Imagist artists Art Green, Suellen Rocca and Gladys Nilsson discuss the genesis of the Imagist movement, the provocation posed by Chicago and its vernacular cultures in an informal Q&A with the curators of the exhibition, Sarah McCrory (Director, Goldsmiths CCA) and Rosie Cooper (Head of Exhibitions, De La Warr Pavilion).
Art Green (Indiana, 1941) studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He first came to prominence in 1966, when he joined five other recent Art Institute graduates (Jim Falconer, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum) for the first of a series of group exhibitions called the Hairy Who. In 1969, he accepted a teaching position at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, and that same year married Natalie Novotny, whose Art Institute education in pattern and fabric design became a strong influence on his work. They eventually settled in Stratford, Ontario, where he taught at the University of Waterloo from 1977 to 2006. For over 35 years, Green has carefully honed his personal iconography—idealized, archetypal images of ice cream cones, wood grain patterns, burning candles, moonlit landscapes, and perfectly polished fingernails, to name a few. The artist orchestrates his eccentric panoply into a visual pandemonium. It is left to the viewer, then, to decipher meaning from the artist’s circuitous, often puzzling, yet inevitable juxtapositions.
Gladys Nilsson studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She first came to prominence in 1966, when she joined five other recent Art Institute graduates (Jim Falconer, Art Green, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum) for the first of a series of group exhibitions called the Hairy Who. In 1973, she became one of the first women to have a solo-exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1990, she accepted a teaching position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is now a professor. Nilsson is known for her densely layered and meticulously constructed watercolors and collages. Like many of the Hairy Who artists, Nilsson employed a type of horror vacui; many of her works feel filled to the brim with winding, playful imagery. Her work often focuses on aspects of human sexuality and its inherent contradictions.
Suellen Rocca is one of the original members of the Hairy Who, a group of six visionary artists who first exhibited together in Chicago in 1966. Early in her career Rocca developed a unique vocabulary of symbols — wedding rings, purses, and palm trees — inspired by advertising imagery. In her paintings and drawings she often arranged these images in repetitive patterns, creating compositions that have been likened to modern hieroglyphs. When asked about the source of her imagery, Rocca has cited “the cultural icons of beauty and romance expressed by the media that promised happiness to young women of that generation.” Since 1980 her work has increasingly combined this iconography with allusions to the body, animals, and plant life.
Image credit: Gladys Nilsson, More Fowl Beasts, 1970 © the artist. Courtesy Elmhurst College Art Collection