Editor's note: The following biography and essay were rekeyed and reprinted on August 27, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Penny Schmidt, Director of the former Schmidt-Bingham Gallery in New York City. The biography was previously included in a six page Laband Art Gallery gallery guide for the exhibition Drawing Attention: Joyce Treiman on Paper, being held at the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University from September 14, 2002 through November 16, 2002. The essay was previously included in an eight page illustrated publication for the traveling exhibition Drawing Attention: Joyce Treiman on Paper. Images accompanying the text in the gallery guide and the publication for the traveling exhibition were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the biography or essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of either publication accompanying the exhibition, please contact the Laband Art Gallery through either this phone number or web address:
Drawing Attention: Joyce Treiman on Paper
by Michael Duncan, Los Angeles editor of Art in America
In Incident I (1983), a bleary-eyed woman in pajamas and slippers stands before a corpse on a gurney, broadcasting her alarm to the backs of two younger figures, one with hair covering his face, the other completely shrouded. The woman loudly activating this wake-up call is one of the many self-portrait depictions of Joyce Treiman, whose off-kilter, exquisite drawings continue to startle viewers into shaking back their hair and unsheathing their eyes. "Look," the artist seems to shout, "Look while you still live."
Paper, pencil, and pastels were the most immediate instruments at hand for Treiman's fierce visual onslaught. Never emotionally succumbing to the anomie she often depicted, Treiman was an advocate of pure physicality, happy to celebrate such visceral extremes as the showgirl glitz of Vegas and the thumb-in-your-eye theatrics of All Star Wrestling. The visual stimulants of color, line, and motion often animate as well her homages to the history of art. In Study for Turner and Me (1978), against jagged smudges of rough water, Treiman foregrounds depictions of herself and the British master, cut off from each other, both lost in romantic isolation. Fully indulging in the spontaneous nature of the monotype technique, the portrait of friend and mentor Raphael Soyer (1986), for example, reveals her respect for the master of social realism -- not through an emulation of his pristine line drawing -- but in blunt daubs and wild streaks of sea-green and blue.
Treiman experimented with more abstract figurative shapes in her lithographic portfolio, The Mirrored Couple (1961). Taking her cue from Blaise Pascal's tough-minded tribute to "the glory and the sham" of mankind, she presented a cast of comically clotted, misshapen figures who reflect self-deceptive, lumpish vanities. Generally fearless, Treiman never cowered from the bottom line. In her eerie Untitled (1962) etching, looming over one of the shoulders of a creepy man in an overcoat is a gleaming, disembodied skull.
The indefatigable presence of death imbues with poignant tenderness her beautifully rendered 1983 drawings of her deceased mother Rose. In Treiman's virtuoso allegorical drawing The Plumed Helmet: Study for "The Parting" (1982), the artist -- looking back at us in sunglasses, green pants, and a plumed helmet borrowed from Rembrandt -- seems to register an unlikely resurrection: that of a blonde, ghost-like Rose dressed as a young flapper. Joyce's skeptical, world-weary expression renders comic this apotheosis of her much missed mother. In the background, a redheaded woman in flounced dress suggests a kind of Dulcinea to Treiman's Quixote, augmenting the drawing's air of failed missions and impossible rebirth.
The elusiveness of Treiman's allegories keeps them vital, inviting viewer speculation in their disparate stories and enigmatic juxtapositions of characters. In the early 1980s, the "Joker" pops up in a variety of contexts and settings, teasing and taunting the earnestness of her enterprise. In one drawing, a shirtless Joker with eyes closed and mouth agape taunts a couple of hooded monks. In another, a dapper moustached Joker in blue bowtie swaggers behind a laconic, contemplative cowboy. In another, a younger "Street Joker" in a green Hawaiian print shirt grins as he stalks away from a pointing accusatory finger, flaunting his freedom. A repository of irritations, the Joker is Treiman's iconoclastic sop, the representative of spirited meanspiritedness and a source of perverse energy.
Joyce Treiman's self-portrait drawings encapsulate the conflicts and ambitions that animated her work. One 1975 etching portrays her as slightly dotty, staring over crooked half-glasses, A 1983 pencil drawing of her stretched out full-length on the ground is hung upside-down, so that her foreshortened body seems to angle back, as if toppling forward toward her viewers. A 1989 charcoal and pastel conveys a more finely-tuned, contemplative spirit, lit up by a mane of red smears and smudges. Finally, an undated self-portrait on a copper etching plate depicts Treiman's special recurring headache. She is seen holding her temples, set off against a background ringing with the branded letters "ME." Nagging self-reflection and healthy doubt was the alarm that kept Treiman fully conscious and alert to nuances through sixty-nine years of living and looking. As translated on paper, what she saw then continues to help us see more now.
Michael Duncan, 2001
Biography of Joyce Treiman from Laband Art Gallery's gallery guide.
Joyce Treiman (1922-1991, began her art education at age eight by taking children's classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. She later studied under Philip Guston at the University of Iowa, earning a BFA in 1943. One of the earliest exhibitions of her drawings was held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947.
Treiman relocated to Los Angeles in 1960 and began showing her work throughout California. During this time, the American art world was in turmoil, rejecting Abstract Expressionism, embracing Pop and Op Art, then moving toward Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Throughout the myriad arrivals and departures on the American art scene in the latter half of the 20th century, Treiman remained focused on figuration in her drawings, prints and paintings -- finding inspiration in art history rather than in short-lived trends. For her, the work of JMW Turner, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and other masters was alive in the present -- so much so, that Treiman had no qualms about painting and drawing mysterious, evocative and funny narratives in which she and the artists she admired appeared together. Reflecting upon her career, the artist once described herself as "a humanist who portrayed themes that encompassed tragedy and comedy."
Of her artistic media, Treiman felt the strongest about drawing. She once told Christian Science Monitor art critic Theodore Wolff, "I don't know what will happen to my paintings; I think that they will be appreciated. But I know my drawings will last!"
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University in Resource Library Magazine.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
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