Linking Word and Image in Robert Motherwell’s Archives

Fig. 1 The Homely Protestant 1948, oil on Masonite

Robert Motherwell was a serious reader of modern literature and James Joyce was the kind of modern artist with whom he most closely identified. In 1935, at the age of twenty, Motherwell bought a copy of Joyce’s Ulysses in Paris and he would continue to consult the book throughout his career. The titles of many of his works come from phrases in Joyce’s books, and the Dedalus Foundation is even named for Stephen Dedalus, a protagonist in Joyce’s novels Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses.

In explaining this connection, Motherwell described an event involving a copy of Finnegans Wake:

Joyce is permanently on my mind. For over forty years I have dedicated pictures to him and taken titles from him. The title for “The Homely Protestant” [an oil on Masonite painting], which is from 1948 and one of my most important pictures comes from Joyce. The Surrealists used to say, if you’re stuck for a title, take a book, it must be your favorite book. Close your eyes and open it at random. Put your finger on the page and use that as the title. I was stuck with that picture. I didn’t know what it was even though I knew it was very abstractly a figure with a certain quality. When I put my finger on the words, “The Homely Protestant,” I thought, of course, it’s a self-portrait.[i]

In 1980, Motherwell participated in the International James Joyce Foundation’s annual meeting in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he was on a panel with Nathan Halper, a Joyce scholar and friend. That event reignited Motherwell’s interest in Joyce, and led to his doing a suite of illustrations for an Arion Press edition of Ulysses.

Motherwell had several copies of Ulysses in his library, which is now part of the Dedalus Foundation archives. We can get a sense of how Motherwell read by looking at these cherished books of his, and seeing how he underlined several evocative phrases, some of which ended up as the titles of his own works.

Fig. 2 Robert Motherwell’s Copy of ‘Ulysses’ 1961 Bodley Head Edition
Fig. 3 Underlining in ‘Ulysses’ by Motherwell of the phrase “saint Stephen’s iron crown.”

Pictured above is the page in one of his copies of Ulysses where Motherwell underlined the phrase “saint Stephen’s iron crown.” In September 1981, he painted Stephen’s Iron Crown in acrylic on canvas as part of the Drunk with Turpentine Series.

Fig. 4 ‘Stephen’s Iron Crown’, 1981, acrylic on canvas

Then, in 1982, he produced a print titled Stephen’s Iron Crown Etched.

Fig. 5 ‘Stephen’s Iron Crown’ Etched, 1981

In late 1981 and early 1982, he discussed the meaning of the phrase and its location in the edition of Ulysses shown above in letters he exchanged with Nathan Halper. (Fig. 6-8)

Fig. 6 letter from Nathan Halper to Robert Motherwell dated November 9, 1981
Fig. 8 Letter from R. Motherwell to Nathan Halper February 18, 1982
Fig. 7 Reply to Nathan Halper by R. Motherwell dated November 25, 1981

Of course, we don’t know for certain when Motherwell underlined the phrase in his copy of Ulysses, but it is tempting to see these materials as showing a sequence of events.

Only a few years later, in 1985, Motherwell agreed to illustrate an edition of Ulysses for Arion Press, which was published in 1988. The Arion Press publication was recently mentioned in a New York Times article by Jack Hitt titled “The Strange Case of the Missing Joyce Scholar,” about the scholar James Kidd, who had been engaged in producing a definitive edition of Ulysses. Hitt wrote that “Early on in the Joyce wars, in fact, Arion Press issued a new edition of ‘Ulysses’ that included some of the preliminary Kidd edits. The book was luxurious, with prints by Robert Motherwell, and only 175 of them were printed.”

Fig. 9 Ulyssses illustrated by Motherwell and published by Arion Press, 1988

This beautiful book is now on view at the Dedalus Foundation in Brooklyn in an exhibition titled “Word and Image: Literary Influences in Motherwell’s Works.”

The exhibition includes other paintings and prints inspired by Motherwell’s love of literature, including works by Octavio Paz and Rafael Alberti. The exhibition can be seen by appointment and will be on view through the end of the summer.

[i] David Hayman, “An Appreciation: Ulysses and Motherwell: Illustrating an Affinity,” James Joyce Quarterly vol. 26 no. 4 Summer 1989, p. 588.

Katie Yamasaki

Katie Yamasaki is a muralist, community artist, teacher, and illustrator based in Brooklyn. Her work as an artist has a wonderful way of sparking dialogues among diverse groups of people of all ages. Yamasaki’s artwork is known internationally; she has painted more than eighty murals in places all around world. She is also very familiar to our neighbors in Sunset Park, where two of her murals are located. One is on 3rd Avenue and 23rd Street, and the other is at PS 24, just two blocks away from the Dedalus Foundation’s Sunset Park location.

Yamasaki’s work installed at the Dedalus Foundation, Sunset Park offices
Yamasaki’s work installed at the Dedalus Foundation, Sunset Park offices

On March 31, 2017 the Dedalus Foundation’s Interns from Sunset Park High School visited Katie Yamasaki in her Red Hook studio. During their visit, students discussed immigrant heritage, the history of Japanese internment during World War II, and Yamasaki’s own career trajectory as a working artist.

Dedalus Foundation High School Interns visiting Yamasaki’s studio
Dedalus Foundation High School Interns visiting Yamasaki’s studio

This summer our Sunset Park office is proud host to an exhibition that includes twenty-seven of Yamasaki’s paintings from two series. Portraits from Yamasaki’s Pintando Postales series invite viewers to imagine life in two distinct cities from the perspective of middle school children. Pintando Postales are large-scale portraits that were inspired by correspondence between children in Santiago de Cuba and New York City. Yamasaki describes them as an attempt to illustrate childhood and adolescence from the voice of the child, catching the moment in life where identity, imagination, and expression are at once hugely important, and extremely fluid concepts.

Yamasaki’s work installed at the Dedalus Foundation, Sunset Park offices
Yamasaki’s work installed at the Dedalus Foundation, Sunset Park offices

Many of the works on view at the Dedalus Foundation are original illustrations from Fish for Jimmy, Yamasaki’s first book as both author and illustrator, which was published by Holiday House in 2013. In this book, based on Yamasaki’s own family history in Japanese internment camps, the often omitted experience of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War is explained and illustrated from the perspective of children. In a review of Fish for Jimmy, the New York Times praised Yamasaki’s illustrations, saying, “Yamasaki creates sweeping paintings that capture the story in a literal manner even as she makes bold metaphorical leaps. The overall result is a dramatic, visual feast.” McGraw-Hill recently purchased Fish for Jimmy to include in their textbooks, an achievement of particular significance to Yamasaki who remembers being corrected by her history teachers: “When I was in junior high school, I actually had teachers tell me that the internment didn’t happen – this after asking me to tell the class, because you’re Japanese – what happened on December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor). To have my work about the internment be included into the same textbooks that my former ignorant teachers would have used in the classroom is incredibly satisfying.”

Katie Yamasaki, Fish for Jimmy Paintings: 6_7, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, 13” x 24”
Katie Yamasaki, Fish for Jimmy Paintings: 6_7, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, 13” x 24”

Yamasaki’s artwork will be on view at the Dedalus Foundation until the end of August, allowing the students in our Summer Programs to use Yamasaki’s artwork as a direct source of inspiration. Local community groups are also invited to use the gallery as a classroom for guided visits. The exhibition is open to the public by appointment from 9:30am-5:30pm, Monday-Friday.

 Dedalus Foundation Pre College Portfolio Students looking at the exhibition
Dedalus Foundation Pre College Portfolio Students looking at the exhibition

To schedule an appointment or group visit please contact or call 212.220.4220.

Matisse and American Art at the Montclair Art Museum

The Montclair Art Museum’s exhibition Matisse and American Art (on view through June 18, 2017) examines Henri Matisse’s profound impact on American modern art from 1907 to the present. The exhibition juxtaposes 19 works by Matisse with 44 works by American artists including Robert Motherwell , Max Weber, Alfred Maurer, Maurice Prendergast, Stuart Davis, Richard Diebenkorn, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden, John Baldessari, Sophie Matisse, Faith Ringgold, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Motherwell first encountered Matisse’s paintings in the fall of 1935 at the home of Michael and Sarah Stein. He later recalled that the works he saw there, “[w]ent through my heart like a golden arrow and I had one real intuition immediately. I thought this is what I want to belong to.” That initial response carried through Motherwell’s life, influencing his works across media but especially in his collages. For the last two decades of his life, Motherwell had a Matisse cutout, La Danseuse, hanging in his home.

The wall of Motherwell’s living quarters in June 1983. Matisse’s "La Danseuse," ca. 1949 can be seen at the center surrounded by Motherwell’s own works.
The wall of Motherwell’s living quarters in June 1983. Matisse’s “La Danseuse,” ca. 1949 can be seen at the center surrounded by Motherwell’s own works.

Matisse and American Art includes Motherwell’s 1977 collage Cathedral II. The work reflects Motherwell’s familiarity with Matisse’s method of collage, especially the act of cutting and arranging which added a physicality to the to the composition.

Robert Motherwell, “Cathedral II,” 1977. Acrylic, pasted papers, and graphite on paper, 30 x 20 in. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.
Robert Motherwell, “Cathedral II,” 1977. Acrylic, pasted papers, and graphite on paper, 30 x 20 in. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY.

Artist Profile: Monica Chulewicz

In Winter 2016, the Dedalus Foundation was pleased to partner with the John F. Kennedy Center to present the exhibition (Re)Invention at our Sunset Park location. The exhibition features artists whose work exemplifies themes of renewal and self-discovery—of reinvention. From the unexpected whimsy of an animation, to a bold series of self-portraits, this work engages, challenges, and delights us. Collectively, these works of art captivate us on many levels: we are asked to explore ideas of self, community, legacy, and collective memory.

(Re)Invention is the 15th exhibition presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program. The result of a longtime collaboration with Volkswagen Group of America, this national art competition and exhibition gives fifteen artists with disabilities, ages 16-25, the opportunity to display their work in venues across the nation where each artist’s individual talent, mode of expression, and view of the world is showcased and valued.

We wanted to highlight one of these artists— Monica Chulewicz from Seaford, NY— whose work I’m Not Here For You To Taunt won the competition’s grand prize.

Chulewicz is a Polish-American artist who was born and raised in New York. A printmaker and collagist, she uses vintage found materials in both digital and traditional hand-printing processes. Chulewicz was born with a progressive disease that has caused several secondary illnesses, and uses her chronic health issues as a means of inspiration for her work.

The cast of anonymous women depicted in I’m Not Here For You To Taunt represent collected memories from unknown histories, and evoke a continuum of loss and renewal throughout the generations. Chulewicz experiments with fiction of the past, using vintage photographs to create dialogues between memory and time, and address themes of existence, fragility, and mortality.

Image: Monica Chulewicz, I’m Not Here For You To Taunt, 2016. Cyanotype prints on vintage dress (90 in x 35 inches.)