Interviews

Luchita Hurtado

Luchita Hurtado, untitled, 1950, wax crayon, ink, and watercolor on board, 16 x 24".

Luchita Hurtado has been making art for decades, though, despite her close friendship with many famous artists, she was reluctant to show her work until the 1970s, when the women’s liberation movement provided encouragement. A small survey show in Los Angeles gives insight into the wildly fluid forms and experimental techniques in her paintings and works on paper. “Luchita Hurtado: Selected Works, 1942–1952” is on view at the Park View Gallery through January 7, 2017.

“PAINTING IS SUCH AN ESCAPING THING…almost like two lives coming together.” I found that line in one of my letters to my second husband, Wolfgang Paalen. We met at one of his openings. He asked me which painting I liked, and then he said, “Take one!” Next he signed it and invited me to meet him in Mexico and see the Olmec heads in La Venta. The pilot let me fly the plane on the way. Wolfgang proposed to me on that trip. No one was married to anyone at that time. He was living with two women at the time. Two ex-girlfriends.

I must have written that quote when we were apart from each other. There was a time when I was in Mexico and he was in New York. I always tried to make work, but I am surprised at how much of it has survived. Often, I worked in the corner of Wolfgang’s studio. I made little colorful paintings. He was very supportive of my work. The paintings I was making in the late 1940s had bright pinks that reminded me of my aversion to those blush colors that I avoided wearing in my native Venezuela. I also loved dark hues, blues, and key-lime greens akin to tropical flora. I was friends with Wildredo Lam at that time, and Noguchi. Long before I met Wolfgang, Isamu was like my brother; he had a beautiful studio on MacDougal Alley in New York and we often talked about art. So the paintings and drawings that Paul Soto of Park View is showing now in LA were done in dialogue with those figures in the 1940s.

I worked hard to become an artist. My family had immigrated to the United States in two sections. At the time, all the Latin Americans I knew lived in the Inwood neighborhood in New York. I chose to go to Washington Irving School near Union Square, where I majored in art without my parents knowing; they thought I would be a seamstress. I got married early and had two children, but I still kept making work. I just had to balance raising my children with my practice while freelancing for Condé Nast and Lord and Taylor. I found time at night to work on my paintings. But I was reluctant to show my work in the 1940s. As you know, Frida Kahlo was always referred to as the amateur wife of Diego Rivera. But Frida was really something and she showed in Paris. We knew them in Mexico along with Leonora Carrington and so many people who were going back and forth between all these cities.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that I began to have more freedom to make work. Things happened in my life in a weird order. At that time, I had gotten remarried, to the artist Lee Mullican, who along with Paalen had started the Dynaton art movement. We were living in Santa Monica, and our two sons, John and Matt, had grown up. I got my own studio. In the ’80s I was asked by the Guerrilla Girls to form a West Coast chapter of their group; previously I had been involved with a consciousness-raising group with Vija Celmins, Alexis Smith, Miriam Schapiro, and Judy Chicago. Miriam particularly liked my sewn-together canvases. I often worked in series. In my works from the 1940s, the mark-making is similar, and the biomorphic line also started influencing my desire to make a patchwork of the canvas. Mimi would come over to the studio and she encouraged me to show them. So even though I had been in group shows with Larry Bell and others, I finally had a solo show, called “Grandview One,” at the Women’s Building in Los Angeles.

If you live long enough, you will feel like you’ve had three lifetimes. There’s a story of a scandal I caused in New York, when Duchamp gave me a foot rub. I met him through Jeanne Reynal, who I was staying with. I was in my twenties. But he is long gone, along with the Lams, Breton, Isamu, and Agnes Martin, who was also a very close friend. Agnes was so much fun because she was a free spirit. Everyone thinks she was reserved because of the work and because she liked routine, but sometimes she would break loose and pick me up and careen through the streets. She was a terrible driver.

I still have a studio. Now my drawings are about my fears for the earth. We are doing our best to do away with the earth. In the studio I keep lots of textiles. For most of my life I made my own clothes, and when we traveled extensively in India, Europe, and Mexico, I collected patterns. My line work comes from these patterns. There is a piece in the show that has a seemingly amorphous shape that comes up often in my early work; later I remembered how much it resembled a little butterfly I saw as a girl in Venezuela. Painting is like that, though—a spiritual connection between what you do and the patterns found in the world.

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