Friday, November 6, 2009

OMISSION OF A LOUISIANA ARTIST


Since my exodus from Sewanee, Tennessee for the winter and my return to New Iberia, Louisiana, I’ve done a lot of culling of files and books, which I mentioned in a previous blog. Yesterday, I discovered several articles and a research index card about a woman I considered including in my profiles of memorable Louisiana women for THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL back in the 1980’s. Her name is Caroline Durieux, an artist (now deceased) whose satirical art became famous during the 30’s and 40’s. Most of her lithographs are included in a volume entitled CAROLINE DURIEUX; LITHOGRAPHS OF THE THIRTIES AND FORTIES by Richard Cox.

Durieux attended Sophie Newcomb in New Orleans in 1913 and later went to the Philadelphia Academy of Art where she was influenced by the work of Daumier and Chinese landscape painters. She married Pierre Durieux, a New Orleans exporter who took her to Cuba and then to Mexico City. The famous artist Diego Rivera painted a portrait of Durieux and is said to have praised her work because “It’s not like mine.” Durieux’s societal renderings sometimes impinge on dark satire, but they’re very amusing. She also did lithographs of serious subjects during WWII, the most famous one being “Persuasion,” in which a huge hand is shown gathering up a crowd of hapless people, denoting the oppression and fear associated with war.

One of the most interesting aspects of Durieux’s work was her technique of printmaking using radioactivity to make art prints. Using an ink that contained a radioactive isotope, Durieux completed a drawing that she placed against x-ray film, which was then slipped into a lightproof envelope beneath a stack of books. Three days later, the image of her drawing was on film and was exposed to photographic paper for six months to create the very first electron print. This was a revolutionary approach to printmaking, and she did the work while teaching at LSU. In 1978, she exhibited her electron prints at the LSU Union Art Gallery in a special collection entitled “Art, The Atom, and LSU.”

Durieux’s work has appeared in the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York Public Library, and in many other state museums. She was a highly successful artist and enjoyed the benefits of being born into a wealthy family and marrying a wealthy exporter, but her life was marred by tragedy when her husband committed suicide. She taught art at LSU for 21 years and continued to make her prints available to the public at affordable costs during her lifetime because she claimed she never had to create art to make a living.

I had requested an interview with Durieux when she was in the Ollie Steele Burden Manor in Baton Rouge but couldn’t get through to her by telephone to schedule an appointment, so she didn’t make the cut for my book on Louisiana women. However, through the years I’ve enjoyed checking out library books of her lithographs. With reference to my former blog about “quirky,” Caroline Durieux’s work could be regarded as “quirky.” I think she’s a highly original artist, even if her most caustic works ridiculed women.

Since I don’t have rights to reproduce any of her lithographs for this blog, I can only direct you to google her name on the Net. You’ll enjoy the unique lithographs by this Louisiana artist.

P.S. The index card above shows my intent to publish a profile about Durieux. Perhaps some of the art critics who write for “Louisiana Cultural Vistas” (the magazine published by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities) will write an extensive biography about this unusual woman.
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