Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry
Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry
Florine Stettheimer’s work uses some elements of mature style that depicts composition and perspective. She reduces her three-dimensional impressions to a flat surface. She has a unique way of relating her universe with visuals. She made her point of view objective and raised well above the subject with which she is dealing. Most of the paintings she does are depictions of herself. This makes her both external and internal to the paintings. These works are not classified under self-portraits where the artist seems to be looking at likeness in the mirror. With these self-portraits, there exists a dialogue between the artist and the portrait. The viewer, in this case, is considered an intruder. One of her paintings is even titled Portrait of myself rather than Self Portrait.
Florine developed a unique artistic approach that was decorative and highly illustrative. By merging these styles, she established a way of manoeuvring her contradictions. Her style omits emotion. In one of her works, she depicts a Sunday afternoon when everyone is having lots of fun. She can be identified in this painting with her face hidden by a hat. Her face does not reflect the painter as some people may argue because it is hidden, and being identified as her is just an assumption made from her explanation. This is the last time she does a painting that pictures her painting. The works she does, later on, show her either idling or lounging. The same is reflected in a painting showing a birthday party with the table in the foreground forming the image of an eye, with a cake on it forming the iris. Florine and her sister Ettie are also pictured taking a nap. They seem incapacitated. Florine has one of her white shoes off. Two other sisters, Carrie and Stella, are busy doing tasks that are usually seen as feminine tasks. They are under less scrutiny as compared to Florine and Ettie. The mother is pictured seated on the family pyramid. She is not under the heat but seems saddened. This painting depicts a surreal environment, with the eye in the foreground showing the kind of scrutiny these sisters are under, probably by the society and their mother. These women do not interact. There is gloom puncturing the celebration. In every painting picturing family members, there seems to be a hidden meaning only Stettheimer appears to understand.
One’s background does not necessarily dictate an artist’s work. Florine painted her family frequently, making it of great interest to explore the history of her family. Florine was from a wealthy background. This family was deserted by their father when the children were still young. Their mother’s fortune allowed them to live lavishly. Florine made a painting that she titled Portrait of My Mother. It portrays this woman in her setting, as a floating pod, and someone has to wonder what is left in the inside of the pod when the peas had grown out of the pod. Did they grow out? One sister and their only brother married. The three younger sisters lived into their 60s with their mother who died at 93.
When Stettheimer attempted to look outside her first perspective, she turned her work into poetry. She was significantly inspired by dance. The Jewish Museum shows this. While The Heat shows a relation between temperature with translation to visual symbols, Her Music offers a translation from sound to visuals. In the center of the stage, a young dancer is stationed, while another performs a horizontal jig to the piano music. The tree is shown to have no roots. Nijinsky comparable to a vision dreamed up by Florine sleeping in bed, covered by a canopy. There is no family in the vicinity. There is no sense of doom. There is just art that is shaping a peaceful world with vibrancy and colour. The artist is confident of the style she is developing. It has a relationship with current art patterns but is independent of them. This technique is also evident in the painting Portrait of Myself. Flowers are shown peeping from her loins, a symbol of creativity substituting her sexuality. She has two sets of eyes, with one above the other, a hint to the doubling of her personality. Affection is also depicted in the portraits she made of her friends who supported her art. They are Henry McBride and Duchamp. They are shown as real human beings. Duchamp manipulative, though quite elegant. Henry McBride is shown to be a well-meaning person.
Stettheimer’s early 20th century paintings show equality for women and acceptance of African-Americans. She also shows support for immigrants escaping war. She seems to be preaching equality for all races. She depicts Americans helping African-Americans adapt to modern life at that time. She shows coexistence and collaboration as they go about their activities. Her paintings show Americans assisting the African-Americans to escape war. Some hide them from danger in their dwellings.
I have always thought the old times were all encompassed by affliction and hostility towards African-Americans as slaves and that they were ever treated as less-equals. I could not picture a situation where Americans and African-Americans could collaborate to help one another or stay close to one another. From my point of view, it had become nearly impossible to visualize a non-racist world where different races live together without antagonism between them. I have imagined permanent race-inspired enmity, with people fighting over things, ranging from the small ones to those that matter.
Through the works of Stettheimer, I have had a paradigm shift in my mind. It is possible to embrace one another despite our racial differences. We do not have to live with hostility towards fellow human beings. We can create a world where everyone is an equal, despite the colour of their skin. Just as the Americans depicted in Florine’s paintings could help African-Americans escape war, so can we help others overcome their challenges despite their race. Florine has shown me a different world where embracing the various races is possible and seems a duty. It is possible to create a world of love and tolerance that can penetrate deep beyond the white, black or brown skins people wear.