A photo-realist painter of popular images,
Audrey Flack was committed to the idea that the greatest art is that which
can be understood by the masses of people. She had major influence in
the revitalizing of still-life subjects in the 1970s and 1980s, and unlike
most photo-realist painters was emotionally committed to her subject matter.
She regarded emotional commitment as part of being feminine, something
of which she is proud.
Flack was one of the first painters to acknowledge that she referred to
photographs when painting and would project photos from slides onto her
canvases, painting over the images. She began working in a representational
style when Abstract Expressionism was dominating the art world. She is
especially committed to subjects of strong-minded women, eschewing oppression,
and openly associated with feminine objects such as finger-nail polish
and china cups.
Flack was raised in Washington Heights, New York and graduated from Cooper
Union in 1951. Josef Albers, then the new chair of the Yale University
School of Art and Architecture, actively recruited her as part of his
attempt to upgrade the quality of the students in that department. But
determined to be a realist, she fought with Albers continuously, rebelling
against his aggressive and exclusively taught theories of hard-edged geometric
expression. She earned a B.F.A. degree from Yale, and some said it was
only by armed truce with Albers that she graduated.
Seeking strong, realistic anatomy training, she enrolled in the Arts Student
League where she studied with Robert Beverly Hale and developed a unique
figural style, often painting with Philip Pearlstein. She openly made
fun of what she regarded as the male chauvinist, groupie behavior of the
New York School of abstract-expressionist painters. She exhibited in the
1950s and often the only representational artist in the group, was perceived
as hopelessly middle class in her appeal.
In the early 1960s, Flack began to copy black and white photographs, and
her painting "Kennedy Motorcade," was the first color photo
from which she copied. Because this photo so closely resembled the photo,
she was much criticized by other photo-realist paintings. However, she
countered that photos were just another aspect of reality.
By 1970, she was projecting color slides onto her canvases and began to
do what became her trademark work, large-scale sensuous, vivid figure
and portraits paintings and complex still lifes with gambling and religious
iconography. Her work, often done with airbrush, is rarely smaller than
six feet in height and width, because of the size, confrontational subject
matter, and bright colors was often shocking to viewers.