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States of Grace: Remembering Grace Hartigan (1922–2008)
December 23, 2008

Grace Hartigan

Frank O'Hara by Grace Hartigan

"I didn't choose painting," Grace Hartigan once told an interviewer, "It chose me. I didn't have any talent. I just had genius."

I came to Grace Hartigan through her association with the poet Frank O'Hara. As a grad student in creative writing living in New York I became interested in O'Hara and his work. I learned about his deep friendship with the abstract expressionist painter Grace Hartigan, who died a few weeks ago in Maryland. Both synthesized high art and popular culture in their works and both could find inspiration in the everyday. Both Hartigan and O'Hara were integral to New York's vivid art scene that flourished (mostly) downtown following World War II.

In fact, the words on O'Hara's gravestone pay homage to his great friend; "Grace/to be born and live as variously as possible." In those two lines O'Hara intertwined his own self and that of Hartigan. To live variously would be to experience as widely as possible what wells up in existence. To express it in one's art is what O'Hara and Hartigan did. There is the miracle of the everyday minor experience that is articulated and crystalized in O'Hara (one of his poems is called Having a Coke With You). He and Hartigan were unafraid to admit the variety in life. I believe that's him in the right side of the painting, about to walk through the dizzying cityscape that was, and still is, Manhattan.

Hartigan, a protean figure on the art scene, was viewed as a forerunner of Pop Art in her integration of everyday images in the midst of her abstract expressionism. At first, she started showing her work under the name "George Hartigan." She would say it was out of her respect for writer Georges Sand. She thought that being presented as a man who make people take her work more seriously. Thanks to Hartigan and others, that is no longer a problem.

Posted by Howard on December 23, 2008 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here


Thank you for writing about lesser known female artists. I love her style!

Posted by: Carrie from teeny.tiny.cute | Jan 1, 2009

Yes, I like her style, too. Thanks for writing.

Posted by: Howard Kaplan | Jan 5, 2009

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