“I believe art cuts across time. Art lives forever”, says abstract and pioneering photorealist artist Audrey Flack, in an interview during her one woman show at renowned New York gallery Hollis Taggart. Flacks work expresses some of the deepest struggles and commonalities in humanity, like mortality and a yearning for belonging and love. Flack’s life and career in art is the subject of co-directors Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman’s film Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack, and it is a fascinating examination of a singular artist, a woman who thrived in the nearly completely male-dominated art world of the 50s, changing the demographic and cultural landscape of 20th century art.
Anyone who is interested in hearing and seeing first hand the experience of a woman breaking the artistic glass ceiling will find the film compelling, not least because her story comes directly from the source.
Through interviews with Flack herself, as well as her closest friends and colleagues, and featuring pictures and archival footage representing her life, the film traces Flack’s background, career, and her personal insights. First there is a focus on her early experiences at New York’s High School of Music and Art and Yale, where she encountered sexual harassment from a successful artist whose name many would recognize. To see how she forges forward, regardless of how she is perceived by the critics and artists around her, should be inspirational to individualistic artists everywhere. Flack is clear about what drove her and the artists around her, including Jackson Pollock, Richard Estes, and Chuck Close, was artistic truth, not money. She was and still is seeking to speak about universal experiences of being human, always doing it from a feminist perspective. She was an art activist that paved the way for women like the activist artist collective, Guerrilla Girls.
Of course this meant she was often not taken seriously. Flack used photographs to create photorealistic art when it was considered ‘cheating’, although now it is common practice. Think, though, of how much more famous another artist who routinely used photographs, Chuck Close, became. Her work was insulted by art critics, at one point comparing it to illustration, which until very recently wasn’t even considered art, but a means to an end. Her response to that is to say, ‘Art is for the people. Who else is it for?”
There are so many more female artists than anyone knows about from the history books, and for those few that we do learn about, we are taught about elements in their lives that seem geared to diminish their importance or work. Flack speaks to that with her piece “Crazy Bad Girl” which features Camille Claudel.
Audrey Flack is an opinionated, feminist artist who not only continues to create but also to educate young artists. It’s a beautiful thing to know women like her are out there. It’s time her story is being told, and we have Shaffer and Reichman to thank for that.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars