Lenore Tawney


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(1907– ).

Fiber and assemblage artist. In the 1950s and 1960s, along with a few others, she liberated fiber from the flat, rectangular format imposed by the loom and demonstrated that her material could participate in the artistic dialogue then normally reserved for painting and sculpture. During the same period, she also began making collages and surrealistically flavored assemblages of poetically related objects and texts, usually arranged within boxlike containers. This approach flowered in the 1990s with a series of transparent Plexiglas boxes supporting delicate webs of threads entangled with small, imaginatively charged objects. Whatever her means, Tawney's individualistic trajectory has engaged a personal and somewhat mystical interest in achieving transcendence through visual experience. In this, she has been influenced by Eastern philosophies and travels in Asia. Leonora Agnes Gallagher as a child shortened her first name. She grew up in her birthplace, Lorain, Ohio, not far from Cleveland. After 1927, evening classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago initiated her professional training. In 1941 she married George Tawney, a psychologist, who died a year and a half later. Drawn to sculpture, she studied from 1943 until 1945 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Following six months in Mexico, she returned to Chicago. In 1946 she enrolled for a year at the Institute of Design (now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), where Alexander Archipenko became her mentor, while other instructors included László Moholy-Nagy and Chicago-born abstract painter Emerson Woelffer (1914–2003), later a fixture of Los Angeles modernism. After continuing to work privately with Archipenko in Chicago and Woodstock, she left for Europe. While living in Paris from 1949 until 1951, she also traveled in Europe and North Africa. After additional study for a brief period in 1954 at the Penland (North Carolina) School of Crafts, in the mid-1950s, she began to focus on fiber art. Within a few years, she used innovative techniques to produce free-hanging, often monumental works that produce striking effects through knotting, braiding, and other unconventional means in combination with more traditional weaving. In 1957 she settled permanently in New York, where she soon befriended Agnes Martin, as well as Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, and others interested in a more formal and reticent alternative to the prevailing abstract expressionist aesthetic. In perhaps her best-known series, begun in the late 1970s, thousands of threads hang suspended from blue canvases, to provide quivering and diaphanous Clouds.

Subjects: Art.

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