In addition to being a prolific writer, musician and songwriter Woody Guthrie was a talented visual artist. He began working as a sign painter in Pampa, Texas, and later became a cartoonist for newspapers in Los Angeles and New York. He used a variety of mediums, including oil, charcoal, pastels, pen and ink, watercolor, clay, ceramics, and even his children’s crayons, to produce everything from traditional landscapes and portraits to experimental multimedia pieces. Guthrie portrayed his surroundings and the people who impressed him, whether well-known historical figures or neighborhood faces. Like his music, his artwork provides a glimpse into his daily life, as well as his thoughts and feelings about his community. The following is inscribed on the back of this artwork, In El Rancho Grande (1936); “this adobe art painted of clay, open air and sky. Imagined in front of the Santa Fe Art Museum when an old lady told me “the world is made of Adobe“ and I added “so is man.“
Photographed in the Morgan Library in New York City as par of the Exhibit, People Are The Song.
In line with other surrealist artists’ engagements with the ready-made, Wilhelm Freddie’sobjets-mannequins, such as Sex-Paralysappeal (1936, shown here as a 1961 artist’s copy) were scandalous in their day for their explicit references to sex. With a prominently painted penis, both the 1936 and 1961 versions of this work were confiscated by the Danish authorities soon after they were exhibited.
In Sex-Paralysappeal, Freddie transforms the classical bust into a surrealist object by treating it like a mannequin head and adorning it with various accessories. Placing the head inside an incomplete picture frame, he indicates the desire for the image to become dimensional, more lifelike. The work’s composite title vacillates between sex appeal and paralysis, amplifying the incongruity of its constituent elements.
Photographed in The Met Breuer as Part of the Exhibit, Like Life: Sculpture Color and The Body.
The diminutive nude female figure in the upper right area of The Nymph Echo (1936) is often identified as Echo — a mountain nymph of Greek Mythology. Far more dominant, however, is the monstrous green vegetal creatures — or is it creatures — in the foreground. This wildly imaginative hydra-headed creation may represent Narcissus, whom Echo loved. Famously, Narcissus fell in love with his own beautiful image reflected in a pool and wasted away from unsatisfied desire, whereupon he was transformed into a flower. The various delicately colored floral effusions in Ernst’s painting recall this moment of metamorphosis.
As an astute observer of Depression-era New York, Raphael Soyer (1899 – 1987) evoked the inner lives on anonymous city dwellers. His paintings frequently depict the new generation of female workers that he encountered in his Union Square neighborhood. Leaving the home for secretarial and clerical jobs, these woman depicted in Office Girls (1936) achieved an independence that was unprecedented for women of the period, even while unemployment remained high among men. While his artist colleagues usually portrayed these young women in optimistic terms, Soyer’s composition strikes a more ambivalent tone. Squeezed between a throng of rushing female workers and a glowering man, the central woman looks out at the viewer with a gaze that is at once weary and unflinching.
Georges Braque’s painting, Woman Seated at an Easel (1936) is marked by the sand-laced pigment and curvilinear forms of Braque’s later work, and presents a seated female artist with palette and brush in hand. Set in the artists own Varengeville studio on the Normandy coast, it is one of about ten paintings that depicts figures engaging in artistic or musical activities.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.