For those following this blog, it must be clear that one main theme has been the cultural maturity of Los Angeles. When I take a look at my own writing, that theme seems to be consistent. I recently came across this article (published February 4, 1983) from my days as a reporter for the Orange County Register. It’s interesting to note that the Santa Monica Museum, our neighbor here at Bergamot Station, has recently received funding from the Getty Research Institute for a 2012 exhibition about Beatrice Wood. The Getty announcement stated: “While Wood’s later ceramic works have been the subject of local exhibitions, the Santa Monica Museum of Art will now focus on her transition from Dadaism to Californian/Indian spiritualism and its impact on her artistic persona.”
CSF exhibits Beatrice Wood collection
Art Review: Beatrice Wood exhibition, Main Art Gallery, Cal State Fullerton.
By Frank Lloyd
Contemporary art watchers will recognize the name of Beatrice Wood in association with the New York Dada movement. Followers of West Coast ceramics will know her as a seminal practitioner of the art of lusterware. And gallery spectators will sense in her work a woman with an intuitive use of color and form that is at once seductive and humorous, vivid and subtle.
The current exhibition of Beatrice Wood at Cal State Fullerton was organized in celebration of the artist’s 90th birthday. Throughout her long career, she has absorbed influences from diverse sources. The ideas of Marcel Duchamp, which radically challenged our perception of the art object, figured prominently in her early drawings and paintings. The teachings of theosophy, followed by many artists and writers in the early part of this century, have had a strong effect on her life. The West Coast crafts revival movement, with its recognition of carefully crafted ceramics as fine art, will be in evidence in this exhibition.
Wood began her artistic career by studying art in Paris in 1910. She was enrolled at the Academie Julien, which was, at that time, a famed liberal institution. Her interest in painting, however, soon gave way to her pursuit of an acting career. She attended the Academie Francaise, but her theatrical studies were cut short by the ravages of World War I. By 1916, she had moved to New York, where she began to build her career as an actress.
It was in New York that Wood met the two Frenchmen who were to change the course of her life: Henri-Pierre Roche and Marcel Duchamp. Wood had been visiting the French composer Edgar Varese in the hospital when she encountered them. She was immediately impressed by the intelligence and charm of Duchamp, and later became an intimate member of the Dada group. Under Duchamp’s direction, she resumed painting.
Wood’s entry to the Independent’s Exhibition of 1917 at the Grand Central Palace was received with scandalous attention. She had painted the nude torso of a young woman taking a bath. A piece of soap had been glued onto the canvas at a strategic location.
It was not until 1938 in Los Angeles that Wood became interested in ceramics. She had purchased a set of luster cups, but still needed a teapot. Since she was unable to find what she wanted, she decided to make it. She later studied with Glen Lukens at the University of Southern California. She also studied with Gertrud and Otto Natzler. She was an enthusiastic student, and had her first ceramics studio in North Hollywood.
In 1948, she moved to Ojai, where she built a studio and continued to develop her ceramics. She later moved to the Happy Valley Foundation, where she has been involved with the school of theosophy since 1946. The Foundation was established by Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti and Annie Besant.
The development and refinement of Beatrice Wood’s mature work came in Ojai. The uncommon in-glaze luster technique is her contribution to contemporary ceramics. The rich, vivid and saturated colors are characterized by great depth and complexity. Her open and expressive handling of the medium marks her as a modern ceramist—but one that ties into an ancient tradition.