12 Comments

BAREFOOT HUMMINGBIRD


beato_harris_1

She lived a life that would have been considered outrageous even by today’s standards, but Beatrice Woods began her life in 1893 as a daughter of a wealthy, socially conscious family in San Francisco. Ultimately, it was her exposure to the arts that ruined her mother’s hopes for her in 1912, when Beatrice rejected plans for a coming-out party and decided she wanted to become a painter.

Supervised by a chaperone, Beatrice went to Paris to study, but it was in Giverney, home of Monet, that rebellious Beatrice ditched the chaperone and moved into an attic with her painted canvases.

220px-Beatrice_Wood_and_Marcel_Duchamp

Moving to Paris, she decided to become an actress, and while taking acting lessons, Beatrice became became part of a Bohemian group of artists, and where she was introduced to the artist Marcel Duchamp. “We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled. “He was an enchanting person.” Duchamp introduced her to Henri-Pierre Roche, a French diplomat, writer and art collector, who became her first lover. He was also the first man to break her heart. Beatrice had found herself surrounded by Bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. During this time she became known as the “Mama of Dada”.

“Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet she fell into a relationship with both men, and remained life-long friends with Duchamp. In 1953 Roche wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Jules et Jim, about a threesome, which some some erroneously suggested may have been inspired by the association of Woods, Duchamp and Roche.

In 1948, Beatrice moved to Ojai, California, to be close to the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. She built a home in the small peaceful village of artists a little south of Santa Barbara and surrounded by lovely rolling hills. There she taught and pursued her art for the next sixty years. At age 90, at the urging of her friend Anais Nin, she became a writer. Her most famous book is “I Shock Myself”.
220px-Beatrice_Wood_Luster_Chalice

I first became interested in Beatrice in 1985 while teaching a class in conceptual art and Marcel Duchamp, and when I learned that she was living in Ojai, I welcomed an opportunity to visit her.

If you want the local lowdown in Ojai, California, a resident says “People rarely ask what you do—they ask, ‘what brought you to Oja?’ I love that. Ojai is a beautiful sleepy small community of artists, farmers, and a few people who simply want to relax and enjoy life.

The prospect of seeing poppies drew us up into the green hills above the town. We had been graced with the sight of enormous 5 inch wide white flowers along highway 101, and Ojai thought enough of them to name a park Matilija—Ma-till-a-hah.

Matilija Poppies
Matilija Poppies, watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Winding up through the hills we came upon Beatrice’s little house where she lived, worked and had a small gallery of her work. The door was answered by a diminutive Indian man who introduced himself as “her humble servant.” Beatrice was momentarily engaged in another room but we saw her as she darted past the doorway like a barefoot hummingbird. Draped in colorful sari and Native American jewelry, she was an iconic figure, even better than I had thought

When she floated into the gallery and found my interest in art, her “humble servant” brought cups of tea and she described the art displayed in the room. She was quite open about her relationships with Duchamp and Roche, and introduced us to her German Shepherd dog,
Roche” who wandered into the room in search of a pat on the head.

Her sculptures were funky, funny and engaging and told a wry story of her life. One large piece was of a brothel on fire, with girls leaning out the front windows while a variety of men were pouring out the back doors. Beatrice explained that the men were “the mayor, the police chief, etc.” It was plain that her way to get even with the men who had hurt her throughout her life was to put them all in erratic or hazardous situations in her art.

To what did she attribute her longevity? Her stock answer was “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Beatrice Woods died in Ojai at the age of 105 in 1998.

Her personal and artistic style intrigued me, and I developed a number of pieces as a dedication to Beatrice.

Out Of The Woods
“Out Of The Woods” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Beatrice Lives
“Beatrice Lives” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Advertisements

12 comments on “BAREFOOT HUMMINGBIRD

  1. What an amazing story Kayti! What an amazing woman Beatrice was. Duchamp was the innovator, an artist extraordinaire, and fancy you meeting Beatrice after all those years. Again, a great story and well told and love your sculptures.I can see Beatrice in them!

    Like

    • Thanks Gerard. My daughter lives near Ojai, and when I heard Beatrice was a “neighbor” I looked her up, never thinking we would become occasional friends. Life gives us many opportunities. I did many of the funky sculptures ala Beatrice. She knew how to have fun!

      Like

  2. It was 1963. I was sitting on my bed, leafing through the latest “Time” magazine. I flipped a page and there it was: an article on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, with Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase: No.2.” I was completely transfixed, and have been for another fifty-two years. I still enjoy that painting. It’s worn well, unlike some others.

    Another modern artist I enjoyed was Joan Miro, whose work I was introduced to because it served as cover art for one of my Dave Brubeck albums.

    I’ve never heard of Beatrice, but any friend of Anais Nin could be a friend of mine. I need to do some exploring!

    Like

    • Duchamp’s “Nude” mad a big splash in 1913, but his “Fountain” made an even bigger one in 1917 at the Society of Independent Artists show. Both pieces launched the Dada movement and roused the interest of people otherwise disinterested in American art.

      I have a piece of handpainted silk using a painting of Miro. It’s lovely.

      Like

  3. Love this aunt Kayti !

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  4. Loved this piece Kayti, you have met some wonderful people in your life. 🙂

    Like

  5. Wow! What a woman. Wonderful tribute to her, Kayti. Imagine being the kind of person who has “humble servants”. I adore that pearlised chalice. Is it one of yours?

    Like

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: