Gallery Wendi Norris now represents modern artist Alice Rahon

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Gallery Wendi Norris now represents modern artist Alice Rahon
Alice Rahon, Painting for a Little Ghost Who Couldn't Learn to Read, 1947, oil and sand on canvas, 35 1/4 x 28 13/16 inches (89.5 x 73.2 cm). Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Gallery Wendi Norris announced representation of distinguished visual artist and poet Alice Rahon (1904-1987). Rahon worked among European Surrealists both in Paris and Mexico City from the 1930s through 1975. Gallery Wendi Norris will present a solo exhibition of Rahon’s work in early 2021, her first solo gallery show since 1965 in conjunction with the Getty Research Institute’s acquisition of the artist’s archive, and the New York Review of Books’ publication of her entire oeuvre of poetry.

“I have known and admired the work of Alice Rahon for many years,” said Norris. “It fits seamlessly into the gallery program, given our 18-year experience working with Rahon’s friend, Leonora Carrington, her ex-husband Wolfgang Paalen and her contemporaries Dorothea Tanning and Remedios Varo. Although she is considered one of the most important and versatile artists working between Mexico and the United States in the mid-twentieth century, it became apparent that it is long past time to give Rahon her place in the spotlight.”

Little is known of Rahon’s childhood, but a brief account of her early years reveals an independent and charismatic young woman of prodigious talent. At some point during her twenties she moved to Paris, where she created hats for the Surrealist-influenced fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. She was introduced to Man Ray, for whom she modeled, and became friends with Joan Miró. In 1931 she met the Austrian painter Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959), who brought her into the circle of Surrealists led by André Breton. She and Paalen were married in 1934.

Between 1936 and 1941 she published three volumes of poetry under her married name, Alice Paalen, featuring artworks by Miró, Yves Tanguy and Paalen. In 1939, Frida Kahlo invited her to Mexico. With war on the horizon, she and Paalen made their way to Canada and then down the Pacific coast, visiting the indigenous artworks of the American West en route to Mexico City, where she remained for the rest of her life, becoming a naturalized citizen.

In Mexico City, under the tutelage of Paalen and in the company of émigré Surrealists including Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, Rahon took up visual art. One can see the influences of her friends Paul Klee and Miró in her early paintings, but her deepest inspirations arise from the anonymous artists of Altamira and the indigenous artists of the Americas. When asked which school of art she belonged to she answered: ‘I think I am a cave painter’.

Utilizing various media (ink, gouache, crayons, sand, volcanic ash, iron wire) and found objects (feathers, leaves, butterfly wings), Rahon created images rooted in landscapes, redolent of timelines, and abundant with magic and ritual. She made a practice of sgraffito, scratching through the surface of her paintings to reveal a lower layer of contrasting color. “Her magical and primitive universe, often painted in an extremely luminous blue, as in La Ballade pour Frida Kahlo (1956), creates a marvelous geography in which birds become islands (Oiseau sur la ville, 1943), rivers become partitions (Le Fleuve Papaloapán, 1947), and women become volcanos (La Femme qui neige, 1945), amongst other unpredictable metamorphoses,” says Leila Jarbouai, Heritage Curator at the Musée d’Orsay. The result is an iconography that is at once universal and personal, mysterious and immediate, abundant with stories and secrets.

Once she started painting, Rahon was recognized almost immediately as an accomplished artist. The San Francisco Museum of Art (now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) presented the first of two solo museum exhibitions of her work in 1945. Over the course of her lifetime, Rahon would create over 500 works of art and go on to exhibit widely in the United States and Mexico, as well as in Paris and Lebanon. She exhibited regularly with prominent galleries that included Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in New York, Caresse Crosby in Washington, D.C., Stendhal and Copley Galleries in Los Angeles, and Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City. Rahon’s work is currently in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City; the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis, MO; the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX; and the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, MA, among others. The Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City presented a solo Rahon exhibition in 1986, the year before her death.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Rahon’s visual and written work over the last decade, catalyzed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 2012 show In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. The Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City presented a retrospective of Rahon’s work in 2009. A subset of that exhibition was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami in 2019-2020, her first solo museum exhibition in the United States since 1953. Her work has also been featured in various museum exhibitions of Surrealism and Mexican modernism, including Fantastic Women at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek (2020); Modern Couples at the Centre Pompidou-Metz (2018); México 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco y las vanguardias at the Grand Palais, Paris, and the Dallas Museum of Art, TX (2017); Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2016-2017); Frida Kahlo: Conexões entre mulheres surrealistas no México, at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo, the Caixa Cultural Rio de Janeiro, and the Caixa Cultural de Brasília (2015); and Farewell to Surrealism: The DYN Circle in Mexico at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA (2012-2013).

In 2012, Aubé Breton Elléouët, the daughter of André Breton, produced a documentary on Alice Rahon’s life and work entitled Alice Rahon, l’abeille noire (Alice Rahon: The Black Bee).

In December 2020, NYRB Poets will release a comprehensive collection of Rahon’s poetry, translated by Mary Anne Caws, that includes newly discovered letters and poems from Picasso, Breton, and Paalen, among others.

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