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Micro-Interview: Faye Hirsch

Q&A with Faye Hirsch, visiting associate professor in the School of Art+Design and coordinator of the visual arts MFA program, whose new book on Lois Dodd is coming out this November as part of a series on contemporary painters published by Lund Humphries in London.

How did you come to write Lois Dodd? When did you first become interested in the subject?

I have known and admired Lois Dodd’s paintings for many years. Hers is the kind of art that always makes me feel most excited: when I see it, I am at first unable to articulate my sense of excitement, of being deeply moved. Being wordless makes me feel curious. Last year, I was asked to suggest a book for a new series on contemporary painters who have not yet been given monographic treatment by an independent publisher. The series is called “Contemporary Painters,” and it is being issued by LundHumphries, a British imprint. I suggested a number of women painters, among them Dodd—but I was really surprised that they selected her, since she is so little known outside of the U.S. She just turned 90 and is a real “painter’s painter”—someone who is well known to nearly all painters and New York critics, but who has very little market presence. All those people get very excited when I tell them I’m writing about her—“It’s about time she gets a book,” they say.

What did you discover that was most surprising to you?

Dodd is a plein air landscape painter but she began her career under the sway of the Abstract Expressionists. She was a co-founder of the earliest of a group of co-op galleries that thrived around 10th Street in Manhattan during the 1950s. It was called Tanager Gallery, and among its members were Dodd, Alex Katz, Philip Pearlstein and Perle Fine. If not the most surprising, the most interesting thing I’ve learned is just how diverse that downtown community was—not only in terms of its ethnic, racial and gender constitution, but also the languages deployed by its artists. This was the subject of an important exhibition last spring at the Grey Gallery at NYU, Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965. Recontextualizing Dodd in that milieu is just one piece in a larger effort to reconsider a significant number of artists who do not fit a critical stereotype of what was happening at the time.

What are some of the most pressing issues in the book, the big takeaways?

Dodd is an artist who has always followed a sense of inner necessity. Fashion is of no interest to her. In that sense, she offers a great model to young artists who might be demoralized by the trend toward “post-studio practice.” Of course, she was able to live frugally in an affordable world. I think it’s super important for young artists to make new communities in affordable places so that they can follow their own trajectories, which might diverge from hegemonic trends.

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

There is one in the works that I would prefer to wait to talk about. But I also would love to continue a study of those artists who have been called “second-generation New York School.” I suspect I am not done with Dodd, whose excellent figure drawings, numbering in the hundreds, are not considered in this book.

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