The Artwork of Luchita Hurtado
Born in Maiquetia, Venezuela in November of 1920, Luchita Hurtado was a painter whose work, with its strong feminist and environmental themes, crossed many different cultures and art movements. Although her career spanned over eight decades, she only received wide recognition for her art towards the end of her life.
In her early years, Luchita Hurtado lived in New York City with her mother, older sister and aunts. She studied Fine Art at the Art Student League and volunteered at “La Prensa”, the largest and oldest daily Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, where she met her first husband, Chilean journalist Daniel de Solar. In 1938 at the age of eighteen, Hurtado married Daniel de Solar and had two children together. The family relocated to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic after an invitation with a request to start a newspaper arrived from Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic.
Returning to the United States, Hurtado and her family settled back in New York City where they associated with many artists and journalists, among whom were Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, artist and landscape designer Isamu Noguchi, surrealist artist and collector Wolfgang Paalen, and Japanese-American dancer Ailes Gilmour, who was Noguchi’s half-sister. In 1942, Hurtado divorced de Solar and subsequently married Wolfgang Paalen. Beginning in 1944, Luchita Hurtado produced window displays and painted murals for Bloomingdale’s, a luxury department store in New York City. She also did freelance work as an illustrator for the mass media company Condé Nast and worked as a muralist for the Lord and Taylor department store in the city.
In 1946, Luchita Hurtado and husband Wolfgang Paalen traveled to Mexico to research pre-Columbian art. A research article by Paaalen, with photographs taken by Hurtado, was published in the 1952 edition of the French literary and artistic journal “Cahiers d’Art”. After her divorce from Wolfgang Paalen, Hurtado moved to Los Angeles in 1951 with fellow painter Lee Mullican, whom she married in the late 1950s. Lee Mullican would remain with her until his death in 1998.
In 1970, Hurtado founded the feminist group, Los Angeles Council of Women Artists. She participated in their first exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art, “Invisible/Visible”, which was organized by multi-media artist Judy Chicago and sculptress Dextra Frankel. In 1974, Hurtado had a solo exhibition at the Woman’s Building, a non-profit arts and education center which focused the women’s movement and feminist art.
Except for her two exhibitions and work produced for Bloomingdale’s and Conde Nast, Luchita Hurtado’s artwork was largely unknown until 2015. Ryan Good, who was cataloguing the estate of Hurtado’s deceased husband Lee Mullican, found paintings signed “LH” among others in the collection. He showed these paintings to Paul Soto, founder of Los Angeles’s Park View Gallery, who gave Hurtado her second ever solo exhibition, “Luchita Hurtado: Selected Works, 1942-1952”, a two-month show which opened in November of 2016. Hurtado was ninety-six years old at the opening of the show.
With the recognition generated by the solo exhibition, Luchita Hurtado’s career erupted. Her work was included in the Hammer Museum’s 2018 “Made in L. A.” exhibition and received a good review from the L.A. Times and favorable critical reception. Hurtado’s paintings caught the attention of Hans Ulrich Obrich, a Swiss art curator and the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, two prestigious galleries located in central London. He gave Hurtado her first international solo exhibition entitled “Luchita Hurtado: I Live I Die I Will Be Reborn”.
Luchita Hurtado’s work contain elements from the avant-garde and modernist movements of the twentieth-century, including magical realism, abstraction, and surrealism. She used womb imagery in her works long before it appeared in the feminist art movement of the late 1970s. One of Hurtado’s best known series of works is the “I Am” images of the 1960s, self-portraits painted by her looking down at her own body. Taking up the issue of climate change, Hurtado painted more specific environmental themes, some of which contained block-lettered texts such as “Mother Earth” and “We Are Just a Species”.
Hurtado’s artwork depicting nude women contain loosely surrealistic forms that draw inspiration from pre-Columbian art, cave paintings, and abstraction in sculpture and paintings. Through her work, she focused attention on the edges of the body and the language used to bridge the gap between ourselves and others. Hurtado expressed this connection through images that coupled the intimate gestures of the body with the vastness of the sky and earth.
In February of 2020, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held a retrospective of Luchita Hurtado’s work. She remained active in the arts until her death, at the age of ninety-nine, in August of 2020. Hurtado was named as one of ‘Time” magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019. Her work is in many private collections and public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Note: An interesting article on the life of Luchita Hurtado, which includes early photographs and video of Hurtado discussing her life , can be found at the Whipple Russell Architects site located at: https://whipplerussell.com/blog/critically-acclaimed-in-her-90s-modernist-luchita-hurtado
Second Inser Image: Luchita Hurtado, “Birth”, 2019, Acrylic on Linen, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Luchita Hurtado, “Encounter”, 1971, Detail, Oil on Canvas, 12 x 243 cm, Hauser and Wirth Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Oresti Tsonopoulos, “Luchita Hurtado”, 2018