The enduring art of Lois Dodd

Unstoppable: The Enduring Art of Lois Dodd


Lois Dodd demonstrates that art-earning is not a vocation or an profession, it is a way of life

by Cynthia Near

Most men and women look ahead to retirement, ordinarily beginning all-around age 65, but artists normally go on to do the job, some-moments for decades for a longer time, even up until finally their closing several hours. Illustrations abound all over artwork historical past of creatives who were being actively evolving—inventing new ways and exploring new media—in their elder years, even as their health declined. For quite a few folks, the act of earning artwork is restorative, providing a font of electrical power that can be renewed working day by working day, yr after 12 months, enabling them to maintain their efficiency as they age.

When the New Jersey-born modernist painter Lois Dodd was questioned about her “practice,” she bristled at the word. “Doctors and lawyers have a ‘practice,’ artists have a lifestyle,” she mentioned. This conversation happened throughout an on line interview and dialogue with Dodd and artist Eric Aho, in conjunction with the 2020 exhibition “Figuration Under no circumstances Died: New York Painterly Portray 1950–1970,” at Vermont’s Brattleboro Museum (see a video clip of the interview at It was a rare moment interrupting the ordinarily quiet demeanor of the 95-12 months-outdated Dodd, who sat patiently answering myriad issues from the participating viewers customers. She was open, considerate, and engaged, just as she was in the course of her job interview for this report, even with the strain of planning for her yearly summer time transition 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 educational and qualified milestones are truly worth noting.

At a youthful age, Dodd dropped her mother to cancer and, soon immediately after, her father, a merchant marine, died at sea. The good news is, her older sister was now performing as head-of-house during the father’s voyages, and as this sort of, she was ready to protect some perception of family steadiness and continuity. The artist attended higher university in Montclair, N.J., which she remembers having “a wonderful art room with a skylight.” She figured out from her art trainer that she could pursue her artistic interests, tuition absolutely free, at the Cooper Union, in Manhattan’s East Village. Like her near pal and colleague, Mel Leipzig, Dodd learned her craft at this establishment. It was also at Cooper that she fulfilled her sculptor partner, Monthly bill King (1925–2015).

Dodd was an energetic member of the avant-garde Tenth Avenue art scene, a unfastened-knit coalition of artist-run galleries working with lower budgets and presenting a 1950s–60s option to the significant-conclude, much more doctrinaire gallery system. She was the only female founder of the cooperative Tanager Gallery, where she exhibited from 1952 to 1962. The artist supplemented her artmaking with a instructing placement at Brooklyn College right until her retirement in 1992.

“I simply cannot invent something. I want to observe from everyday living.”


Dodd’s very first painting to enter a museum collection was The View As a result of Elliot’s Shack Searching South (1971), acquired by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. With her common endurance and equanimity, she comments, “If you wait extended sufficient, the world arrives to you.”

These days, Dodd’s paintings of scenes from her condominium in New York City’s Reduce East Side and from her relatives home in Blairstown, N.J., close to the Delaware H2o Gap, as nicely as views of the woods and gardens all over her summer retreat in Maine, are substantially in desire. She’s currently rep-resented by the prestigious Alexandre Gallery, in Manhattan, and has been bundled in lots of solo and group exhibitions given that the 1950s, but it wasn’t right until 2013, when Dodd was 85, that she was specified her 1st museum retrospective, titled “Catching the Mild,” at the Kemper Museum of Modern Artwork, 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 item of, as she places it, “finding and framing the everyday.” There’s a naturalness, an unforced excellent in all the artist’s function. “I really don’t want to established points up,” she suggests. As a end result, her paintings experience inevitable—Zen-like. They merely are. The topic issue of her perform is wide, but a constrained tonal coloration palette is a signature aspect jogging by means of the artist’s oeuvre.

For her early do the job, Dodd would make drawings on website and then return to the studio to paint the compositions on a much larger scale, applying oil on linen canvas. “I experimented with acrylic,” says Dodd, “but it felt like chewing gum.”

It took the artist some time to adapt to immediate portray en plein air without the need of preliminary drawing. She located functioning on gessoed Masonite panels, no bigger than 20 inches on the longest aspect, allowed her to start off and end a painting in a person outing. “It has to be just one session,” she states. “You start and retain going until finally you finish.” 

A university student released Dodd to aluminum flashing, a roofing development materials, as a painting floor. Dodd, who is effective on your own and has no studio assistant, claims, “I like to do all the chores—gessoing and sanding the aluminum surface—myself.” Sunflower Petal in Grass and Night time Streetlight, Rockgarden Inn, the two painted on aluminum flashing, are minimal gems.

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

In addition to modifying her process and portray floor above the decades, Dodd made her type and compositional method. Her 1962 portray Pond has a unfastened, open up-air, gestural excellent that appears closer in fashion to the operate of Willem de Kooning (1904–97) than to Dodd’s a lot more immediately observational, figurative function that adopted. Evening Sky Loft and Drop Window are large oil paintings—both of which use a window as the principal structural element—demonstrate really diverse compositional ways.

1 attribute that stays continuous in her operate, nevertheless, is an egalitarian approach to her subject make a difference. In a painting by Dodd, a solitary piece of laundry hanging on a line holds as significantly importance as one particular of her rarely existing human figures. Blue Towel is animated by a slight breeze, when in Nude Leaning Again – Blue Sky, the determine is caught motionless, wedged among the major and base edge of the frame. Dodd also tends to near in on her focal point. Landscapes, from this artist’s viewpoint, aren’t grand vistas stretching into considerably horizons—and her uniform tonal high quality obliterates the frequent adjustments of daylight and shadow, generating the impression timeless.

In basic, Dodd’s paintings are like haiku or meditations. They radiate a peaceful sense of quiet—a area of retreat, which we can all use a little a lot more of in our life.