Loren MacIver painted on the dunes of Provincetown/Truro for ten consecutive years (1931 – 1941), in a shack she and her husband built much like those now as part of the preservation under the guidance of the Peaked Hill Trust.
As a painter, Loren MacIver understood the poetic undercurrent of objects, much as Cezanne saw the structure within. That she was able to convey that onto a two-dimensional surface with paint was her genius. Many artists create scenes. MacIver created other worlds. Historian and painter,Tony Vevers, wrote: “The major component of MacIver’s art in its striving for transcendence is light – her paintings seem to contain their own light sources, which enliven and illuminate their forms.”
As observed by Roberta Smith in The New York Times: “Loren MacIver belongs to a tradition of often overlooked painters blessed with a light, graphic touch. It extends from Marie Laurencin to William Wegman, (to) Paul Klee… overlooked, due to the advent of Pop and Minimalism.” MacIver was shown for nearly fifty years by one of New York’s leading galleries, The Pierre Matisse Gallery. Alfred Stieglitz wrote the catalogue essay for her first solo show, declaring “This girl should be given a chance to paint, if anybody should be given a chance to paint,” and in her second show she became the first woman painter to be purchased by Alfred Barr, Director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She was avidly collected by the Metropolitan Museum, received a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1953, and was included in the 1962 Venice Biennial.
Time has stood its test, and MacIver, a woman of great talent, perservered during a time when women did not receive equal time with their male peers.
MacIver developed her special brand of descriptive, miniaturist formalism, “abbreviating the world into different arrangements of spare images and hieroglyphics buffeted by pale washes of color.” (Roberta Smith). She evolved her own scaled-down versions of many devices – thin paint, luminous color, hieroglyphic symbols, all-over compositions that would be hailed in the late 1940’s and 50’s as the “distinguishing characteristics of the New York School,” wrote Smith. Smith also observed: MacIver “can be grouped loosely with other miniaturists of human or natural existence, including Biala, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey.” In MacIver’s own words, she explains that her interest in “simple things” was intended to “lead the eye by various manipulation of colors, objects and tensions toward a transformation.” “Observing these works,” says Berta Walker, “one might think she could actually see the spirits on the dunes. She certainly painted the special energy we feel when living there.”
Describing her work in a recent exhibition focusing on the years she exhibited at the Matisse Gallery, Diedre Stein Greben in ART News observed: “Most impressive is…that the years have done nothing to dim the immediacy or the appeal of these works. The strength of MacIver’s art comes from its ability to reconcile, or rather to harmonize, opposing impulses - murky tones with exhuberant color, graphic iconography with blurry intervals, playfulness with poignancy.
This small, very rare exhibition of paintings described by Grace Glueck of The New York Times as “delicate, poetic paintings”, will include works made by MacIver during the ten years she lived and painted on the dunes in Provincetown including: “Provincetown Shack”, 1934, "Procession of Small Beings”, 1938, “Penny Candy”,1939 (described in ART News as “abstract and leaflike forms that lurk underneath horizontal veils of deep color which… (they) have a hallucinatory glow of a different, eerier sort.)
“Decalcomania”, exhibited at the
Museum of Modern Art and painted on actual wood from her dune shack, plus several mixed-media drawings from her sketch book. Her work reflects the melding of the magic of the Cape, especially the magic of the dunes day and night, with the magic inherent in MacIver’s way of seeing the world around her.
In this exhibition, viewers will have a unique opportunity to experience the Cape through the eyes of a deeply poetic and original artist. As Pierre Matisse (son of Henri Matisse) recognized more than half a century ago, “MacIver’s… enchanting hieroglyphics have the look of innocence but the power of knowledge.” (Greben, ART News) Loren MacIver wrote in 1946: “My wish is to make something permanent out of the transitory. Certain moments have the gift of revealing the past and foretelling the future. It is these moments that I hope to catch.”
2005 Exhibition at Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown
For more information, contact Berta Walker Gallery, Provincetown