Mourning Art by Jane Irish , October 2019

I was 22 years old, in the summers of1977 and 78 worked as a a docent in the Old Gaol Museum and the Emerson-Wilcox house in York, Maine. The prison built in 1656 was at first a debtors prison, the house of 1740 had a serious collection of decorative arts. My fiance became an assistant director there, so I spent many weekends off season studying the collections well into the winters. Eldridge Pendleton was the Director. Part of my service was as a reenactor. On living history days at the Old Gaol, I chose to be an artist cutting silhouettes with a pantograph machine and painting mourning art on silk. I made my costume looking like Eleanor Antin nurse in the Crimean War.

Among Bed hangings and early tavern tables, there were some needleworks accompanied by prints of Washington and a few watercolor on silk paintings. Originally made to commemorate George Washington’s death in 1799, I learned that the Mourning art form which flourished in the Eastern United States in the first half of the nineteenth century was made by women and taught to women, and one could say (and I did) that it was the first true form conceived by the colonialists. (In 1974 I had studied for a semester at MCAD in Minneapolis and had a significant course taught by Ojibwa artists, the true source of first American Art).

Mourning Art painted by women, by 1978 I decided to incorporate my feelings in my art. I wanted to be a humorist and employ political speech. I was reading Wodehouse thinking about my dad, and Eldridge started a E. F. Benson reading group. I was sure of humor. As a child my dad preferred simply written humor writers to kids books. I was brought up on Thurber's Fables and Archy and Mehitabel. In the mid60s some of my first sculptures depicted The Very Proper Gander, and characters in Don't Count Your Boobies Before They are Hatched.

I got to grad school, my studiomate took himself very seriously, painting Rembrantesque figures. The professors were occasional. One professor though, was Robert Pincus-Witten, I remember him pointing out the difference between the rich and the poor, the poor will never be able to hold onto their belongings, there will be no room. Only about 5 years later my father passes away. Through my despair, I wanted to add to the pile of personal belongings of the departed. Along with the snorkeling outfits, tennis sweaters (or were they cricket jumpers?) were added canvases from graduate school.

I have a few slides of my Mourning work; and a deep excavation may yield a few originals, but i decided to recreate them. Using the slides, purchasing on Abebooks the original source materials* : I have constructed them with the same grounds, oil colours, and brushes still made today : 40 yrs later. Surrounded in my studio by my other paintings done between 1978-80 , I deliberately painted as I would then, with the brushes that were my preference, the moves and decisions of glow, etc. that I clearly remember.

I also remember being after a non-linear view of art. Caring if a painting was alive or dead. It was easy to know standing in front of them as a 22 year old! 40 years ago, I was older than I am now. I was careful but more bold, due to youth or naivety, I prefer decisiveness. I was tired of the artists repeating the gifts of the alive with dull hands.

Then, I wanted to put Dead art on the tombs. Which was challenging. I didn’t want to offend people. Morris Louis, Olitsky, Still, Jenkins and Noland were ideal. Innocuous and dead, turned out to be male eros heroes. I was identifying chauvinism with humor.

This has been a thrilling project; revisiting hopes and fears, and history without hindsight.
I have had fleeting thoughts on a myriad of issues. Many are a result of this reenacting, thoughts of my own death, ideas of aura intuited then but identifiable now. I am brought to my source, something I always wanted to do, and now I am at the age where it is authentic. In 1985, I put aside an essay by Kim Levin on Giorgio de Chirico versus Andy Warhol.

Through the essay, we learn again. In 1917 Andre Breton was aghast at de Chirico’s duplicates. He thought them a fraud against the miracle. Had the artist made an outrageous conceptual gesture or a cynical mercenary act? Musing, maybe de Chirico kept doing them because no one got the point — maybe he needed the money, maybe he meant it when he said his technique had improved and tradition skills were what mattered.

Can an artist steal from herself? Duchamp said of de Chirico's copies, “the artist of the second manner had lost the flame of the first. But posterity may have a word to say.”

*Mourning becomes America, Main Street Press; 1st edition (1976)
Morris Louis, 1912-1962 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1967 Exhibition Catalog)
Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective 1977
Jules Olitski by Moffett, Kenworth 1973
Jenkins {Paul Jenkins, Abstract Artist} by Jean Cassou 1963
Clyfford Still, Thirty-threePaintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery 1966
Jules Olitski: New paintings , Andre Emmerich Gallery, 1973

18 x 8 inches should look upon his likes again Louis Noland Paul Jenkins, 27 x 38 inches 30 x 36 inches Louis, Kenneth Noland Louis, Clyfford Still, Olitzki Still, 24 x 26 inches