Dorothea Tanning

b. 1910, Galesburg, Illinois, USA. d. 2012 New York, USA


Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning, Early Politics, 1988


Dorothea Tanning was a pioneering artist who developed her own pictorial realm of domestic disquiet and dream-like spaces. Encountering surrealism in New York in the 1930s, she went on to produce highly influential paintings in the 1940s and 1950s involving aspects of self-portraiture, where the familiar was made strange, and desire and sexuality were brought to the fore. Over the subsequent decades Tanning experimented with abstraction, produced powerful installations of soft fabric sculptures, and was also a prolific poet. The painting Early Politics suggests, in an open-ended way, a dynamic of control, with the figure with raised arms in the foreground engaged in a ritual of sorts. A female figure seems to be in the process of being lifted from a blue slab into the sky, and a mysterious bug-eyed entity floats above. In interviews Tanning has suggested that the piece is a reflection on violence, and an affirmation of ‘the wonderful will of human beings to prove their ancestry over the forces of so-called civilisation’.