‘As a writer Rosalyn Drexler enjoyed considerable success during the 1960s and ’70s. Her many novels were critically well received, she won Obies for three of her plays, and an Emmy for a Lily Tomlin special. As a visual artist, however, Drexler was less successful, unfortunately experiencing what George Kubler would have called a “bad entrance.” In The Shape of Time (1962} Kubler explains that an individual artist’s success will often depend less on temperament, talent, and training than on luck, on where in the artistic tradition “his biological opportunity coincides.” The artist whose temperament coincides with the early stage of a tradition is luckier than the one who follows later. With regard to timing, at least, Drexler would appear to have been very fortunate. She began using popular imagery late in 1961 at precisely the same time as Warhol, Lichtenstein, and the other celebrated pioneers of the Pop movement. Although Drexler is mentioned in the early histories of Pop, she received little serious attention at the time. As Robert Storr so nicely put it in a recent reappraisal of her work for a Rosenwald Wolf Gallery catalogue, “It is the fate of some artists to arrive at the station on time, and still find themselves being left on the platform as the train pulls away without them.” Drexler’s problem was two-fold. Firstly, her work was not consistent with period taste.
‘Her themes were hot in an era of cool. And what was perhaps worse, her works evoked narratives at a time when the art world seemed to have accepted critic Clement Greenberg’s judgment that stories belonged to literature, not the visual arts. Her second problem was gender. In the sixties art was still a male domain, as the pronoun in the Kubler quote above will attest.
‘Drexler’s bigger problem, as it turned out, was that she was too early. The train on which she belonged would not arrive at the station for another two decades. This train would not only welcome women passengers as a result of the feminist movement of the 1970s but had a special car for the Metro Pictures stable of artists such as Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and Robert Longo whose interests were very similar to Drexler’s. Longo’s Men in the Cities series, in particular, closely resembled her early work and was often mistaken as such. It was in the context of these developments of the 1970s and early ’80s that a serious reassessment of Drexler’s pioneering work was not only possible but mandatory.
‘Drexler began making visual art in the early 1950s while living in Berkeley, California, where Sherman was finishing his art degree. An early and unrecognized participant in the assemblage movement that would shortly blossom in the Bay kea, Los Angeles, and New York, she began producing art with trash found at home and in the city streets in order to create a kind of true-to-life museum in her home. In 1955-56 she and Sherman had a two person exhibition at the Courtyard Gallery. Unlike the well-known Bay kea assemblers, such as Bruce Conner, whose use of junk represented an implicit rejection of American postwar consumerism, Drexler had no social agenda. Nor was she even aware of the budding San Francisco Renaissance centered at the City Lights Bookstore, although she knew its most famous participant, Allen Ginsberg. “If there was a burgeoning counterculture in the SF area,” she claims, “I didn’t know about it. I wasn’t part of anything. I was a loner.” On the subject of her work, she said at the time, “I perform rescue work (in memory of the death of the Little Tin Soldier who was lost forever in a sewer). I peruse the sewer with wonder and love.”
‘In order to accentuate the fragile, messy lives of her poignant incarnations of the human condition-such as Pregnant Princess and Grown-up Lolita Doll, both late 1950s-she began adding touches of raw plaster and crude color.
‘In 1960, shortly after her return to New York, she showed her sculpture at the recently opened Reuben Gallery, where Allan Kaprow and his Rutgers colleagues in Fluxus exhibited. Drexler was given an exhibition on the recommendation of the critic-turned-dealer Ivan Karp, whom she had recently met at an exhibition and who was arguably the best-informed observer of the avant-garde scene in the city at the time. Through Karp, Drexler began socializing with a number of the established and emerging artists of various stripes, from Elaine de Kooning to Donald Judd to Andy Warhol, who made a small series of silkscreen paintings after a Polaroid he took of her dressed as a wrestler.
‘Drexler gave up sculpture in 1961, despite the encouragement and recommendation of David Smith, partly because “it became too difficult to lug that stuff around.” She turned, instead, to painting themes borrowed from popular culture. “I was very guilty about it,” she later admitted, “achieving something not out of your [own) head. Little did I know [this technique] would become so hot.” As her remarks indicate, she began to appropriate popular materials not because of the contemporaneous examples of artists such as Lichtenstein and Warhol-to which Karp introduced her shortly after she began working with similar sources-but because of the same confluence of art-world influences that led them and others almost simultaneously to recognize the value of popular imagery as a lingua franca, most important of which was the permissive examples provided by Rauschenberg and Johns. And for Drexler, the use of “what I, a homemaker, had available in the house: magazines, posters, etc.” was a natural extension of her approach to sculpture.
‘Drexler clipped images from magazines and newspapers, attached them to canvas or board and then selectively painted out details with acrylics to emphasize the essential action, which she ordinarily set against a contrasting, largely empty monochromatic ground. She soon learned how to enlarge copies on paper, which she also attached to canvas and overpainted. This also meant that she could consider a larger range of source materials, which now included books on Hollywood and photographs borrowed from the library.’ — Bradford R. Collins
Rosalyn Drexler @ Wikipedia
Rosalyn Drexler: Wrestling Feminist in the Pop Art World
Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is?
Rosalyn Drexler: An Imagination at Work
Prudence Peiffer on Rosalyn Drexler
Rosalyn Drexler’s Noir Paintings
Caught Up in Rosalyn Drexler’s Dramatic Moments
Rosalyn Drexler Does Not Look Back
Rosalyn Drexler with John Yau
‘Dear’, by Rosalyn Drexler
Rosalyn Drexler: Varieties of Reclamation
Rosalyn Drexler @ goodreads
Rosalyn Drexler: “You couldn’t have known my work. How could you?”
Sad and Bad and Mad: The Fiction of Rosalyn Drexler
ROSALYN DREXLER IS PRETTY GREAT
Artist Talk: Rosalyn Drexler
Seductive Subversion: Rosalyn Drexler
Excerpts from an interview with Rosalyn Drexler
from The Reading Experience
‘Perhaps it is because her most lasting accomplishment may turn out to be her paintings that Rosalyn Drexler is now so very little known as a writer of fiction. Although she did attract attention with her novels in the 1970s, and her plays gained notice for their association with the “theater of the ridiculous,” a kind of variation on theater of the absurd, it seems safe to say that for most current readers and critics Rosalyn Drexler has almost no name recognition. Perhaps the novels to an extent seem dated, their cultural references and lingo too stuck in the 60s and 70s (although ultimately they are not at all trying to “capture” their era in any direct way). Or perhaps Drexler has simply been overshadowed by the already established experimental writers of her time, most of whom are male, even at a time when efforts are regularly made, by academics and publishers, to maintain attention on neglected women writers.
‘Still, that little effort has been made to refocus our attention on the fiction of Rosalyn Drexler remains rather surprising, for her novels are indeed singular achievements, adventurous works that are entirely worthy of comparison with the other heterodox writing of the period that has persisted in the cultural memory. Moreover, while Drexler’s work is not feminist in a directly political way, it most assuredly does provide a representation of women and their circumstances that feminist critics ought to find deeply resonant (something that could be said about Drexler’s paintings as well). And if many of the novels do indeed reflect the social and cultural tendencies of their time, they also use those tendencies to render more broadly and enduringly relevant accounts of women freely expressing their own versions of their lived experience and in the process freeing themselves of the versions imposed by others.
‘The best illustration of this perhaps is her third novel, To Smithereens (1972), which features a lady wrestler as protagonist and is perhaps her best known work of fiction, largely because it draws on Drexler’s own experience as a wrestler before she became established as an artist. As in many of the paintings, here Drexler uses the iconography associated with this figure from popular culture to evoke attitudes and beliefs about the pervasive violence of American culture and the confused state of relations between men and women. The latter is signaled in the novel’s first scene, narrated by Rosa (later to be proclaimed “Rosa Carlo, the Mexican Spitfire”), who in a movie theater encounters a “creep” in the next seat rubbing his hand on her thigh. Rosa is duly annoyed, expressing her annoyance by lashing out at him, yet agrees to have coffee with him after the movie and then goes to his apartment, where soon she waits for him in the bedroom: “I took off my clothes and lay on top of the blanket, still as death, one arm dangling off the side of the mattress; I knew I looked beautiful that way; soft, receptive, passively offering my body. . . .”
‘The creep is (once again) named Paul, in this case an art critic, and he and Rosa are soon a couple. But while in this scene Rosa chooses to be sexually passive, throughout the novel she continues to exhibit both the aggressiveness she displayed in the movie theater (and which presumably she channels in her short career as a wrestler) and a more conventional acceptance of gendered sexual roles. (When she decides to try wrestling Rosa discovers a lesbian subculture among the women wrestlers, but she does not take part.) Still, while Paul in a sense is trying to exploit Rosa for his own enjoyment when he encourages her to try wrestling, his efforts to control her cannot succeed, as he himself acknowledges:
Rosa did not conform to any idea I had conceived of her in advance. She related to me with the same sense of immediacy and beauty that the artist experiences in relation to her material. She was molding me on behalf of the vast world of being she existed in; while I had foolishly believed it was I who was shaping her.
‘The point of view in To Smithereens alternates between Paul and Rosa (with the usual additional interpolated documents), and this provides overall a somewhat more detached perspective from which the reader can contemplate the comic verbal collage Drexler has assembled, although undoubtedly Rosa emerges from the novel a character as forceful as Paul himself finds her. The novel does not really dwell much on Rosa’s actual time in the wrestling ring (only one match is recounted at any length), preferring just to introduce us to the colorful characters with whom Rosa interacts and to create a female character who embodies in her life the “sense of immediacy and beauty that the artist experiences in relation to her material” but has perhaps not yet quite found the best “material” in which to express it.
‘The Cosmopolitan Girl (1974) is the last of the original series of novels that made Drexler known as a writer as well as an artist. (It is available. along with I Am The Beautiful Stranger and One or Another, in a volume simply called Three Novels, published by Verbivoracious Press, the only fiction by Drexler officially in print.) This might be called Drexler’s weirdest novel (an accomplishment in itself). Certainly it is the most openly surreal, featuring a protagonist with a talking dog, a dog she winds up marrying to boot. While this blending of Kafka and Helen Gurley Brown is alternately kooky and spooky, perhaps it also represents Drexler’s most faithful translation of the Pop sensibility characteristic of her paintings to fiction, provoking equal parts disquiet, amusement, and something like annoyance. It can be difficult to decide whether we should find Helen Jones a sympathetic character just attempting to find happiness in the big wide world, or an appalling freak. Perhaps she is both. The media image of the Cosmo Girl becomes not exactly the object of satire, nor is it celebrated as a fabulous icon of popular culture, although certainly Drexler does occasionally have fun with it:
At home I walk around with no clothes on at all (depending on whether the steam is up). I do not bother to pull down the shade. If someone in the building opposite wants to look, he’s welcome. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s his problem. I do what makes me feel good. . .but not always. It’s a hard rule to follow because sometimes I’m not sure what does please me.
‘The Cosmopolitan Girl can be regarded as the completion of an initial quartet of singular but aesthetically consistent novels that introduce both a thematically and formally complex literary practice Drexler continues to pursue in her later fiction but that probably is carried out most successfully in these four novels. Unquestionably it would be warranted to claim Drexler’s project as part of post-60s feminism, but the women characters in these novels are neither unequivocal champions of equality nor emblematic figures exemplifying the inherent virtues of their gender. Ultimately each of these characters is emblematic only of herself, although they do have enough similarities that they collectively comprise a kind of Drexlerian prototype: autonomous, but not without a lingering dependency, self-aware but also at times willfully capricious.’
Rosalyn Drexler speaks
It’s wonderful to be having a retrospective, like being a star again! Of course you also want to just run away.The show belongs to the people who created it now. It’s going to be wonderful, and then it’s going to be past, like all things. I’m going to try to be in the moment. Some of these artworks have been gone from me for fifty years. I’ve seen reproductions of them and wondered who did them, and thought, That’s pretty clever! So to see them all together will be incredible—one painting referring to another emotionally, and what was happening in my life at the time.
I don’t think my paintings were seen much back in the 1960s. It was the time for Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism; Pop was just beginning to rear its huge, glittering head. My work was a secret kind of thing. I was very close to the Abstract Expressionists, and to the women I worked with when we started Women in the Arts—but no one realized I was a painter because I was writing about painting. I was happy being productive and having good friends and being ignored. But now I’m getting angry about it, looking back!
I never thought about careers. I was even a wrestler for awhile. I learned how to look ominous and on top of things as I strode around the ring from corner to corner. But the truth is I hated it. I thought, Well, the experience should not be wasted—I should at least get a book out of it. I was also a waitress, cigarette girl, hatcheck, masseuse, anything to earn a living. And in between it all I was giving birth, writing books and plays, doing paintings, and going to parties. I met my husband Sherman when I was eighteen, married at nineteen, first kid when I was twenty and I was off to the races. I was married for sixty-nine years.
Our closest friends were Franz Kline, and Bill and Elaine de Kooning, and they used up all the oxygen in the room, they were such heavy hitters. I thought painting was serious and wonderful, but I couldn’t put myself in that class. I was divided; I must have really thought of myself as a writer. My books were doing very well, getting published and critiqued. And there wasn’t a lot of interest in my painting, so I didn’t have that same kind of encouragement that I think you need. And I had no idea that what I was doing would interest anybody deeply.
I never studied art. But my parents exposed me to it from an early age. A newspaper had a special: For twenty-five cents you could get art posters and books, and my mother bought me Turner seascapes, Dickens, Twain. And my father took me to a museum once and showed me a Chardin peach. I couldn’t understand how wonderful that peach was. Later, my husband would take me by the shoulders in a museum, and we would exchange ideas.
I’m still painting. My husband was dying in 2014, and I was with him almost all the time, and then I would go into my studio and start a painting. He was a great critic, and I was able to share the making of these works with him. And now I have to get over the mourning, the sorrow, and I suppose that will bring a whole new kind of work.
There’s a narrative thread going through all my work. It may not be seen but it’s in my head, like a kind of music. I get an idea to paint, and then I get ideas by painting. Some of the works do tell a story, but it’s not like sitting down and telling a story, or even using one word, like some artists today. I don’t use words in painting because I use words in books and articles.
My love of art—an exuberance and a feeling that I wanted to do something, that I wanted to express myself—comes from when I was young. I wanted to be a writer even though I had only written one paragraph. A friend introduced me to a publisher who said, “I like what you’ve written so far, and I’m coming back in two years—give me a novel.” To start, I told myself: Just be honest, say something that means something, and amuse yourself. Well, how do you do that? So I had to find out.
p.s. Hey. ** Charalampos Tzanakis, Hi. Montparnasse isn’t as pretty as Pere Lachaise by far, but it is packed with greats. I used to really like the Curve song ‘Coast Is Clear’. I saw them live once, and there was something about them that made me suspicious, I don’t remember what. Wow, I hope your Crete move went very smoothly. Mm, no, I think I’ve maximised whatever LA held for me creatively, not that I wouldn’t be able to write there, but I think I’m more interested in being away from there apart from visits. But I was there for a really long time. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Yeah, as cool as the haunted house I imagine my grave would be, I’m definitely not ready to sacrifice myself for it. I want to get a text like that! All love has to do for me today is to keep reminding me to print out some tax documents and sign them and FedEx them to the guy doing my taxes for me by 5 pm, ugh, G. ** David Ehrenstein, I am, of course, in total agreement with you. ** Minet, Hi. Ha ha, my favorite Rohmer film is one you don’t like: ‘The Green Ray’. I also really like the one that most other Rohmer fans don’t like: ‘Perceval le Gallois’. It’s true, people here seem to be talking about Rohmer a lot more recently. Curious, but good. I do like Hong Sang-Soo, yes. I think he’s even said Rohmer was a huge influence on him. How was the party? Hard to imagine you weren’t a big hit there given your magnificent sounding style choice. Who doesn’t like a ’77 street hustler! ** Wheeler Winston Dixon, Hi! Oh, it’s a great pleasure and honor to have you here. Amazing, that footage, but how tragic that it’s lost. I only had the chance to meet him once. His book ‘Taylor Mead on Amphetamine and in Europe’ is so great. Someone really needs to republish that. Thank you so much for commenting. Everyone, the blog had the honor of being intersected by the great filmmaker Wheeler Winston Dixon over the weekend. I did a post about his work, here, if you don’t know his work or, of course, if you do. ** Darbz, Hi. Typing while suppressing giggles must be hard work. So, I nailed you with my first guess! What were the odds. Sounds like you might want to be the protector of that boy in the program. Either that or stay far away from him. Hard to pick. My day has just started, so who knows. If you mean yesterday, I saw friends. We drank coffee while looking at the Seine. It was very nice. Oh, I’m 6’1″ so almost everyone seems short to me. I’m a bad judge. I keep trying to talk writers I know into titling their next book ‘Dead Kid’s Ass’ because that’s what I wanted to title my second poetry book before all of my friends talked me out of it, so maybe name your snake Dead Kid’s Ass? ** A, Thomas knows how to make a post. I fact, I think I will be getting one by him very shortly. New with me? Really, I’m just in limbo waiting to start editing the film. Everything just seems hazy right now. I’ve had good Greek food in Paris. I don’t think there are all that many venues featuring it here, but I’ve been satisfied, I think. I went to Greece once in, mm, I think the early 00s. I was in Athens and then about five islands. I didn’t like Athens at all. But seeing the very pollution-yellowed Acropolis on that hill in the middle of the very polluted city was kind of depressingly profound. I liked Santorini a lot, but who doesn’t. ** Misanthrope, For a long time I thought Animal Collective just made up that name Merriweather Post Pavilion. You will be having Freddy dreams for the rest of your very short life, yes. ** Ian, Hi, Ian. Good to see ya. I’m fine. Writers I know who have kids tend to tell me it takes about two years to get totally back in full-on writer’s mode. I’ll be in Paris all summer because I’ll be editing Zac’s and my new film pretty much every day from morning til night. Well, you managed to produce a recent piece! Excited to read it. Everyone, Very fine writer Ian Townsend has a new short fiction piece up at the tragical site, and I highly recommend you hit it up. It’s here. ** _Black_Acrylic, Taylor Mead is the epitome of the term singularity. Ongoing sorriness about Leeds’s slumping. Hugs. Yeah, I was never into the Spice Girls for even a fraction of a second. ** Steve Erickson, I ran into Udo Kier a few times when he lived in LA — maybe he still does — and he was always a least a little plotzed and it was almost always at the check out counter of some store where he was shouting at the clerk ‘Don’t you know who I am?!’. Everyone, Here’s Mr. Erickson’s review of Kassa Overall’s “excellent” jazz-rap album ANIMALS. Big up re: the lightbulb! ** Jamie, Hi. My weekend was pleasant and mostly uneventful apart from a more than pleasant meet up with friends. Nice about the Luther Price screening, yes. When I was in LA during the film preproduction I saw Balthazar Clementi host a screening of his dad’s totally amazing film ‘À l’ombre de la canaille bleue’, and that was great, but it had English subtitles. Taylor Mead is great one to investigate in depth should the mood strike. Next time you’re in Paris I’m going to make you come over and make me nachos. I have to do a bunch of paperwork for my taxes today so Monday might have a fairly big dollop of the manic within it. And yours? Parsimonious love, Dennis. ** Nick., Hi! It’s me again too! What a coincidence! Oh, shit, I’m glad you’ve put yourself back together successfully. Sorry about the near-murderous interlude. But it’s good to be shaken up or to hence be made to know right from wrong better or something maybe? Did your today hint at anything great? ** Nightcrawler, Her stuff in the 60s and 70s was pretty great, but now she’s a machine. But more power to her, you know. I don’t have AC so even indoors and even with movies as a companion is not the solution, but it’ll be sorted. Warhol’s films are great. I recommend ‘Chelsea Girls’ and ‘Lonesome Cowboys’ as starting places. I didn’t hit that film screening yet, but there are still a few days left to go. Tomorrow, I’m thinking. ** malcolm, Nice about the premiere! Yes, a screener would be most welcome whenever a screener becomes a thing. I have a bad habit, or maybe it’s a time saving device, of never looking for comments on the older posts, but if Alan Boyce possibly commented I will definitely make a beeline backwards. Huh. Annie’s makes vegan Mac & Cheese? Zac is obsessed with Annie’s M&C. Whenever we go to the States, he always brings back, like, ten boxes of it in his suitcase. You can’t buy it here. There’s something in the cheese sauce that’s illegal in France. (?!) Of course I’m a million percent encouraging re: your huge love letter monument to your friend. Might the public get a peek, or is it too personal? Love is good. Wow, is that like the most uninteresting sentence ever? But it’s true. See you soon! ** Today I’m putting all the blog’s eggs in the basket of the pop-expanding painter and novelist Rosalyn Drexler who I thought you should know or at least know exists if you don’t. Be at it, please. Thank you. See you tomorrow.