Unstoppable: The Enduring Art of Lois Dodd


Lois Dodd demonstrates that artwork-building is not a job or an profession, it is a way of existence

by Cynthia Close

Most folks glimpse forward to retirement, typically setting up close to age 65, but artists normally keep on to function, some-moments for a long time more time, even up right until their final hrs. Illustrations abound in the course of artwork background of creatives who were actively evolving—inventing new strategies and exploring new media—in their elder several years, even as their wellbeing declined. For lots of people, the act of making artwork is restorative, furnishing a font of vitality that can be renewed working day by day, yr immediately after yr, enabling them to preserve their productiveness as they age.

When the New Jersey-born modernist painter Lois Dodd was requested about her “practice,” she bristled at the word. “Doctors and attorneys have a ‘practice,’ artists have a lifetime,” she mentioned. This conversation occurred in the course of an on-line job interview and dialogue with Dodd and artist Eric Aho, in conjunction with the 2020 exhibition “Figuration Never Died: New York Painterly Portray 1950–1970,” at Vermont’s Brattleboro Museum (see a video clip of the interview at little bit.ly/dodd-brattleboro). It was a unusual moment interrupting the generally calm demeanor of the 95-calendar year-aged Dodd, who sat patiently answering myriad queries from the participating viewers users. She was open, considerate, and engaged, just as she was throughout her interview for this write-up, regardless of the tension of getting ready for her annual summer time transition to Maine.

Sunflower Petal in Grass
(2010 oil on aluminum flashing, 5×7)

THE ARTIST’S Lifestyle

Whilst Dodd thinks of artmaking as integral to her life—more so than a “practice” or career—certain educational and qualified milestones are really worth noting.

At a youthful age, Dodd lost her mother to most cancers and, shortly soon after, her father, a merchant marine, died at sea. Fortunately, her older sister was presently performing as head-of-domestic through the father’s voyages, and as these, she was in a position to protect some feeling of spouse and children stability and continuity. The artist attended higher college in Montclair, N.J., which she recollects owning “a gorgeous artwork place with a skylight.” She realized from her art instructor that she could go after her artistic interests, tuition cost-free, at the Cooper Union, in Manhattan’s East Village. Like her shut mate and colleague, Mel Leipzig, Dodd realized her craft at this institution. It was also at Cooper that she fulfilled her sculptor partner, Bill King (1925–2015).

Dodd was an lively member of the avant-garde Tenth Road art scene, a unfastened-knit coalition of artist-run galleries functioning with very low budgets and presenting a 1950s–60s option to the substantial-close, much more doctrinaire gallery technique. She was the only female founder of the cooperative Tanager Gallery, where she exhibited from 1952 to 1962. The artist supplemented her artmaking with a educating situation at Brooklyn Faculty till her retirement in 1992.

“I can not invent just about anything. I have to have to notice from existence.”


Dodd’s very first portray to enter a museum assortment was The Perspective By way of Elliot’s Shack Hunting South (1971), acquired by New York City’s Museum of Modern-day Artwork. With her common persistence and equanimity, she responses, “If you wait prolonged enough, the globe comes to you.”

These days, Dodd’s paintings of scenes from her condominium in New York City’s Reduced East Facet and from her loved ones household in Blairstown, N.J., in the vicinity of the Delaware H2o Gap, as very well as views of the woods and gardens all-around her summertime retreat in Maine, are substantially in need. She’s presently rep-resented by the prestigious Alexandre Gallery, in Manhattan, and has been bundled in lots of solo and group exhibitions given that the 1950s, but it was not until eventually 2013, when Dodd was 85, that she was supplied her very first museum retrospective, titled “Catching the Light,” at the Kemper Museum of Present-day Art, in Kansas City.

Evening Streetlight, Rockgarden Inn
(2011 oil on aluminum flashing, 7×5)
(1962 oil on linen, 58×65)
Blue Towel
(1982 oil on Masonite, 16×15)


Dodd’s compositions are a solution of, as she puts it, “finding and framing the everyday.” There’s a naturalness, an unforced high-quality in all the artist’s get the job done. “I really do not want to established issues up,” she states. As a end result, her paintings really feel inevitable—Zen-like. They simply are. The matter make any difference of her get the job done is broad, but a confined tonal colour palette is a signature ingredient managing by the artist’s oeuvre.

For her early operate, Dodd would make drawings on web-site and then return to the studio to paint the compositions on a greater scale, utilizing oil on linen canvas. “I tried using acrylic,” suggests Dodd, “but it felt like chewing gum.”

It took the artist some time to adapt to immediate painting en plein air devoid of preliminary drawing. She identified operating on gessoed Masonite panels, no bigger than 20 inches on the longest aspect, allowed her to get started and end a painting in a single outing. “It has to be just one session,” she suggests. “You start and maintain heading right until you end.” 

A college student released Dodd to aluminum flashing, a roofing building substance, as a painting surface area. Dodd, who functions by yourself and has no studio assistant, states, “I like to do all the chores—gessoing and sanding the aluminum surface—myself.” Sunflower Petal in Grass and Night Streetlight, Rockgarden Inn, equally painted on aluminum flashing, are little gems.

Night Sky Loft
(1973 oil on linen, 66×54)
Get rid of Window
(2014 oil on linen, 66×48)
Nude Leaning Back again Blue Sky
(2020 oil on aluminum flashing, 7×5)

In addition to altering her system and painting floor over the years, Dodd formulated her fashion and compositional tactic. Her 1962 painting Pond has a loose, open up-air, gestural quality that appears nearer in model to the operate of Willem de Kooning (1904–97) than to Dodd’s a lot more straight observational, figurative work that adopted. Night time Sky Loft and Drop Window are big oil paintings—both of which use a window as the major structural element—demonstrate pretty distinct compositional methods.

Just one attribute that stays consistent in her work, on the other hand, is an egalitarian method to her subject matter matter. In a painting by Dodd, a solitary piece of laundry hanging on a line holds as a lot significance as just one of her rarely present human figures. Blue Towel is animated by a slight breeze, when in Nude Leaning Back again – Blue Sky, the figure is caught motionless, wedged in between the major and bottom edge of the frame. Dodd also tends to close in on her focal point. Landscapes, from this artist’s standpoint, aren’t grand vistas stretching into considerably horizons—and her uniform tonal good quality obliterates the constant modifications of sunlight and shadow, making the impression timeless.

In typical, Dodd’s paintings are like haiku or meditations. They radiate a tranquil perception of quiet—a spot of retreat, which we can all use a very little additional of in our life.


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