "never quite part of any" art movements.

"The Abstract Expressionists, that was such an exciting time in the 1950s," she recalls. "Then came the Pop Art thing. Then after that, there were the Op artists, the Conceptual artists, and it began to move faster and faster."

Art school as entrance to New York

Dodd was born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1927. Growing up, she says she was drawn to art, especially in high school.

"Two art teachers, a room with a big skylight," describes Dodd. "It was really what made high school fun for me."

It wasn’t until a graduate student talked to her class about art schools that Dodd seriously considered attending college. She says her “ears perked up” when she heard about Cooper Union. At that time, Dodd says tuition was free, if you took an admissions test. So she and a friend traveled to New York.

"We saw all these kids looking way more sophisticated than us," says Dodd. "And we thought, well, we’re never going to get into this place."

But they did. And Dodd studied at Cooper Union, commuting from New Jersey, from 1945 to ‘48.

"It was right at the end of the Second World War, at which point when I entered it was like a girls’ school. And then, six months later, all these veterans came back."

Thriving with community rather than in isolation

Since the early 1960s, Dodd has split her time between three locations: a studio just blocks from Cooper Union in New York; Blairstown, New Jersey; and mid-coast Maine.

Dodd jokes that her idea of an artist’s life has changed over time.  

"I used to, when I was younger, think: 'Ah, someday, I’ll go to Maine, and I’ll just paint. And I won’t see anybody and I’ll just be really serious,'" she laughs. "But as the years go by, I realize, no, no, that isn’t what would have happened at all. It would have just run down and stopped probably, if I did such a thing."

"It’s very supportive to know other artists. That’s where your help comes from, that’s where your recognition comes from, the support that you get. And the same that you’re giving to other people, so it’s a two-way street. You can’t do it, or I couldn’t, in total isolation."

Looking as inspiration

Dodd’s paintings often illuminate the everyday, from windowsills and flowers to shadows on a city building.

Leslie Land has lived next door from Dodd in Maine for decades. And she’s seen flowers and vegetables from her garden reflected in some of Dodd’s works. As Land describes it, Dodd "paints light, shapes and colors no one would see if she hadn’t found them and made them plain.”  

For Dodd, she’s able to take her easel and paint outdoors, or simply look out the window to find inspiration.

"So there’s always something out that window, actually," she says. "It’s always new, there’s always something else."

Lois Dodd: Catching the Light through August 26, 2012 at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.