Unstoppable: The Enduring Art of Lois Dodd

Unstoppable: The Enduring Art of Lois Dodd


Lois Dodd demonstrates that art-creating is not a job or an occupation, it is a way of life

by Cynthia Close

Most men and women search forward to retirement, generally starting up around age 65, but artists typically continue on to perform, some-periods for decades lengthier, even up until finally their final several hours. Examples abound through art history of creatives who ended up actively evolving—inventing new methods and exploring new media—in their elder years, even as their health and fitness declined. For many individuals, the act of earning artwork is restorative, giving a font of electricity that can be renewed day by day, calendar year right after yr, enabling them to sustain their productivity as they age.

When the New Jersey-born modernist painter Lois Dodd was asked about her “practice,” she bristled at the term. “Doctors and attorneys have a ‘practice,’ artists have a existence,” she explained. This conversation happened through an on the internet job interview and discussion with Dodd and artist Eric Aho, in conjunction with the 2020 exhibition “Figuration Never ever Died: New York Painterly Portray 1950–1970,” at Vermont’s Brattleboro Museum (see a movie of the job interview at little bit.ly/dodd-brattleboro). It was a rare second interrupting the ordinarily calm demeanor of the 95-year-previous Dodd, who sat patiently answering myriad questions from the collaborating audience users. She was open, thoughtful, and engaged, just as she was throughout her interview for this post, inspite of the tension of planning for her yearly summertime changeover to Maine.

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

THE ARTIST’S Everyday living

Despite the fact that Dodd thinks of artmaking as integral to her life—more so than a “practice” or career—certain instructional and qualified milestones are well worth noting.

At a youthful age, Dodd dropped her mother to cancer and, before long just after, her father, a merchant maritime, died at sea. Thankfully, her older sister was by now performing as head-of-domestic for the duration of the father’s voyages, and as these kinds of, she was equipped to maintain some perception of loved ones steadiness and continuity. The artist attended substantial faculty in Montclair, N.J., which she recalls obtaining “a lovely artwork room with a skylight.” She uncovered from her artwork teacher that she could go after her resourceful passions, tuition totally free, at the Cooper Union, in Manhattan’s East Village. Like her near close friend and colleague, Mel Leipzig, Dodd acquired her craft at this institution. It was also at Cooper that she fulfilled her sculptor husband, Invoice King (1925–2015).

Dodd was an energetic member of the avant-garde Tenth Avenue artwork scene, a free-knit coalition of artist-run galleries operating with lower budgets and presenting a 1950s–60s different to the substantial-end, additional doctrinaire gallery system. She was the only feminine founder of the cooperative Tanager Gallery, where by she exhibited from 1952 to 1962. The artist supplemented her artmaking with a instructing situation at Brooklyn University right until her retirement in 1992.

“I can’t invent anything. I will need to observe from lifestyle.”


Dodd’s initially painting to enter a museum assortment was The Perspective By way of Elliot’s Shack Wanting South (1971), obtained by New York City’s Museum of Fashionable Artwork. With her typical tolerance and equanimity, she feedback, “If you wait extensive ample, the world arrives to you.”

These times, Dodd’s paintings of scenes from her apartment in New York City’s Lower East Facet and from her relatives home in Blairstown, N.J., in the vicinity of the Delaware Water Hole, as nicely as sights of the woods and gardens all around her summer months retreat in Maine, are a lot in need. She’s at this time rep-resented by the prestigious Alexandre Gallery, in Manhattan, and has been bundled in numerous solo and group exhibitions because the 1950s, but it was not until 2013, when Dodd was 85, that she was provided her to start with museum retrospective, titled “Catching the Light,” at the Kemper Museum of Up to date Art, in Kansas Metropolis.

Night time 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 product or service of, as she puts it, “finding and framing the day to day.” There is a naturalness, an unforced excellent in all the artist’s work. “I don’t want to set matters up,” she suggests. As a result, her paintings come to feel inevitable—Zen-like. They merely are. The matter make a difference of her function is wide, but a minimal tonal shade palette is a signature aspect jogging through the artist’s oeuvre.

For her early get the job done, 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 attempted acrylic,” claims Dodd, “but it felt like chewing gum.”

It took the artist some time to adapt to direct painting en plein air without preliminary drawing. She located functioning on gessoed Masonite panels, no even bigger than 20 inches on the longest aspect, authorized her to start and complete a portray in one outing. “It has to be one session,” she says. “You get started and maintain likely right up until you end.” 

A pupil released Dodd to aluminum flashing, a roofing building material, as a portray surface area. Dodd, who is effective alone and has no studio assistant, says, “I like to do all the chores—gessoing and sanding the aluminum surface—myself.” Sunflower Petal in Grass and Night time Streetlight, Rockgarden Inn, each painted on aluminum flashing, are little gems.

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

In addition to switching her approach and painting area more than the years, Dodd created her design and style and compositional solution. Her 1962 portray Pond has a unfastened, open-air, gestural high-quality that appears nearer in model to the work of Willem de Kooning (1904–97) than to Dodd’s a lot more straight observational, figurative function that followed. Evening Sky Loft and Get rid of Window are big oil paintings—both of which use a window as the principal structural element—demonstrate extremely different compositional techniques.

Just one attribute that remains constant in her operate, having said that, is an egalitarian method to her issue make any difference. In a painting by Dodd, a single piece of laundry hanging on a line retains as significantly importance as just one of her not often current human figures. Blue Towel is animated by a slight breeze, even though in Nude Leaning Again – Blue Sky, the determine is caught motionless, wedged among the best and base edge of the body. Dodd also tends to close in on her focal stage. Landscapes, from this artist’s perspective, aren’t grand vistas stretching into far horizons—and her uniform tonal excellent obliterates the constant changes of daylight and shadow, building the impression timeless.

In standard, Dodd’s paintings are like haiku or meditations. They radiate a peaceful sense of quiet—a location of retreat, which we can all use a very little much more of in our lives.