Dreaming About Tamara de Lempicka: An Art Deco Superstar
The Pink Tunic by Tamara de Lempicka oil 1927
Art As Myth
I hate the way the story of art is more about mythologies than it is about the paint on the palette. All too often the elites tend to buy into one story because it fits into an annointed narrative, while other wonderful artists can be overlooked. Now that Egon Schiele is lauded widely it is easy to forget that for most of the 20th century it was more a case of Egon Who? Like with Schiele, Tamara de Lempicka is having a second life as her paintings are being rediscovered by the current generation.
Tamara de lempicka has always had her loyal band of admirers (I count myself as one of them) but the greatness of her creative achievements has also been undercut by an art mythology that placed the steps to abstraction as the journey to take notice of and a mere portraitist like Lempicka would be regarded in the best light as a creative side road or at worst sneeringly regarded as artistic fluff.
Double Standards In Art History
It didn't help that lempicka was the first female art superstar. She lived her life of glamor as if it was a canvas to be painted with a flamboyant hand. In an age that valued compliant and moral wives Lempicka chose to be very different. The dazzle of her high society lifestyle was always surrounded by scandalous stories. it was almost expected for the male artists of her time to be a superstar, and have a history of dubious morality, but no female artist before her had had that level of audacity. How dare she!
For a male artist to be gay barely raises a mention, it is as if sexual experimentation is expected for the male creative person. Reviews of exhibitions by David Hockney or Andy Warhol do not focus on sexuality at the expense of discussion of the artwork. Why should Lempicka be treated any differently?
The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same
Even in today's more liberated times reviews of her Paris retrospective seem to discuss her lesbian notoriety as much as the pictures. This seems such a disservice. The importance of Lempicka's many female painting subjects is less whether or not the artist lusts for the sitter than in the sensuality which the artist conveys to the viewer. Sometimes I think that artist's biographies should be left at home when looking at pictures because the pictures need to be simply allowed to speak their language of brushstrokes without gossip getting in the road.
The Artist As A Strong And Confident Woman
To me Lempicka's iconic self portrait 'Tamara In A Green Bugatti' sums up all that is important to know about her - here is a modern woman with the strength and talent to paint her own way and to do it with confidence and style. Whether in her painting or her beguiling self portrait drawing she has nothing to prove. Her talent is up there with the best and her work is worthy of our full attention.
Tamara de Lempicka Self Portrait drawing
Tamara de Lempicka Paris Retrospective
The Pinacotheque in Paris is hosting a retrospective of Lempicka's work until the 8th of September. It is one of those times when I wish I could be in Paris. Unfortunately Paris is almost exactly half a planet away from Sydney and an artist's income doesn't allow for journeys around the world. It is a frustration for an artist not to be able to see so much of the world's great art. We tend to learn from the artists we most respect. Reproductions in books are a pale shadow of the real thing. Only up close can we see the subtle marks that give us an understanding of what the artist was doing and the thought processes that brought the artwork to fruition.
I have been lucky in my life because I have had the privilege of seeing fifty of Rembrandt's paintings up close but I have only ever seen one Lempicka. I know how big an effect those Rembrandt's have had on my art technique and insight. Sadly I will probably never have the chance of finding out just how much effect the wonderful Tamara de Lempicka might have on my art. For now Tamara can only live for me in my dreams.