Sarah Boxer is the author of In the Floyd Archives: A Psycho-Bestiary and the editor of Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web. (December 2010)

‘I Work Against Ego’: The Art of Hedda Sterne

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Hedda Sterne, 1946

In “The Last Irascible,” my new essay in the The New York Review, I write about the idiosyncratic life of the hundred-year-old artist Hedda Sterne, drawing on an interview I recorded with her in 2003. Born in Romania in 1910, Sterne fled German-occupied Bucharest and eventually settled in New York, where she became one of the few women in a circle of Abstract Expressionist painters that included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline. But Sterne thought of herself as an anti-Abstract Expressionist, someone with no use for the cult of personality and personal gesture. Rarely did she paint a pure abstraction. In the 1960s she drew lettuce heads as crazy mazes, as if she were a worm inside, investigating. She pointed out that even her webby white-on-white drawings—made in the 1990s, when she was practically blind—represented the “floaters and flashers” across her field of vision. Although major museums acquired her work, and despite having one of the longest exhibition histories of any living artist (seventy years), she is hardly well known. Here is a selection of her work.

The Last Irascible

<i>Life</i> magazine’s portrait of the Abstract Expressionist artists known as ‘The Irascibles,’ 1951. 
Front row: Theodore Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Barnett Newman, James Brooks, and Mark Rothko; middle row: Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, and Bradley Walker Tomlin; back row: Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, and Hedda Sterne
At the summit of “The Irascibles,” Life magazine’s 1951 portrait of the Abstract Expressionist painters, stands an imperious-looking woman, the Romanian-born artist Hedda Sterne. She is the only female in the photograph and, in some sense, the most prominent figure—the “feather on top,” as she once put it. Now, at age one hundred, she is the sole survivor. “I am known more for that darn photo than for eighty years of work,” Sterne told me a few years ago. “If I had an ego, it would bother me.” Plus, she said, “it is a lie.” Why? “I was not an Abstract Expressionist. Nor was I an Irascible.”

Blogs

Two years ago, I was given a dreadful idea for a book: create an anthology of blogs. It could not be done, I was sure. Books are tight. Blogs are reckless. Books are slow. Blogs are fast. Books ask you to stay between their covers. Blogs invite you to stray.

His Inner Cat

We call him “Cat,” We call him “Crazy” yet is he neither. —George Herriman on the title character of Krazy Kat George Herriman’s comic strip Krazy Kat is its own country. The borders are forbidding and you have to accustom yourself slowly to its landscape and its …