Francesca Woodman, Space series, 1975-1978, Providence, Rhode Island.
I love this image above by Francesca Woodman, it is from her Space series. It intimates the fragility of our inhabitation of space and time. She made this series of images while she was a student at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Francesca Woodman had an amazingly productive but short life. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado (my home town) and studied at RISD, worked in Rome and in New York and made thousands of beautiful photographic images in her short life. In 1981 she killed herself by jumping from a loft window in New York City at the age of 22.
I am beginning to think about Francesca as one of my “heroines.”
a heroine is defined as…
– A woman admired for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
– The chief female character in a book, play, or film, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.
– In mythology and folklore – a woman of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose deeds were the subject of ancient Greek myths.
Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1972-1975, Boulder, Colorado.
I will be working on my “Heroines” project in both Portugal and Holland with photographer Luís Branco in April and May. I am assembling a pantheon of heroines, both ancient and modern… Aphrodite, Sappho, the female bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin and other women of historical, mythological and divine lore will be part of my pantheon. Of course surrealist writer, photographer and all round fascinating woman Claude Cahun is my heroine and inspiration for starting this project. I will choose several other modern women heroines as well. I might revisit surrealist filmmaker Maya Deren, and Ana Mendieta. And in the last weeks I have been looking at photographer Francesca Woodman’s work.
This is really the first time I have considered Woodman’s work in depth, even though her work is so well known. Perhaps her cult-like status deterred me and I had not seen the coincidence in our work until quite recently. A few weeks ago Mark Sink made the connection for me during a walk-through of my performative photographic work from Portugal with photographer Luís Branco at RedLine in Denver (thank you Mark!). It is an odd matching – because I am a 63-year-old woman artist who has only started performing in photographs and considering female subjectivity in this way in the last decade or so. Francesca was 22 years old when she committed suicide after making a huge body of remarkable work with herself as the subject and object of her work. I had steered clear of her work – after all I was not a “photographer” earlier in my artistic practice and I was also particularly saddened by her life story. I knew her parents, not well, but we have had a similar circle of artist friends. George and Betty Woodman both taught in the art department at University of Colorado Boulder. I had taken a class from George in the 80’s. Betty, a very well-known ceramic artist, had worked with my dear friend master printer Bud Shark up until her death in early 2018. Betty was exactly my mother’s age. And very much like my mother in her energy and amazing life force. Francesca was born in 1958, I was born in 1955. We both spent our early teenage years in Boulder, Colorado. She went to Rhode Island School of Design at 17 and went on to Italy to work and study. I went to Japan when I was 17 and studied the tea ceremony (in retrospect the ultimate “performance art”) then went on to live in Canada and study textiles. I became an artist at a much slower pace than Francesca, not going to actual art school until my mid-20’s and having children at a young age certainly slowed down my artistic practice. I have suffered bi-polar disorder (she must have suffered depression, not sure about bi-polar) but very luckily I got help in my 30’s.
Anyway she was a remarkable artist in her short life and I am looking at her work now with much more attention and connecting it to my own most recent performative work. There are threads that link the young woman artist Francesca and the older woman artist (me) who is emerging even now at this late stage. Of course as my dear Cydney Payton told me – my work is much more controlled than Woodman’s, but that is the purpose that my “heroines” serve, they help me to push the boundaries and ideas of my art practice.
Here are just a few images from Francesca Woodman’s remarkable body of work…
Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1976, Boulder, Colorado.
Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1972 – 1976, Boulder, Colorado.
Francesca Woodman, Verticale, 1976, Providence, Rhode Island.
Francesca Woodman, Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands, 1976, Providence, Rhode Island.
Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1976, Providence, Rhode Island.
Francesca Woodman, from the Space series, 1977, Providence, Rhode Island.
Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit #5, 1978, Rome.
Francesca Woodman, from the Eel series, 1978, Venice.
Francesca Woodman, self-portrait, 1978, Rome.
I am so happy to be looking at your remarkable work Francesca Woodman, even at this late date! Bless your talented and beautiful heart and soul.