Painter and sculptor Audrey Flack is an influential American photorealist, pop artist and feminist. Her life and work were the subject of a 2020 documentary by filmmaker Deborah Shaffer.Read More
Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Flack grew up in New York and continues to live and work there. She studied fine arts at the Cooper Union graduating in 1951, during that time she was immersed in Downtown New York's abstract expressionist scene. She frequented the 8th Street Club and Cedar Tavern, with artists like Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. This is reflected in Flack's early colourful, expressive yet ordered paintings of the 1940s and early 1950s.
While studying a BFA at Yale University, and later attending the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, her art took a more figurative turn, leading to realistic still lives, portraits and nudes that would evolve into her later seminal photorealistic paintings.
Audrey Flack is known for her seminal photorealist still life paintings, and more recently for her sculptural works. The artist's later works are precise and filled with details alluding to 20th century culture and art historical sources.
In the 1970s Flack began to develop her photorealist style. In a time when abstraction reigned supreme, Flack made figurative works, characterised by careful attention to detail, including the use of airbrushing to create a gleam on the canvas evocative of natural lighting.
Inspired by the past and by current events, from the mid-1970s Flack painted a series 'Vanitas'; highly detailed and visually accurate still lifes crowded with familiar domestic and luxury items, memorabilia of personal and cultural significance, as well as mouth-watering depictions of food.
While her work visually connects with Dutch Baroque still life's and vanitas of the same ilk, the inclusion in the works of items from popular culture—for example photographs of Marilyn Monroe and a modern pink egg timer in the work Marilyn (Vanitas) (1977)—simultaneously aligns her work with 20th century Pop art.
In 1983 Flack turned away from painting to focus on sculpture. Her subjects have predominantly been female deities; ancient, biblical and mythological women, that project a strong, defiant, independent, and modern femininity. Characters range from Eve to the Egyptian Rocket Goddess and an Indigenous American figure.
These sculpted figures, executed in gold or bronze and sometimes painted, have developed, increasing in scale, and monumentality. In 2012 she created a larger-than-life head bust of herself as a suicidal rendition of Saint Thereas. In this intricately detailed work, the artist's partially coloured locks are intertwined with paintbrushes and paint tubes, stars, roses and a gun, and her face appears, ageing and anguished.
Around 2014, Flack began to re-engage with two-dimensional mediums of acrylic painting and drawings. This later body of work, she refers to as Post-pop Baroque and Post-pop Realism. The glean and glamour of her earlier work is replaced by detailed but cartoon-like imagery that collides past and present.
Among works such as Fiat Lux (2017), and Melancholia (2017) are bizarre mashups of references to classical paintings from art history and DC Comics. Her painting Days of Reckoning (2020) presents a blends Renaissance apocalyptic imagery with 20th and 21st century cultural references like Coca Cola, and troll dolls.
Flack has completed commissions for public spaces across the United States. Her sculpture 'Islandia' (1987), a 5 foot high representation of the pagan Goddess of the Healing Waters adorns several locations including the atrium of New York City Technical College in Brooklyn.
Other major commissions over the decades have included four twenty-foot bronze figures for the Monumental Gateway to the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina installed in 1996; Veritas Et Justitia (2005), a fifteen-foot representation of the female figure of justice placed outside Tampa, Florida's Thirteenth Judicial Courthouse, and the 10-foot Patinated bronze Recording Angel (2006), installed in the plaza of the Scherrmerhorn Symphony Center, in Nashville.
Audrey Flack has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include: All of Them Witches, Jeffrey Deitch, New York (2020); Heroines: Audrey Flack's Transcendent Drawings and Prints, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH (2015); Daphne Speaks, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND (2007); Icons of the 20th Century, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah GA (1999); Amor Vincit Omnia, Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, Virginia (1996); Breaking the rules : Audrey Flack, a retrospective 1950-1990, J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville (1992).
Group exhibitions include: The Art of the Discovery, Hollis Taggart, Southport CT (2021); Photorealism: 50 years of Hyperrealistic Painting, Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa FL (2017); American Photorealist Posters, SACE, Florence (2006); Toyama Now, 1981, Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1981); American Painting of the Seventies, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo (1979); Twenty-two Realists, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1972).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021