Howardena Pindell on politics, painting and punching holes. By Gabrielle Schwarz
When, in the 1970s, Howardena Pindell was working as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – as the first African-American woman to serve in the museum’s curatorial department – she found she wasn’t always invited to events attended by her colleagues. ‘I was somewhat marginalised,’ she tells me. But there was an upside: ‘I could go home and work. I used the time wisely.’ During these evenings and nights, Pindell had been developing her own body of artistic work, some early examples of which are currently on display at Victoria Miro in Mayfair, along with more recent pieces.
The earlier works are all paintings: large-format, horizontal canvases covered with layers of tiny dots, spray-painted on through stencils made of hole-punched card. The resulting images are shimmering, multi-hued – like a Seurat landscape without any figures or forms on which to focus. This is an intentional echo: ‘I love Seurat,’ Pindell says. ‘And someone has mentioned to me Monet’s water lilies.’ It was through her encounters with these artists, and many others, while working at MoMA, that Pindell developed her fascination with colour and its effects – something she had already read up on, when undertaking her Master of Fine Arts at Yale University in 1965–67. ‘I studied [Josef] Albers’ colour course. And so I understood colour more than if I had not taken that course.’
Image: Howardena Pindell, Untitled, 1972
© Howardena Pindell