Merrilyn Duzy - Biography – June 2019
Growing up was an adventure and a challenge. We lived in semi-rural Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley. I was born in 1946 to what was already a dysfunctional family. School became my big escape. I knew I was an artist from a very young age. I took care of my younger siblings, thus my little free time was reading and making art. That sense of self and purpose was my saving grace. Those early years of my family’s conflicts and my personal struggles became the source and impetus of my art.
My Visual acuity came early. One Easter, when I was three years old, I was given a basket of brightly dyed Easter eggs, and even now I see them vividly, brilliant blue, green, pink and yellow eggs. I remember the cold, dark green walls of my parents’ bedroom and the warm green pepper tree in our front yard. I remember the first box of Crayola I received: 64 magical colors! A new world opened up. I was enchanted with the dark night skies of mid-century Pacoima, with the canopy of shining stars; inspiring my life-long love of cosmic imagery and the wonder of our universe.
My Catholic upbringing sparked my spiritual self. It was also the stimulus for my erotic art. Around the time of puberty, I discovered religious literature. Images of the saints, in bondage and ecstasy, became entangled with changes in my body and my awakening sexuality. From then on, I was fascinated with the erotic.
With financial challenges and personal turmoil, it took ten years to complete my Bachelors of Fine Art at California State University, Northridge. School remained a safe and sane place. I’m forever grateful to the many good friends whose support and encouragement helped me survive and even thrive.
By the early 1970s, the feminist art movement came onto the social, political and cultural stage. I was working with erotic themes and reading about other women doing likewise, yet none of the current art books on erotic art included any women artists. My conclusion: “I’ll have to publish one myself.” Working with a photographer and writer, we began interviewing women who were tapping into their own sexuality, gender roles, and body image. Our book, “The New Art: Female Eroticism,” led to my curating several exhibitions on women’s erotic art. “Erotic Visions” in Westwood, California was the first such exhibit on the west coast.
The National Women’s Caucus for Art was formed in New York in the mid-1970s with regional chapters across the country. I joined the Southern California Chapter in 1976 and became President in 1980. For our National Conference in San Francisco, we created a performance titled, “Women Artists Past & Present.” We set out to showcase the work of women artists, to illustrate not only their art but also to highlight the absence of women artists in art history texts.
Learning about these artists so inspired me that I wanted to capture on canvas what I saw and experienced on stage. Thus my “Women Artists in History” series, paintings of contemporary women artists portrayed in the costumes and settings of their historical counterparts, was born. In 1982 I moved to the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where, in an effort to share this knowledge of women artists as widely as possible, I created my illustrated lecture, “Walking Through History: Women Artists Past & Present,” which I’ve presented from coast to coast and in several other countries.
Returning to California in 1986, I resumed my art studies at the Los Angeles’ Otis Art Institute, earning my Master of Fine Arts in 1988. I continued with portraiture at Otis, but I had a shock when my best portrait, of artist Peggy Mosheim, was stolen off the wall during a graduate exhibit. This so devastated me that I couldn’t bear to do figurative work for several years. Perhaps I should have been flattered that someone admired my work so much they committed a felony and risked going to prison to own it, but I much prefer they bought it.
I turned inward and found a renewal of my spiritual side with “The Creation Series,” including the paintings “Rho Ophiuchus: The Mother of Newborn Stars,” and “Back of Beyond.” The Creation Series led to large landscapes with a touch of eroticism, such as “Night Canyon,” which celebrates the sexual ritual of the sacred marriage between a god and a goddess.
A few years after graduation, I began painting portraits again. Starting with my portrait of Louise Bourgeois, whom I met during the years I worked on my women’s erotic art book. She and many of the artists I met while working on the book remained life-long friends.
During the years that followed, I painted, curated exhibits, lectured on the cosmos, erotica, spirituality and women artists, and taught courses in art, all of which I continue to do. With a special thanks to my husband, Howard Bentkower, I’ve been able to travel extensively throughout the world. I spent my vacations in many countries where he worked. I also traveled to even more countries, where I exhibited my artwork. Seeing art from diverse cultures, and the experience of traveling to so many places is the best education I could have.
One of the most rewarding relationships of my life was joining eight other San Fernando Valley-based women artists to form a collaboration. We are “Group Nine,” and we have been creating and exhibiting our artworks for more than 25 years. Our long and enduring friendships have added immense and profound experiences such that we each now have a second loving family.
I was described as being “Omni-directional” by my Otis advisor, Scott Grieger. This is true. My many, diverse interests, the people I know, the environment around me, the skies above---all of these are my ongoing subjects and themes for my art.
When asked what I want people to take away from my art, I simply want people to respond or relate to my work from their own personal experiences. When they do, I feel that I have succeeded.
Women Artists in History
The impetus for the "Women Artists in History" Series came from my participation in a performance on the lives and works of historical women artists. While standing in the wings waiting for my time on the stage, I saw Dona Geib playing the role of Gwen John, a 19c English artist. She was standing on stage, in a long white dress with mutton sleeves, in front of a projection of Gwen John's painting, "A Corner of the Artists' Room." It was as if Dona Geib was in the painting itself. At that moment I thought to myself, "wouldn't that make a wonderful painting." I began the series of contemporary women artists painted in the costumes and settings of their historical counterparts. Also inspired from that performance, I created the illustrated slide lecture, "Walking Through History: Women Artists Past & Present."
" The women artists paintings are a series of pictures, each completely different in style and handling, utilizing Merrilyn's personal friends as portrait stand-ins for historical figures... the paintings present a robust celebration in color and detail of an exclusive, lively, and friendly art history..."
"...highly theatrical in approach, each portrait is also a mise-en-scene of the period in which the artist once worked. Most depict a well-known painting by the character being played...such pictures open a window into a woman-centered world we do not often see, through the eyes of a first rate artist."
Mary Alice Cline
"LANGUAGE" &"LANGUAGE PALIMPSEST" SERIES
The "Language" and "Language Palimpsest” Series, are mixed media pieces on wood panels. They are comprised of paint, ink, paper, string and metallic dust. They involve language systems, sacred geometry, symbols, and cosmic imagery. In the two language series, I am exploring the methods of communication from the pictographs in cave paintings to the varied and different languages used throughout history. I’ve also added another love of mine, quotations. I have quotes on creation and the universe by artists, astronomers, poets and writers.
In researching different writing systems, I began to think about communication with other intelligent beings in our universe, and what elements would be the same. If we are subject to the physics of our known universe, such as: gravity, space and time, then wouldn't all entities be likewise bound? If so, would they also use symbols as a means of communication?
In some of the art works, the viewer must open the piece to see more of the graphic elements and quotations. This prompts the viewer to act upon and engage more fully in the art-work.
Further exploration of language systems, especially the most ancient ones, led to the "Language Palimpsest Series." The title of this series came from my sanding the bottom layers - leaving remnants and traces, which is the palimpsest. I've also included modern languages, along with the sacred geometry and various symbols used in different belief systems.
To read detailed descriptions of the “Language Palimpsest” series, please visit my web site, www.merrilynduzy.com
The "Cosmic Series" are mixed media works on Arches Paper. They combine a distillation of my love for astronomy, the universe and creation myths. The paintings are abstract manifestations of my spiritual self. In these paintings I've combined the graphic elements of languages, universal symbols, various photographic images and my observations of the night sky. The art works reflect the joy and awe I find in our vast universe, the myriad star stuff that we on earth share with all of those distant points of light.
When I was a young girl and looked into the night sky, the planets and stars were my vision of heaven. They drew from me a longing to be connected to a creator, to be part of a grand plan; the yearning of wanting to know who am I and why am I here? Today, as an adult, I still embrace the awe and deep feelings from looking into the vastness of the night sky, but now I add to my initial curiosity and longing to the knowledge gleaned from reading and study. From this ongoing fascination I am able to create many diverse art works.
From the review of "Quarks to Quasars" (1997)
...Duzy's work... deals directly with familiar and perhaps romantic visual stimuli of the star-filled night sky. (such as "Back of Beyond and "Rhythmatics on the Cosmic Stage,") Duzy takes her space impetus fairly seriously, as a subject at once untouchable and more real than a newspaper.
"...Space. per se, makes rare appearances in fine art settings, possibly in part because of our own fear of its magnitude and inscrutability. It's something we take for granted admire in awe, and sometimes cower beneath, duly humbled. Maybe it's high time more artists gave it the time of day."
"Duzy has derived the whirling shapes and colors of her painting "Maya" - which means illusion in Hindi - from an image she created on a computer. The foundation of the computer image was a photograph of Duzy twirling around (masked) in a cape by Mario Casilli, which she scanned into the computer.
The painting, though, with its glittery matter sprinkled about to convey a buoyant, starry atmosphere, presents a tangible texture that is not available from a computer image.
"Color is of primary importance in the work of Merrilyn Duzy. It Resonates within her paintings and enhances her responses to nature. Her landscapes are part of continuing investigation into the creation of Earth. She says of her work, "...with lush color and moving lines I imbue the work with the universal emotions we get when we are in tune with nature."
"I work in a variety of mediums and with a broad range of subjects. Among those are collages made with the refuse of our media rich society. The collages also stem from my childhood where magazines were my main source of visual stimulation. The variety of subjects, shapes and colors lend themselves to fanciful juxtapositions. The playful exuberance, humor and diverse images afford me endless opportunities for my collaged subjects and themes".