By Peggy Sue McRae, Journal contributor.
Some careers like being a football player or a ballerina rely on young bodies and will be over before their practitioners reach middle age. Not so with the making of art. In the world of painting an artist may not even get started until they are middle-aged or beyond.
Take Anna Mary Robertson Moses, popularly known as Grandma Moses. Like many women, Moses pursued painting only after she’d finished raising her family. With her husband, she also worked the family farm. Moses was in her 70s when she began painting and went on to generate a definitive genre of American Folk Art.
President John F. Kennedy said of Moses, “The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene.”
At 82 artist Faith Ringgold noted that many female artists especially women of color do not receive acclaim before they are 60. Art-making is a long game. Says Ringgold of art, “It is something one has a passion for, does, and then becomes – and can do it literally until they pass away. It’s an old-age thing. You become better with age.”
Other older artists find creative solutions to the physical failings that may come with aging. Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, now considered his great masterworks, were created in the last decades of his life. He applied his long years of studying light and color while adapting to his vision then compromised by cataracts. Mobility issues kept him rooted in place to his garden. Known as a preeminent impressionist, the results of his later work are the shimmering paintings that earned him the title, “the father of abstract expressionism.”
When Georgia O’Keeffe was in her later years she hired an assistant named Juan Hamilton. Starting out as a general handyman Hamilton eventually became the friend and confident who taught O’Keeffe ceramics when failing eyesight was stopping her from painting. O’Keeffe said, “When my eyes began to not see sharply as they had for 80 years and the world began to turn grey, I was bothered and gradually stopped working. In time, I was surprised that this world could sometimes be beautiful in a new way, and began to think — how could I start again and begin to paint this new world.” She became a prolific ceramic artist during the last part of her life until her death at 98.
The list of well-known artists whose greatest works were created late in their lives is a long one. It includes Titian, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, David Hockney and Louise Nevelson to name only a few. It could even be said of some of these artists that had they not lived and worked into old age they may not be remembered as the masters we now consider them to be.
For local artists, the Mullis Center Painting Group meets on Wednesdays from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. For artists and crafters interested in selling their wares there are still a few spaces left for the Mullis Center’s Holiday Artisan Market scheduled to take place on November 18. If interested please call 360-370-4015.