Illustration: The Magazine of Yoga
“I turn on my light and become myself.”
BY MAGAZINE ART EDITOR AJA BLANC
Photo: Florine Stettheimer
In 1965, artist Sol Lewitt wrote a letter to his friend and fellow artist Eve Hesse with inspiring advice for anyone tripping up over themselves. He told her
Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own world. If you fear, make it work for you.
Each year around the holiday season I think of one of my favorite paintings entitled “Christmas” by artist Florine Stettheimer – a work that captures my own sense of wonder, joy and absurdity of the season – I can imagine the artist issuing the same advice as Lewitt.
“Make your own world,” she would say.
©Florine Stettheimer, Christmas, n.d. Collection, Yale University Art Gallery
© Florine Stettheimer, The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue, 1931 Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Born in 1871, Stettheimer was a painter, poet, and designer whose dazzling and eccentric paintings were a diary-like catalog of her charmed life that often featured her close family and friends as subjects.
After her first solo show in 1916 was met with financial and critical disappointment, Stettheimer retreated from painting publicly to creating work as “an entirely private pursuit”. She never sold her work and asked that after her death, her work be destroyed, a wish that her family thankfully ignored.
Her use of bright colors and bold brushwork developing into a style all her own. In fact many scholars believe that the critical failure of her one and only solo show was a blessing in disguise, as it pushed Stettheimer to leave behind a more tentative style and move towards mature work that fully embodied her creativity and imagination.
©Florine Stettheimer, Heat, 1919 Collection, Brooklyn Museum of Art
She died in New York in 1944, at seventy-three years old. After her death, her sister Ettie published a volume of her poetry and Stettheimer’s work, although often eclipsed by the move towards abstract expression, still commands an attentive following from those who recognize the artist’s commitment to expressing her authentic voice and individuality.
©Florine Stettheimer, Portrait of Myself, 1923 Collection, Columbia University
A human being
Saw my light
Or it happened
That he tried
To subdue it
Or it happened
That he tried to extinguish it
Never did a friend
The way it was.
So I learned to
Turn it low
Turn it out
When I meet a
Out of courtesy
I turn on a soft
Which is found
it is protection
I am rid of
I turn on my light
-Florine Stettheimer, from Crystal Flowers (published 1949)
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.