Stories of Dodd

I've just completed reading a book of the American artist Lois Dodd. Lois was a teacher of mine in graduate school at the City University of New York at Brooklyn College. She was born in 1927 and was instrumental in the post-war New York art scene as a Minimalist. Her contemporaries were Alex Katz and Faifield Porter.

 Lois is now 93 years old and still painting. I had the great pleasure of spending a good amount of time with her as a graduate student. I was part of the college's work-study program and worked as a darkroom assistant in the Brooklyn College art department. I had to do some work in the photolab, but also spent a lot of time in the teacher's offices talking with them. Lois was my favorite. She would be in her office preparing for a class or having her lunch and I would enter and we would talk. She never shooed me away and often stopped what she was doing to talk about anything. I made her laugh quite a bit and can vividly remember the way she would lean back, crinkle her eyes and laugh quietly.

Shed Window, Lois Dodd 


I had the great honor of visiting her apartment/studio on 2nd Avenue in the East Village of Manhattan. Her apartment was mostly studio. She had storage racks of paintings and, off to the side, a mat on the floor. This was her bed. She slept on the floor. She was a very simplified person. I had the occasion to help her fix-up her studio. We were painting the walls with white paint. She had one wall where a large window used to be but had been filled in with plywood. She complained to me that there was cold air coming through a crack at the edge of the plywood and wondered what to do. Before I could suggest filling it with caulk or insulation, she wandered over to her desk, grabbed a piece of white office paper, primed the wall around the crack, covered the crack with the paper and painted over it. "There," she said and moved on to paint the rest of the wall. It was then that I noticed she had used this technique repeatedly around the piece of plywood and in other places on the walls to keep out the cold.
 

Maine Woods, Small, Lois Dodd


She lived near the Amato Opera House and would arrange for her students to visit an opera every year. Amato was a small opera house with a very small stage. But the stage was deep and the scenery was always layered, dreamlike and complex. There was a very funny, short, older bald singer who was the comedy relief in every play. I was a young graduate student living in a very tough mid-1980's New York City. It was great fun and magical to find such a world in a very rough part of town, then to walk unconcerned through the cold winter's night, snow drifting down from the tall buildings above, to enter into this unique woman's home to share hot cider with class mates.
 

Lois Dodd 


At this point in time I couldn't tell you what classes Lois taught when I attended Brooklyn College. But I do remember what I learned from her. Minimalism is more than a style of painting. There is an art to being quiet and to not getting knocked off center even in the biggest baddest city on earth. That your art will be about you - always. And sometimes the most unconventional thing you can do is to do the same thing over and over again.