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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Lives of the Artists

By Alana Salguero, Grove Art Editorial Assistant

From van Gogh and his notorious left ear to Salvador Dalí with his legendary moustache, the art world boasts a colorful cast of characters whose unorthodox behavior has generated as much public interest as its artistic oeuvre. It appears that creativity often begets eccentricity (or vice versa, the age old chicken-and-egg conundrum), blurring the boundaries between art, performance, and life. In observance of Andy Warhol’s birthday – painter, sculptor, filmmaker, writer and notable eccentric who would have turned 82 last week, we raise a glass in celebration of both famed and lesser-known artists whose unconventional attitudes, behaviors, and personalities could not be contained within the walls of the artists’ studio.

Andy Warhol (1928-87). Intensely private and famous for his refusal to comment on either his work or personal life, Warhol is legendary as much for his artificially deadpan persona as for his iconic silkscreen prints. Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory, was a hip hangout for his unconventional entourage, which included artists, socialites, drug addicts and transvestites who served as assistants and collaborators in the production of his pop art paintings and sexually explicit films. An assassination attempt on his life in 1968 led Warhol to eventually distance himself from this scene, though he continued to push the boundaries of what is considered art with works such as his Oxidation Paintings of the 1970s, created by urinating on canvases that had been primed with copper-based paint. As much a cultural icon as an artist, Warhol certainly outlived his allotted “15 minutes of fame” (an expression he coined in 1968). Read about Warhol on Grove Art Online.

Lee Lozano (1930-99). An American painter and conceptual artist with a multi-faceted body of work, Lozano’s critique of the commercial art world led to her retreat from the New York art scene in 1972. Her farewell, entitled Dropout Piece, was one of several radical actions that encompassed her “conceptual withdrawal strategy.” Most notable of these actions was Lozano’s decision to “boycott women” for a short period of time, a position that she would ultimately and inexplicably uphold for the rest of her life. As part of this piece, Lozano went so far as to favor the services of waiters over waitresses and even reportedly refused to enter a store in which a woman was behind the counter. Read about Lozano on Grove Art Online.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). A man who requires no introduction, perhaps the only thing that matched Picasso’s prolific creative output was the number of wives and mistresses he flaunted. An excerpt from Grove Art Online sums up his philandering ways and contentious relationships with the opposite sex: “Among his wives and mistresses only Olivier emerged relatively unscathed from the relationship: Koklova’s behaviour became extreme, Maar had a nervous breakdown, Walter and Roque both later committed suicide. Success or failure in managing his relationships also affected Picasso’s self-assurance and ability to work. He once referred to women as either goddesses or doormats, and in his imagery he used women both as objects of sensuous contemplation and as aggressive monsters carved up and distorted to a degree rarely seen in his treatment of male figures…Picasso took advantage of the indulgences allowed to creative men needing a muse, even if only to destroy her in the process.” Read more about Picasso on Grove Art Online.

Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930). The quintessential “outsider artist,” Wölfli was institutionalized for psychosis in 1895 after he committed a series of violent crimes. The Swiss-born farm-laborer began to draw while in confinement, producing idiosyncratic and highly original biographical narratives using the barest of materials – scrounged pencils and crayons. Suffering from hallucinations for the rest of his adult life, Wölfli characteristically described himself in his work Funeral March as “St Adolf II, Master of Algebra, Military Commander-in-Chief and Chief Music-Director, Giant Theatre-Director, Captain of the Almighty-Giant-Steamship and Doctor of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Algebra-and-Geography-Textbook-Production Company and Fusilier General, Inventor of 160 original and highly valued inventions patented for all times by the Russian Tsar and hallelujah the glorious victor of many violent battles against Giants.” A monograph on the artist published by his psychiatrist prompted Rilke to assert that Wölfli was “the antithesis between creativity and ‘the total collapse within a human being.’” Read about Wölfli on Grove Art Online.

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