Painter and mixed media artist, curator, and educator
Known for the wide variety of techniques and materials used in her artwork, Howardena Pindell has created abstract paintings, collages, "video drawings," and "process art." Her work explores texture, color, structures, and the process of making art; it is often political, addressing the issues of racism, feminism, violence, slavery, and exploitation. She has exhibited her work almost constantly since the 1970s and has held fellowships and appointments at several major institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Foundation. Pindell is primarily an abstract painter and her mature work has helped to redefine painting since the 1970s. Her work goes beyond paint on canvas to include three-dimensional objects and even mutilated canvases that she stitches roughly back together; she has also created mosaics and murals for public spaces. Pindell has won many awards, including the Women's Caucus for Art award for Distinguished Contributions and Achievements in Arts. Besides being a practicing artist she has worked as an exhibition curator and, since 1979, a teacher at Stony Brook, State University of New York (SUNY). In 1984 she became professor of drawing and painting at Stony Brook.
Howardena Pindell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 1943, the daughter of Howard and Mildred (Lewis) Douglas. She decided she wanted to be an artist at the age of 12 and was encouraged by her parents to study fine art at college. She attended Boston University, graduating with a BFA in 1965, followed by an MFA from Yale University in 1967. After graduating from Yale she became a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and began to establish herself as an artist.
Pindell's early works were mostly of urban scenes, but she soon began to produce abstracts and developed an interest in texture, form, and geometry. Several of her important works from the 1970s are produced on graph paper. She has been described variously as having links with "pointilism" (a form of painting where non-primary colors are created by placing dots of primary colors close together), "minimalism" (a style of art in which beauty is thought to exist in the materials themselves), and "process art" (where the process of producing the work is made clear in the work itself). Pindell's pointilist background is evident in canvases from the 1970s on which she scattered colored clippings taken from a hole punch. In a review of a 1994 Pindell retrospective at the Kenkeleba and the Alternative Museum, New York City, David Bourdon wrote: "By 1974, Pindell developed a more three-dimensional and more personal form of pointillism, wielding a paper punch to cut out multitudes of confetti-like disks, which she dispersed with varying degrees of premeditation and randomness over the surfaces of her pictures."
Pindell's first important exhibition was at Spelman College, Atlanta, in 1972 and she has exhibited in almost every following year for over 30 years, either as a solo artist, or in a group exhibition. In the 1970s and 1980s she was often aware that she had been selected for exhibition as a token black among a group of other artists, and she spent a great deal of time researching and analyzing the status of black painters in the mainstream art world. In the 1990s she painted a series of "word" paintings, in which her body in silhouette is overlaid with words such as "slave trade," while an earlier work about South Africa features a slashed canvas roughly stitched back together and the word "INTERROGATION" laid on top. In 1980 she made a video called Free White and 21, in which she appears in a blonde wig, dark glasses, and with a pale stocking over her head as a caricature of a white woman.
These edgy works have brought her a great deal of criticism, but writing in Artforum International Martha Schwendener suggested that even Pindell's less obviously political work is laced with political experience. Pindell's awareness of the personal and political implications of being black can be traced back to a road trip taken with her parents in the 1940s when she learned that roadside root beer sellers marked cups to be used by blacks with a red circle. Schwendener makes a link between this event and Pindell's later artistic interest in points, circles, numbers, and astronomy, arguing that "even the most abstract-looking design may be tied to a structure of infinite complexity, as it is in astronomy, or social injustice."
Pindell continued to work as a curator at MOMA until 1979 when she became associate professor of art at State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. The death of her mother in 1991 inspired a series of works about memorials and she continues to diversify into new art forms, such as video painting and other kinds of installations. She has also continued to educate herself for the sake of her work, studying astronomy at the New School as part of her second DFA degree. Pindell is the recipient of many awards. In 1987–88 she was a Guggenheim Fellow, and received the College Art Association Best Exhibition/Performance Award 1990. In 2000 she received the IAM Pioneer award. In the 1990s she had a traveling retrospective exhibition and several exhibitions at the George N'Namdi Gallery in Chicago, Illinois, and Birmingham, Michigan.
The Heart of the Matter: The Writings and Paintings of Howardena Pindell, Midmarch Arts Press, 1997.
"Mandaleo Yaa Wanawake, The Progress of Women," Feminist Art Journal, Winter 1973–74, p. 17.
"Collette Omagvai, Nigerian Printmaker," Women Studies Journal (United Kingdom), 1979.
"Criticism or Between the Lines," Heresies, January 1980, pp. 2-4.
"Some Reminiscences," Kaleidoscope, Winter/Spring 1996, pp. 12-16.
At a Glance …
Born Howardena Pindell on April 14, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA. Education: Boston University, BFA, 1965; Yale University, MFA, 1967; Massachusetts College of Art, DFA, 1997; New School/Parsons School of Design, DFA, 1999.
Career: Museum of Modern Art, New York City, curatorial assistant, 1969–71; Museum of Modern Art, assistant curator, 1971–77; Museum of Modern Art, associate curator department of prints and illustrated books, 1977–79; SUNY, Stony Brook, associate professor of art, 1979–84; SUNY, Stony Brook, professor of art, 1984–.
Memberships: Arts Council African Studies Association; College Art Association; International Association of Art Critics; International House of Japan.
Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1972–73; Japan/U.S. Friendship Fellow, 1981–82; Ariana Foundation grantee, 1984–85; Boston University, Alumni Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession, 1983; Guggenheim Fellow, 1987–88; College Art Association Best Exhibition/Performance Award 1990; Artist Award, Studio Museum of Harlem, 1994; Joan Mitchell Painting Award, Joan Mitchell Foundation, 1994–95; Women's Caucus for Art Award for Distinguished Contributions and Achievement in Arts, 1996; Community Service Award New York State United Teachers, 1998; Juneteenth Award, Heckscher Museum, 1999; IAM Pioneer Award, 2000.
Addresses: Agent—George N'Namdi Gallery, 161 Townsend, Birmingham, Michigan. Office—SUNY/Stonybrook, Art Department, Stony Brook, NY, 11794-0001.
Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, 1972.
Douglas College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.
Michael Rockefeller Memorial Gallery, SUNY, Fredonia, New York, 1974.
Howardena Pindell: Video Drawings, Cincinnati Art Academy, Ohio (travelled to Denmark, Norway, and other U.S. locales), 1977.
State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1979.
Miami-Dade Community College, 1986.
Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, 1986.
Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan, 1986.
Grove Gallery, SUNY, Albany, New York, 1992.
Retrospective (travelled from 1992 to 1995 throughout U.S.), 1992.
Bethal College Art Gallery, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1996.
Art Gallery, Suffolk Community College, New York City, 1997.
American Visions, April 1996.
Art in America, March 1994, p. 101.
Artforum International, September 2004, p. 272.
New York Times, October 21, 1990, Long Island sec., p. 2.
"Digital Archive: Pindell," Paul R. Jones Collection, www.museums.udel.edu/jones/archive/archive_pages/artist_pages/pindell.html (September 27, 2005).
"Howardena Pindell," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (September 26, 2005).
Stony Brook University, SUNY, www.art.sunysb.edu/pindell.html (September 27, 2005).
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