Artist Spotlight: Howardena Pindell

Howardena Pindell has sustained a decades-long career as an artist. Born in 1943, Pindell was a minority within a minority as one of only a few Black female students pursuing painting at Boston University (BFA) and Yale University (MFA). Following graduation, Pindell served as Assistant Curator at the Museum of Modern Art from 1967-79, and later taught at the State University of New York, Sunny Brook. The confluence of these experiences, as artist, curator and teacher, gave Pindell a unique perspective on the frustrations facing Black artists. Fiercely determined to push boundaries, Pindell summoned her criticisms to create sophisticated mixed-media abstractions, sculpture and video work that spoke to the artist’s own personal experiences.

Image above: photo by Katherine McMahon. Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, NY.

Detail of Untitled, 1977, mixed media on canvas, 87 3/4 by 99 inches (222.9 x 251.5 cm), Tia Collection

In two works acquired by Tia Collection (Untitled, 1977 and Songlines: Atlantic Ocean/Currents/Hurricane Gladys, 1964, 2020-21), we see an early and a recent example of the artist’s methodical and laborious process of building elaborately layered surfaces. Through a repeated progression of reconstruction and deconstruction, Pindell paints or draws on a piece of paper, punches holes into the sheet and adheres the remnant chads onto the canvas. She then repurposes the paper punched sheet as a stencil to liberally apply paint through the dotted voids. Often larger in scale and irregular in form, Pindell’s unstretched abstractions are held to the wall with small finishing brads.

Pictured left: Pindell's Untitled, 1977, Tia Collection. Installation view of Painting on the Edge: A Historical Survey, Stephen Friedman Gallery, 2017.

Works from earlier in her career, such as Untitled, 1977, are marked by a muted palette and the use of smaller circular forms that punctuate the monochromatic surface. It was also during this time that the artist began incorporating materials like sequins, glitter, powder, string, hair and perfume into her process. More recently, Pindell has been exploring the use of larger foam rounds, brilliant colors, patchworked strips of canvas and gesturally sewn lines, like in Songlines: Atlantic Ocean/Currents/Hurricane Gladys, 1964, 2020-21.

Image: Songlines: Atlantic Ocean/Currents/Hurricane Gladys, 1964, 2020-21, mixed media on canvas, 93 by 86 inches (236.2 x 218.4 cm), Tia Collection. Photo courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Detail of Songlines: Atlantic Ocean/Currents/Hurricane Gladys, 1964, 2020-21, Tia Collection. Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, NY.

A recurring motif, the circle carries significance for the artist that stems from a painful childhood experience. While drinking root beer at a stand with her father, she noticed their mugs were marked with a dot designated for Blacks. “Whites would not use the same utensils,” Pindell explained to the New York Times in 2020. In reclaiming the dot, Pindell reversed that experience of humiliation to one of empowerment. “I get great pleasure out of punching holes,” she went on to say.

Pindell has exhibited extensively, notable solo-exhibitions include: Spelman College (1971, Atlanta), A.I.R. Gallery (1973, 1983, New York), Just Above Midtown (1977, New York), Lerner-Heller Gallery (1980, 1981, New York), The Studio Museum in Harlem (1986, New York), the Wadsworth Atheneum (1989, Hartford), Cyrus Gallery (1989, New York), G.R. N’Namdi Gallery (1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2006, Chicago, Detroit, and New York), Garth Greenan Gallery, New York (2014), and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta (2015). In 2018, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago hosted the first major survey of her work in Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen. Earlier this year at The Shed in New York, Rope/Fire/Water debuted several large-scale paintings by the artist, including a newly commissioned video work, Pindell’s first in 25 years.

Image: photo by Jon Henry / New York Times. Left: Pindell’s Songlines: Atlantic Ocean/Currents/Hurricane Gladys (Work in Progress), 1964, 2020-21, Tia Collection. Right: Pindell’s Untitled (Work in Progress), 2020-21.

Video: A Walk Through of Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water at The Shed, NY, 2020