The Santa Barbara Museum of Art presents Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood until August 31, 2014. The retrospective surveys Wood’s lesser-known yet elemental drawings, which she continued to develop for nearly 80 years. The show provides an intimate glimpse into Wood’s personal realm with more than 50 works on display. In addition to works on paper, the Santa Barbara museum highlights a selection of figurative ceramic tiles and sculptures, along with Wood’s illustrated books.
American artist and studio potter, Beatrice Wood first appeared as an artist in 1917, rendering sketches as part of the influential New York Dada art scene. Most recognized for her lusterware pottery, her drawings served as visual diaries, allowing her to discover private and often “social taboo” topics in figurative, metaphorical and abstract designs. Frequently returning to past forms and characters, Beatrice Wood’s drawings granted her to “live in the timeless,” as she wrote to a friend at the age of 103.
Born in San Francisco but raised in New York City, Wood exhibited an early partiality for art and unconventionality, much to the chagrin of her well-to-do parents. Not interested in “coming out” to New York Society, she told her family that she wished to become a painter instead.
At age 18, she was allowed to travel to Paris and then Giverny with a chaperone, where she studied painting at the Academie Julien, and then acting at the Comedie Francaise, appearing on stage with Sarah Bernhardt and other leading stars of the period. With the onset of World War I, she was escorted back to New York City, with her parent’s hopes that she had gotten the artistic compulsion out of her system.
However, once back in New York City, Wood turned her attention to the French National Repertory Theater. It was while working as an actress that she met the composer, Edgard Varese who introduced her to the French-American artist, Marcel Duchamp. Her list of friends grew to include Man Ray, Mina Loy and Henri-Pierre Roche to name a few. Duchamp, Roche and Wood established Blind Man magazine, an early Dada journal and one of the earliest displays of the Dada art movement in New York.
Marcel Duchamp introduced Wood to the New York Dada group, and her career began with her comment, “anyone can create modern art.” She developed her own artistic style of spontaneous sketching, a passion that she carried throughout her life.
While she had a long career in pottery, she developed iridescent lusterware glazes in her Ojai, California studio. All the same, Wood’s drawings, lithographs and paintings gave an entirely different impression of her life. Often featuring her as a young girl, the drawings were delicate in color and line, with a mix of “feminism and femininity” and smatterings of Modernism, Surrealism and even Cubism.
Often referred to as the “Mama of Dada” for her works on paper, she frequently infused them with not only wit, but also sexuality, and her drawings depicted numerous facets of human nature. During her lifetime, Wood adopted an art-filled life that encompassed a “Dadaist’s sense of humor,” optimism, the enlightenment of the East and a romantic outlook on life. At the age of 103, she wrote to a friend that once she chose “to live in the timeless,” it was the easiest and happiest time of her life. As the inspiration for James Cameron’s Rose in the film Titanic, Beatrice Wood’s personal ideology served her well, as she proceeded to work on her art until the age of 104.
By Dawn Levesque