Gallery  March 28, 2024  Amy Funderburk

With Darkness Came Stars: A Conversation with Audrey Flack

Courtesy Hollis Taggart

Audrey Flack, Self Portrait with Flaming Heart, 2022. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)

Audrey Flack refers to art as a calling. and to historic artists as relatives. 

Thanks to a series of early synchronicities, Flack answered that childhood call. She wanted to be a realist – out of fashion when first Cubism then Abstract Expressionism ruled New York City. As Flack’s style evolved to the figure and still life, she retained the Abstract Expressionists’ spatial concerns. Eventually pioneering the use of an airbrush as a fine art tool and photographic projections to speed painting time, Flack was the only woman among the founders of the Photorealism movement. One of the first women to be included in Janson’s History of Art, she now employs acrylic paint pens to add hatch marks of color. 

Courtesy of Audrey Flack.

Audrey Flack, Macarena Esperanza, 1971. Oil on canvas, 66 × 46 in. 

At 92, the artist just released a riveting memoir, With Darkness Came StarsHer solo show of the same name is on view at Hollis Taggart in New York City through April 20. "Audrey Flack's contribution to the history of art cannot be overstated,” says gallery president Hollis Taggart. “Throughout the over seven decades she has been active in the art world, Audrey has consistently been at the forefront of challenging the artistic trends of her time.”  

In her compelling, nonlinear narrative, Flack chronicles an artist’s distinctive inner dialog while bravely revealing intimate personal information. Richly detailed memories unfold as the artist sits day after day on a park bench, grappling with a two-year painter’s block that ultimately leads her to new inspiration through figurative sculpture. 

Courtesy of Audrey Flack

Audrey Flack on scaffold working on Civitas

Flack sidestepped the self-destructive excesses of the Abstract Expressionists’ 1950’s art scene. “Women artists slept with critics, curators, and dealers to promote their husbands’ work as well as their own,” Flack writes. Several of her female colleagues were also abused by their husbands or art dealers, and Flack herself left an abusive first marriage.

Despite the misogynistic art world’s insistence that she choose between art and motherhood, Flack had two daughters. Melissa, the eldest, was born with severe autism at a painful time before the diagnosis was understood. 

Amid such challenges, Flack forged a successful career. In conversation with Art & Object, the artist reveals that one day, she started painting again. “Now I paint and sculpt. I just did a head of Holofernes, [from] Judith with the Head of Holofernes – and it is the only man I’ve ever sculpted.” 

Audrey Flack, Pinocchio’s Dream, 2022.
Courtesy the artist and Hollis Taggart

Audrey Flack, Pinocchio’s Dream, 2022. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 30 x 30 in. (76.2 x 76.2 cm)

Audrey Flack, Tidal Force, 2022. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 42 1/2 x 35 in. (108 x 88.9 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Hollis Taggart

Audrey Flack, Tidal Force, 2022. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 42 1/2 x 35 in. (108 x 88.9 cm)

Audrey Flack, Madonna della Candeletta (Someone in Brooklyn Loves Me), 2021–22/ Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Hollis Taggart

Audrey Flack, Madonna della Candeletta (Someone in Brooklyn Loves Me), 2021–22/ Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)

Audrey Flack, With Darkness Comes Stars: Melancholia, 2021. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Hollis Taggart

Audrey Flack, With Darkness Comes Stars: Melancholia, 2021. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm)

Audrey Flack, Harmonic Convergence, 2023. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 36 x 42 in. (91.4 x 106.7 cm). Collection of the Diamond Family Trust
Courtesy the artist and Hollis Taggart

Audrey Flack, Harmonic Convergence, 2023. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 36 x 42 in. (91.4 x 106.7 cm). Collection of the Diamond Family Trust

Found within her recent paintings in the Hollis Taggart exhibition, "With Darkness Comes Stars," are fairy tale archetypes and comic book superheroes that Flack considers “the new Greek gods and goddesses.” By including Doctor Strange alongside artists Jackson Pollock and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, she employs the time stream concept, wherein everything ever experienced exists “in a part of your brain that you can bring to life at any time,” Flack explains.

Art & Object: Audrey, how do you define a feminist artist? Has your definition changed over time?

Audrey Flack: I don't think my definition has changed, but I think the situation has…, so I think it's easier to be a feminist artist [now] because it's all around us, and it's necessary. I look back at my work, and I produced a lot of feminist art that wasn't intentionally feminist art. Just by being a female, and a woman not painting cars or motorcycles, I was producing another kind of art which could be called feminist. [But] my work wasn't protest art.

A&O: I was surprised that the other female Abstract Expressionists didn’t describe themselves as feminists.

AF: I wanted to be careful [when writing the memoir] because I have a lot of respect for these women. They were judged in their time, and they couldn’t get out of their situation. And even the way they painted: you had to use big brushes, big brush strokes…. These women had courage. But overall, they bought into the male stuff.

Courtesy of Audrey Flack

Chanel, 1974. Acrylic on Canvas, 56 x 82 inches (Private Collection)

A&O: In your newest series, “Post-Pop Baroque”, among the art history, religious, and pop culture references, you included Jackson Pollock with comic heroes. Is this because he was your art hero during those Abstract Expressionist years? 

AF: I don't quite know why, but…I think of him almost every day. At the end, he was not a painter…. Jackson became [like] a shaman…. He had to do something that was beyond himself. I don't know if it's that essence that lives with me. He was so mean to Lee [Krasner]! But he broke every boundary, and he broke it with paint.

A&O: You wrote that art “is the ultimate healer. In the midst of all the darkness that life can bring, art reminds us that with the darkness can come stars.” What role do you feel art plays in the healing process? 

AF: We spend most of our lives denying [death]…. But we all have to go, we have to face our mortality, and I think art really helps us live, helps us deal with that. Great art gives us a radiance. You can connect with another soul – the soul of the artist – and you get a feeling when you see great art, no matter what the subject matter is. [Art] is a bridge somewhere. …[M]useums…offer the quietude of introspection. That moment when you're alone with yourself, and you know what's gonna happen to you way down deep. [Art] softens the blow, it makes it more palatable. I think it's a very important thing about art that we never lose. 

 

About the Author

Amy Funderburk

Amy Funderburk is a professional artist and freelance arts writer based in Winston-Salem, NC, specializing in visionary works in which she explores the intersection of the physical with the more fluid, spiritual and emotional realms. She works out of the Sternberger Artists Center in Greensboro, NC, and maintains a blog, Drinking from the Well of Inspiration, to provide deeper insight into her creative process. Follow her on twitter: @AFunderburkArt and on Instagram: @AmyFunderburkArtist.

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