Dorothea Tanning’s Worlds Collide in a New Exhibition at Alison Jacques Gallery

December 27, 2019

Along with celebrated male artists, Surrealism nurtured several fierce women artists. All of them fought for their position regardless of their actual affiliation with the movement's men. A good example that supports this claim is the practice of Dorothea Tanning, a notable American painter who constructed a signature style by combing Surrealist themes and motifs with esoteric and tenuous narratives.

The upcoming exhibition titled Dorothea Tanning: Worlds in Collision at Alison Jacques Gallery will be exploring Tanning’s late works on paper produced from 1981 to 1989 and gathered for the first time in the United Kingdom.

Dorothea Tanning - Worlds in Collision
Dorothea Tanning - Worlds in Collision, 1988. Watercolor and black crayon on board, 78.8 x 98.4 cm, 31 x 38 3/4 ins © Artists Rights Society, New York, and ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of The Destina Foundation, New York, and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

The Exhibition Context

The works that are about to be on display were made after Dorothea Tanning returned to New York in 1980 from France where she lived for almost three decades. The impression is that the artist was largely inspired by the city tussle and the omnipresent array of sounds and speed.

For instance, the painting, Pounding Strong from 1981 best encapsulates Tanning’s reflections of a new life in a city that changed much since the time she lived there as a young artist in the 1930s and 1940s. She briefly described the painting’s conception by saying:

Looking out the window at these crazy kids careening down Fifth Avenue on roller skates, wearing earphones, and carrying their powerful radios. They are like archangels. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they took to the air.

Left Dorothea Tanning - Message 9 Right Dorothea Tanning - Message 11
Left: Dorothea Tanning - Message 9, 1989. Charcoal and pastel on paper, 101.6 x 81.3 cm, 40 x 32 in, paper size / Right: Dorothea Tanning - Message 11, 1989. Charcoal and pastel on paper, 163.9 x 120.6 cm, 64 1/2 x 47 1/2 ins, paper size © Artists Rights Society, New York, and ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of The Destina Foundation, New York, and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

The Bicycle Fascination

In 1988, Tanning began working on a series centered on the bicycle form. Namely, the artist felt inspired by the bicycle accident she witnessed near her studio on the Lower East Side. The works with suggestive titles such as Tangle (1989), Reckless (1989), Hell Bent (1988) and Further Chaos (1988) reflect her impression while leaning onto the theme of alternative realities that is continually present in Tanning’s practice throughout the decades.

This particular aspect is further explored with the gouache Between Lives (1989) that depicts one figure piercing the heart of another in their embrace, and the watercolor that bears the exhibition title, Worlds in Collision (1988), that features two figures swirled with the bicycle wheels floating in the middle of the frame.

To create a balance between what the modern bicycle wheel symbolizes, and the contemporaneity of the decade characterized by the personalized computers, Tanning used a new Xerox machine to produce photocopies of everyday objects like rubber bands, scans of her own hand, and sheets with tonal gradations, and incorporate in layered compositions. The works Garden with Gardeners and Prime Time indicate the artist’s interest in the issues concerning mass-production and authorship related with the creative process.

Dorothea Tanning - Further Chaos
Dorothea Tanning - Further Chaos, 1988. Graphite, colored inks, gouache, and watercolor on paper, 72.4 x 99.7 cm, 28 1/2 x 39 1/4 ins, paper size © Artists Rights Society, New York, and ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of The Destina Foundation, New York, and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Dorothea Tanning at Alison Jacques Gallery

The upcoming exhibition will underline the consistency of the artist’s stylistic explorations in the late phase of her lasting practice.

Dorothea Tanning: Worlds in Collision will be on display at Alison Jacques Gallery in London from 24 January until 21 March 2020.

Editors’ Tip: Dorothea Tanning: Transformations

This is the definitive study of American artist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012), positioning her as one of the most fascinating and significant creative forces to emerge during the 20th century. It provides a framework within which to consider the range and depth of Tanning's work, well beyond the better-known early surrealist works of the 1940s, and makes connections between her life experiences and thematic preoccupations. Extensively illustrated and featuring unpublished material from interviews which the author conducted with the artist between 2000 and 2009, this book will appeal to the general museum-going public as well as academics, students, curators, and collectors. Edited by Victoria Carruthers, the monograph will be released by Lund Humphries during January 2020.

Featured image: Dorothea Tanning - Tangle, 1989. Graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, 80 x 100.3 cm, 31 1/2 x 39 1/2 in, paper size © Artists Rights Society, New York, and ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of The Destina Foundation, New York, and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Follow These Artists

Follow These Galleries

ALISON JACQUES GALLERY London

London, United Kingdom