Last week I traveled to Belen, N.M., a dusty little railroad town south of Albuquerque, to interview Judy Chicago. The pioneering feminist artist turns 75 this year, and is the subject of several exhibitions around the country, including a small one that opened Friday at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Chicago has a lot to say about art, about women, about the role of women in culture and the still inequitable treatment of male and female artists in American cultural institutions. Part of our conversation (slightly edited) which didn’t make it into the Sunday Arts piece includes this passage in which Chicago discusses how learning the history of women’s art helped her to become comfortable with working from the center out when she made images:
There is a difference when a woman works without an understanding—as many women have—of their female predecessors. My study of women artists before me verified a lot of my own impulses, gave me courage to pursue my own impulses, even if they were completely alien to the mainstream. In the 60s…[abstract painting] was all about the edge, that was a big thing. I never related to the edge, I was working from the center, and my work always looked odd, because I was often the only woman in exhibitions, and it always stuck out like a sore thumb. When I was young it made me feel embarrassed. Now, of course, I want to stick out like a sore thumb. When I began to study women’s art, I discovered that a lot of women had constructed from the center—O’Keefe, Emily Carr, Barbara Hepworth—and that gave me courage to construct images the way I naturally wanted to. I saw enough women who did it to feel that there was nothing wrong with it.