It's Wednesday, December 30, 2015 and I've just learned that Art Master Dorothy Krakovsky has passed away. She was a fantastic artist and lovely woman. Before you read our fantastic conversation from last year (I loved our chat. She did not mince words), here's the note her daughter Chere sent to me:
I wanted you to know that my mom passed away just before Christmas.
I am forever grateful to you for your interest and then interview with her. She was full of joy about that and loved conversing with you via email.
I hope you are well and wish you a peaceful and productive New Year full of all you wish to accomplish. Thank you again.
With my best regards,
IN MEMORIAM: DOROTHY KRAKOVSKY
At the age of 90 (she'll turn 91 on September 14, 2014), Dorothy Krakovsky celebrated her first one-woman show. In her late third act, this great, abstract expressionist artist is still kicking ass and taking names on canvas http://dorothykrakovsky.tumblr.com/. She says she isn’t part of the “art world,” but in my estimation, she makes the art world. Her daughter Chere helped Dorothy with this interview, but first, here’s one cool quote of many from Dorothy…
“…There is only one way out of the dilemma; One by one, each of us has to overhaul his or her own psyche. That’s the only way to change society, one by one. Until that happens, the status quo will prevail…”
MICHAEL: Hello Dorothy and Chere! Chere, I'm so glad that you're helping your mom with this interview. Dorothy, your work is absolutely exquisite. It's simply masterful. Just looking at it, I feel like I'm in an abstract expressionism painting class. Have you always been an abstract painter?
DOROTHY: Hi Michael, This is Dorothy Krakovsky. I'm so happy to be chatting with you. I'm going to answer your first question. Actually, I'm an accidental Abstract Expressionist. I kind of fell into it when I first started art school in 1961. I was 38 years old, had virtually no art experience and it was the tail end of Abstract Expressionism and I couldn't draw and knew nothing. I fell into it because I am an expressionist by nature and by energy. That kind of expressionism is in everything I do. It's in my blood. It has been there from the beginning.
MICHAEL: Dorothy, I hate it when people compare artists, but here I go. Your work does remind me of Joan Mitchell's work. Despite that, you are both exquisite artists. Is the comparison problematic? If so, my apologies.
DOROTHY: I’m flattered. I love her work. One difference is that even though I don’t achieve it, I aspire to the idea of the overall painting. By that I mean I aspire to making no part of the painting any more important than any other part. I could put it as a democratic dispersion of form.
MICHAEL: As you well know, so many people think abstract painting is easy, but as you stated, expressionism is really what it’s about and you have to know what you're doing. Your work flows and it's free, but there's definitely great command over the process. Is your process mainly intellectual, emotional or spiritual? Or is it all of those things? What's going on in your mind and spirit while you're painting?
DOROTHY: I have this Zen attitude toward painting. The Chinese Zen painters waited for their energy to build up before they put a stroke on the canvas. I prefer waiting until I’m bursting with energy. When I step up to the canvas, it’s literally an outburst of energy and my conscious mind recedes. My painting then has the freedom of Surrealist automatic writing. However, my intellect and emotions are still operative and my training precludes them from being intrusive. I consider all abstract painting spiritual because it has forsaken the material world in giving up representational imagery. Yes, I would say all these things are involved; the emotions, the intellect and spiritual feeling, whatever that may be. I like to think that having waited to paint not having gone mindlessly to the canvas - that I’m in another place; that kind of freedom and the ability to let the brush move its own way is in a sense a Surrealist attitude. Chance has its chance to appear.
MICHAEL: In terms of proficiency, I don't see much difference between male and female abstract expressionists. However, male artists have captured most of the spotlight in the art world. What's up with that? I'm sure you have strong thoughts about this!
DOROTHY: I’ll tell you, “What’s up with that” Michael! The best women Abstract Expressionists do have proficiency, but it doesn’t make up for centuries of docility bred into women. The best male Abstract Expressionists are bold, unrestrained, daring and fearless because that’s what has been bred into them. They get the “spotlight”. Compare Pollock and De Kooning’s visibility to Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler’s.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed.
DOROTHY: It was easier for women to get the vote than to achieve that kind of power because it would mean a complete transformation of the psyche of women; liberation and freedom from the stigma of being labeled the “weaker sex.”
MICHAEL: Wow. That's so interesting because I think that docility exists among both genders in the art world today. It's almost as if artists today are apologizing for being creative people rather than tech developers. Wasn't it a bold decision for you and those women to even become abstract artists? You could've spent your lives as Impressionists ... Not that there's anything wrong with that.
DOROTHY: It was not bold, but it was brave. Bold is passionate and passion has no gender. The male AEs in the spotlight had passion and were bold, but some of them left a grim legacy … Suicide. The women Abstract Expressionists that I know of were not bold. In my dictionary, the definition of bold is standing out from the rest.
The spirit of Abstract Expressionism is anarchic maybe that’s why it originated in America. I call myself the “accidental” Abstract Expressionist, but that’s not really true. It resonated with me even before I fell into it. It was my vehicle for expressing in paint my struggle with my personal demons – for freedom really. I was raising a child alone and had to work as a secretary in offices and I broke down. I only know if it doesn’t come from the gut, the unique consciousness of one individual, “It ain’t art.”
MICHAEL: When you say you broke down, do you mean you had a nervous breakdown or you just reached a point where you were desperate to change your life? I can see how abstract expressionism can lead one to a greater sense of expression and liberation, No? How is your work now different from when you started out?
DOROTHY: Yes Michael, full-blown nervous breakdown. Long story, but because of it, I became an artist.
MICHAEL: I’m sorry to hear that, but delighted that you found your gift – one among many. Art freed you.
DOROTHY: All painting is liberating. Abstract Expressionism perhaps the most, but it is a double-edged sword. Unknown territory can be frightening. You never get to the end. Every painting continues the search for an answer. There are none.
I studied color with Robert Swain and my painting incorporates Albers’ theory that any color in the right amount will work. It takes a lot of paint because I’m constantly changing the color - I love the process. From Hopper of all artists, I took the strong diagonal. You can infer I am certainly Dionysian. The first thing I do is break up the canvas. My paintings are usually moving towards the upper right. I like to think I am reaching for that something from somewhere that’s a final answer, even though there are none. You know I am 90 years old. I have to think of the future.
MICHAEL: You’re funny. Congratulations. Tell me more about your process.
DOROTHY: From Rouault, I took the heavy black line around some of the figures. I try never to touch the edges. I like the painting to look unanchored. Still, none of these things were in my early work, just ideas in the back of my head. Now, my paintings are more complex. My early paintings in graduate school contained representational imagery, mostly landscape, which I tried to eliminate for years. After reading the thesis of an art history graduate student in Iowa, in which he says abstraction is spiritual and representational is tied to the material world, I bought it and took that path.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world today? What would you change if you could?
DOROTHY: I am not in the art world, the world of buying and selling art. I had never been to an “opening” until my own a few weeks ago (February 2014). I don’t know anything about it.
MICHAEL: That’s unbelievable given that you’re such a gifted artist.
DOROTHY: Artists in China a century or two ago hocked their work on the street. Short of that extreme and socialism, there ought to be an alternative to the gallery business art world.
During the depression the WPA subsidized artists, not only visual, but all artists. If that were renewed, that would be a start. The state or federal government or both should have a great space in every big city for subsidized artists to exhibit and perform; a place for everyone to go to enjoy the arts for free. Artists would pay taxes on what they sell out of government spaces, but that’s all they would pay. No censorship on content, of course. This is a way to bring art to everyone.
MICHAEL: How are you feeling about the world today? Do you feel that society is progressing or regressing? What role does ... or might art play in this?
DOROTHY: Personally, I feel marvelous about the world today. I just had my first one woman show – an astounding success. On the other hand, I’m no longer that interested in the “world today,” its politics, everyday machinations, wars. I am anticipating what comes next. And believe me I can’t wait to be astounded! Remember I’m 90. I have to think of the future.
Society has progressed slowly. At least there is no more sanctioned slavery in the United States, but hot spots exist all over the world. There is only one way out of the dilemma; One by one, each of us has to overhaul his or her own psyche. That’s the only way to change society, one by one. Until that happens, the status quo will prevail. This has nothing to do with organized religion by the way.
MICHAEL: Very interesting. Finally Dorothy, what do you want your work to say about you? What's the point of it and what's the point of art in general?
DOROTHY: Michael, Each completed painting is a separate entity from me. I don't need it to say anything about me. What anyone wants to read into is speculation. I'm reminded of what Archibald McLeish - a poet of the 1930's - once said to someone who asked the same question. "When I wrote this poem, both God and I knew what it was saying. Now, only God knows."
What does matter to me is that I am still motivated to paint. The point of my paintings is my occupation and my preoccupation. If anyone gets it, I'm happy, but if not, it won't stop me.
The point of art in general is … It uplifts the spirit, it civilizes man and it heals. It healed me. This is true of all the arts. People flock to museums. They desperately need relief from the pressure of the daily "grind." They view. They think. They get lifted out of themselves. A work of art started me on my journey to become an artist. And if even one person is moved in any way by a work of art, it has fulfilled its purpose.
MICHAEL: Dorothy … What a pleasure this has been! You are why I interview artists.
DOROTHY: Thanks Michael. It has been fun.
Check out Dorothy Krakovsky at http://dorothykrakovsky.tumblr.com/.