Grace Hartigan


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Painter and printmaker. Grounded in abstract expressionism, she employed colorful, gestural brushwork to create purely abstract paintings, as well as a greater number of works that incorporate representational fragments. Inspired principally by Willem de Kooning, she generally emphasized improvisatory surface, vigorously applied paint, shallow space, and tension-filled composition. Thick, dark lines often separate forms while also weaving them into a unified whole. Commonplace subjects align some work with pop art, although she disparaged the detached emotional tenor of that movement. As a printmaker, she created lithographs and screen prints related to her paintings. Born in Newark, New Jersey, she grew up in the area. As a young child she lived in Bayonne but at the age of seven moved with her family to Millburn, where she graduated from high school in 1940. Married the following year to Robert Jachens (they divorced in 1948), she moved to Los Angeles, where she began drawing and working with watercolor. After her husband was called to military service, in 1942 she returned east to work as a mechanical draftsman for several years until she was able to begin painting full time. Stunned by the first exhibition of Jackson Pollock's signature drip paintings early in 1948, she soon became acquainted with him and then with de Kooning and others in the their circle. While briefly married to Cody, Wyoming, sculptor and painter Harry Andrew Jackson (1924– ), a Chicago native best known for western themes, in 1949 she worked for several months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In 1951 she showed abstract expressionist paintings in her first one-person gallery show. Mostly self-taught as a painter, late in 1952 she began to investigate the foundations of her craft in freely painted reinterpretations of old master paintings. In the spring of 1954 she embarked on a series of works based on urban imagery, such as Grand Street Brides (Whitney Museum, 1954), loosely depicting the “brides” in the display window of a wedding apparel shop. Although such paintings reaped considerable acclaim, she turned to landscape-inspired abstractions while working on Long Island during the summer of 1957. In 1958 she visited Europe and the following year, bought a house on eastern Long Island, in Bridgehampton, where she lived for only a short time. A yearlong marriage to Long Island gallery owner Robert Keene ended in 1960. She then married Johns Hopkins University medical researcher Winston Price, moved to suburban Baltimore, established a studio downtown, and began summering in Maine. She became director of the graduate painting program at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1965 and continued to teach at the school until her retirement in2007. Around that time, she returned to vernacular subject matter, including dolls, children's books, and a few years later, once again street life. Memorable groups of later works have addressed great women in history, entertainment icons, and well-known works of art from the past. With time, her paint has often been applied in thinner washes, and she has continued to work productively in watercolor. She died in Baltimore.


Subjects: Art.

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