‘The Artists’ Muse’: Patty Grazini Recreates History in Paper Sculptures
Picasso, Rembrandt, Matisse — these names and others are considered artistic canon, memorialized not just by history but known by almost every human being on the planet. Their works, of course, are taught in schools for a reason.
But behind each of these men was a woman, who was a muse for some of their most famous work.
That idea is the theme of paper sculptor Patty Grazini’s latest work, The Artists’ Muse. Recently showcased at Seattle’s Curtis Steiner Gallery, the artist — whose past work has been featured in the likes of the Seattle Stranger and The Huffington Post — challenges what many of us may know about art history by showing the “other side” of some of Western civilization’s most well-known pieces.
Women who served as muses such as Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal (muse for Rossetti), Bella Rosenfeld (Chagall), Saskia van Uylenburgh (Rembrandt), Camille Doncieux (Monet), Dora Maar (Picasso) and others are represented. For each piece, Grazini displays a famous painting — such as Picasso’s Femme a L’Oiseau, and then recreates the outfits the muse wore, and important personal effects, in the form of paper sculpture. Collected and “found” paper of all types is used, with the project taking the better part of a year.
After deciding to take notes with an old-fashioned pen and notepad instead of a voice recorder, GALO recently had a chance to catch up with Grazini. Here’s what she had to say.
GALO: The Artists’ Muse features recreations of some of the most famous works of art in the Western world, such as Picasso’s Femme a L’Oiseau. What was the inspiration for this? Was your choice based off your personal preferences?
Patty Grazini: I often visit museums, and especially when traveling. When I see a painting that moves me, I can’t help but wonder about the model, who she was, and her relationship with the artist; the theme of an artist and his muse, seemed very satisfying, both in the work and the research.
GALO: Why, or rather how, were the muses of the particular artists chosen, like Dora Maar for Picasso?
PG: Picasso had a number of muses and lovers, so it was a little more difficult to select one woman. Also, since his work is abstract, for me, it was more about selecting the person than a particular painting. I finally decided on Dora Maar. She was a talented photographer who was absolutely in love and obsessed with Picasso. She seemed like a very complex and interesting individual to research.
GALO: How has this project differed from your previous projects, such as the exhibitions of New York criminals or the life of Elizabeth Lyska? I know that the size of the sculptures is one difference across the board, but is there anything else in the story of the sculptures or the theme behind them that puts each on its own pedestal?
PG: The two previous shows were much more open-ended. I drew from my own imagination when creating each figure or object. The criminals were based on actual newspaper articles that I found in the New York Times from the 1880s to 1915. I printed and mounted the article to accompany each criminal. However, there was nothing visual for me to use as a reference. The next project was to depict the life and times of Elizabeth Lyska. Elizabeth was a giantess who lived and traveled the theater circuit in Europe toward the end of the 1800s. I made Elizabeth out of paper at her actual height of 7-foot-2. She was challenging to create (and transport!). There was very little personal information about her, aside from her astonishing height. I built a show around her and around objects that it would have been possible for her to own during her very short life. My son, a writer, fabricated stories about each object. These objects were such things as a music box, various jewelry, and smelling salts, all created in paper, with minute detail.
In my most current work, featuring the muses, I wanted each piece to reflect an original work of art, but with extreme detail and for it to be made out of paper. My goal was to create a mirror of the original artwork that looked as though the painting had been disassembled and laid out for the viewer in miniature. First, I tried to accurately recreate the period clothing in paper. Often it was necessary to dye, print or manipulate the paper, to the best of my ability to resemble the fabric in the painting. Next, I focused on items in the artwork and recreated them as part of the diorama. Some of these objects were very small and difficult to make; a bouquet of flowers, a tiny mirror and hair brush, a discarded hat, and two little dogs. It is important for me to have extreme detail in my work, and I enjoy the challenge.
There were a few paintings that relied entirely on my own imagination. Picasso was the most extreme example. I wasn’t able to tell from the artwork what Dora Maar might have been wearing. I finally settled on a red bullfighter’s cape for a skirt, and gave her a camera, as Dora Maar was a known photographer. I wasn’t sure what the decoration was in her hat, but it looked like a palm tree to me, so this is what I decided to make. Finally, to accompany each piece, I included a short biography for the muse, her life, and her relationship with the artist. I wanted to create a personal narrative, in order to make the muse come more alive. My son and I collaborated on the writing.
GALO: What’s been the greatest challenge with The Artists’ Muse? I assume the painstaking attention to detail can be laborious at times, especially when dealing with a material as delicate as paper.
PG: With all of my work, research is an important part, as the starting point and inspiration. It was very difficult to find the earlier muses. There is almost nothing recorded about the models, unless the muse was the wife of the artist. Frequently, I was able to find a painting that I really liked and wanted to portray, but often there was no information about the model, not even her name. Another challenge was recreating the artwork to a very small scale. I made the tiniest details wearing a pair of magnifying glasses, and using tweezers to hold the paper.
GALO: You have mentioned numerous times that research is an important aspect to your work. What was the research process for The Artists’ Muse like? Compared to the artists themselves, there sometimes is only scant information about some of the women.
PG: When I started this project, there were some obvious choices for me. I focused on the work of my favorite artists, studied their artwork and searched for a frequent muse or model. I wanted to create a strong body of work for the viewer, who perhaps, like me, had wondered about the woman in the painting. Most of the women are virtually unknown. As I progressed with my artwork, I continued to research, looking for subjects that differed from the time periods and countries in which I was working. I really wanted the group to have a broad range showing variety in theme, time period, and clothing. I also wanted to focus not only on the famous artist and muse, but lesser known artists as well, perhaps giving the viewer a new discovery.
GALO: About how long did it take to create all the sculptures for The Artists’ Muse?
PG: It took me about nine months to create this group. I work every day and sometimes on weekends.
GALO: Some artists don’t play favorites, as they take their artwork to represent a whole, rather than individual fragments. I have to ask, do you have a favorite piece you created, and, if so, why that one specifically?
PG: It’s hard to choose for me. I have different reasons for liking each piece. The dress of Saskia, Rembrandt’s muse, was the most complicated. Rembrandt painted her as Flora, the goddess of flowers. I made the tiniest flowers that I have ever made for Saskia’s costume. I dyed and hand colored the paper for her dress. It was a painstaking piece of work to create, but very satisfying in the end. Another favorite is Jeanne Hébuterne. I was really moved when researching her life. She contended with so much as the lover and muse of Modigliani. She took her own life and that of her unborn child less than two days after Modigliani died. She is nearly forgotten, although she was also a gifted artist. The piece that I made for her is really very simple, but for me it has great meaning. I thought about her constantly while I was working.
GALO: What’s the reception from the public and the art community been like? Have museums or galleries responded to the artwork in any way, perhaps showcasing interest in showcasing your work alongside the original paintings?
PG: The reception has been very good. Three of the muses have been purchased by a local art museum.
GALO: Since the exhibit has already come to an end, what are you planning to do next? More paper sculptures? What time period might you decide to explore through your artwork now?
PG: I would like to return to my favorite time period, the last part of the 19th century, and base my next project in that era. This show was really fascinating, and I learned a lot. In other ways it was a little restrictive, since my work was based on someone else’s art. I am looking forward to starting another group that I can begin work with, a freer and more open-ended approach.
For more information about the artist and her work, please visit http://pattygrazini.com/.
Featured image: A piece centered on Manet for “The Artists’ Muse” exhibit by Patty Grazini. Photo Credit: Patty Grazini.