It was another busy week studying Loïs Mailou Jones. One more week to go! Here's my notes and sketchbook pages from the week:
After returning from Paris, Loïs Jones's work was in numerous exhibitions over the next few years but because of racial bias it was not always certain that her paintings would be accepted for consideration. To avoid it, she would often ship her paintings to museums and galleries. She had a friend who was in the area submit this painting on her behalf. It won the prestigious Robert Woods Bliss Prize for landscape, the Society for Washington artists. With this award, unbeknownst to the gallery officials, Jones broke the color barrier. Fearing the award would be rescinded if she claimed it in person, she had it mailed to her. In 1994, the Corcoran Gallery of Art officially apologized to Jones
Not long after her return from France, Loïs Mailou Jones met Alain Locke, Rhodes scholar, poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance, and chairman of the department of philosophy at Howard University. He congratulated her on her success abroad and strongly encouraged her to reevaluate her subject matter, to take her heritage more seriously. In response to his challenge, Jones began creating works that focused more on the black experience.
As Loïs Mailou Jones pursued a career in painting and maintained her teaching position at Howard, she also took on freelance work with the Associated Publishers of Washington, DC. Loïs had a long and productive illustration career from 1936-1965. The Assiciated Publishers made available books about blacks that were rarely accepted by the traditional commercial publishers in America and also initiated the observance of National Negro History Week, which is now Black History Month.
Loïs Mailou Jones met Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël at Columbia University during a summer session in 1934, both were graduate students in design. They became friends and corresponded for a few years but lost contact when Jones went to France in 1937. Pierre was from Haiti and often traveled to the US on commissioned assignments. In 1953, he paid a visit to Jones in Washington DC.
"Tall handsome Pierre reappeared in my life..." he "fit the bill--my ideal, my dream: I loved the French, and he was so cultured, so handsome, and the perfect gentleman."
They married August 8, 1953 in Cabris, France and honeymooned in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Loïs Mailou Jones's marriage to Pierre-Noël transformed both her life and her art. They took annual trips to Haiti, his homeland. New themes appeared in her work: the marketplace and vendors, voodoo rituals, spirits, symbols, seascapes, harbor scenes. Her style changed too from Impressionism to a hard edge style that fused abstraction, pattern, and naturalism.
"Many of my works with an African theme and African motifs were actually created in Haiti. Some of my most creative compositions, for which I researched African icons, patterns, masks, and sculptures, were actually done in my Haitian studio."
In 1970, Loïs Mailou Jones visited eleven African countries to research art, funded by a grant from Howard University. Africa's influence on her work became apparent immediately after her return to Washington DC.
The biggest influence on Loïs Mailou Jones's work (both her subjects and her style) was her travels. Born in Boston, she spent summers at Martha's Vineyard. Her home was in Washington DC. She traveled regularly to Haiti for years. She spent time in France and had the trip of her lifetime visiting 11 countries in Africa.
I was really taken by the central figure in La Baker. I found this about the piece:
In La Baker, bold patterns and figures overlap and intertwine, creating a highly stylized work that unites form and color. The artist’s affinity for abstraction and her African roots is evident in the canvas’ rich colors and resolutely two-dimensional style. The title references Josephine Baker (1906-1975) who is known for being the first woman of African descent to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world famous entertainer. She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and for being an inspiration to generations of African-American women.
I'm curious by the way the figure is split into pink and brown. I wonder what kind of symbolism was intended. I also thought this figure would make a good companion piece to this Frida one from last month. I could see maybe trying to find a similar figure from each artist I study and then putting them altogether into something at the end of the year. It's an idea for now, just have to see how it works out.
Anyway, onto my last full week of study. I'm in the beginning stages of two larger paintings, one inspired by Loïs and the other Frida. Plenty of ideas flowing at the moment. :)