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Dorr Bothwell

American
(1902–2000)

Stag's Heart
1946

Collage with gouache on board
26.5 x 32.5 in. (67.31 x 82.55 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
2003.2

A seasoned world traveler, Dorr Bothwell applied her broad knowledge of decorative arts to paintings and prints that are extremely sophisticated and well designed. In the early 1920s she studied at the California School of Fine Arts with Gottardo Piazzoni, whose segmented, subtly hued landscapes proved to be a major influence on her work. In 1928 she traveled alone to American Samoa, where she lived for two years making block prints, drawings, and watercolors. She later studied art history and painting in England, France, and Germany, where she became conversant with surrealism. Returning home, she taught color and design in San Francisco, focusing in her own work on intriguingly enigmatic, symbolic paintings with private significance. Bothwell brought an extraordinary variety of media and techniques into her practice. Conversant with traditional art-making practices such as the use of egg tempera, she never hesitated to mix media, variously utilizing in her works oil painting, photography, screen printing, watercolo, sculpture, textile design, collage, and assemblage.

Her paintings of the 1940s were mystery-laden tableaux of symbolic imagery. Stag’s Heart demonstrates her penchant for personal symbolism, incorporating a collaged photograph of a stiff-looking young man tellingly embellished with painted and drawn details: blood on his right hand, a glove on the left holding a menacing black lasso, and, most dramatically, stag horns on his head. This oppressive stag has been consumed by a female deer, outlined in silhouette, seemingly in the act of running. The cutaway vision of the animal’s rib cage and interior evokes techniques used for animal drawings in Samoan design. The image evokes as well the abstractions of her friend and colleague, San Francisco painter Charles Howard. Bothwell cloaked her paintings in mystery, here condensing a narrative of sexual tension into a single graphic emblem.

Michael Duncan


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