May Stevens

1924Dorchester, United States | 2019Santa Fe, United States
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May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

Sponsor
— Ryan Lee Gallery

American painter and writer.

Born to a working-class family in the Boston suburbs, May Stevens is an artist, poet, and teacher, whose strongly committed work uses an explicitly realistic style to denounce all kinds of abuses of power, from racism to sexism, and from imperialism to war. After studying at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston (1946), she pursued her training in 1948 in New York, where she met the artist Rudolf Baranik (1920-1998), whom she married that year and with whom she had a son. The couple moved to Paris, where Stevens attended the Académie Julian. She then discovered abstract expressionism upon returning to New York in 1951. She took part in collective exhibitions, worked briefly at the Museum of Modern Art, and began to teach art history. Her earliest works bore a political message from the start, in a style closer to illustration, with stripped-back human figures on plain coloured backgrounds. In her Big Daddy series (1967-1976), the figure of a man – a recurrent element in her work, drawn from a photograph of her father – symbolises the discriminations and imperialism of American society (Big Daddy Paper Doll, 1970).

Reading Linda Nochlin’s article “Why have there been no great women artists?” (Artnews) in 1971 led her to begin researching ancient women artists and to become involved in feminist struggles. In this sense, her painting Soho Women Artists (1978), a group portrait paying tribute to these figures, offers an alternative to a traditionally masculine history of art. In 1977, the painter contributed to the creation of the review Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Arts and Politics, the aim of which was to analyse art and politics from a feminist standpoint. In addition to her paintings (Sea of Words, 1990-1991) and publications, writing always plays a major part in her work. Stevens currently lives in Santa Fe (New Mexico) and paints increasingly lyrical pictures of waterscapes.

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Fanny Drugeon

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Big Daddy with Hats, 1971, silkscreen, 55.8 x 53.6 cm, 22 x 21 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Freedom Riders, 1963, gouache on paper, 121.9 x 152.4 cm, 48 x 60 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Big Daddy in Vietnam, 1968, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 101.6 cm, 60 x 40 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Untitled (Rosa/Alice Collage), 1976, collage, 22.9 x 28.6 cm,  9 x 11 1/4 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1977-78, acrylic on canvas, 198.1 x 360.7 cm, 78 x 142 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Ordinary Extraordinary II, c. 1982, serigraph, 30.5 x 55.9 cm, 12 x 22 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Go Gentle, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 198.1 x 360.7 cm, 78 x 142 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Forming the Fifth International, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 198.1 x 304.8 cm, 78 x 120 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Alice in the Garden, 1988-89, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 213.36 x 736.6 cm, 84 x 290 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Sea of Words, 1990-91, acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 332.3 cm, 84 x 132 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Water is a Gift, 2003, lithograph, 48.3 x 63.5 cm, 19 x 25 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

May Stevens — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

May Stevens, Skylight, 2006, lithograph, 54.6 x 74.9 cm, 21 1/2 x 29 1/2 in., Courtesy May Stevens and Ryan Lee Gallery, © May Stevens

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