Mary Maughelli close up of painting

Mary Louise Maughelli

November 20, 1935 – October 25, 2015

Giuseppe and Luisa Maughelli immigrated to Pennsylvania from Italy in 1930. Their daughters, Mary and her elder sister Mafalda, were first-generation Italian Americans. Mary was in high school in San Francisco when she decided to be an artist, spending the next 50 years fulfilling that dream. She earned her master’s degree from Berkeley in 1959 followed by two Fulbright fellowships in Italy. She was an art instructor from 1962-1998 at Fresno State. The 35 years Mary spent teaching in our community were a positive influence to innumerable local artists.

Mary 

Mary Maughelli was born in 1935. The state of the world she grew up in reflected women having the right to vote for only 15 years, Adolf Hitler expanding the fascist movement in Germany and Albert Einstein writing his letter to President Roosevelt explaining how the Germans were developing the ability to split the uranium atom, leading to the Manhattan Project (1942-46) producing the first nuclear bomb.

In the early 30s, Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, was in Los Angeles creating two pro-communist murals on Olivera Street and San Francisco Bay Area artist, Mark Tobey, the first abstract impressionist to be internationally known, was beginning his "white writing" paintings. In New York, Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave 181 works of art to the Museum of Modern Art, including works by Georgia O’Keefe, Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Max Beckman, Otto Dix and Paul Klee.

During Maughelli’s youth, the world experienced World War ll, with the first use of the atomic bomb, and presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. At the end of World War II, over 300,000 Americans had been killed or were missing and there were over 600,000 wounded soldiers at home. Great Britain and its commonwealths had lost over 300,000 and the Soviet Union is estimated to have lost a staggering 20 million people during the war.

Diego Rivera painted the Pan-American mural at the City College of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge was completed. Existentialist authors Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus were publishing their work.

Maughelli’s father worked in the Napa vineyards all week, coming home on the weekends.

These years deeply affected art and philosophy in the 1940s. World War ll shifted the center of the western art world from Paris to New York, in part because many European artists fled to the United States. In San Francisco, the first specifically American art movement (Abstract Expressionism) gained international influence. Bay Area schools such as California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), California College of Arts and Crafts (CCA) and UC Berkeley were becoming more interested in Abstract Expressionism. The Beat Movement began in San Francisco cafes. In New York, Miles Davis was pioneering “cool jazz,”which influenced many Abstract Expressionist artists and existentialist writers.

  • 1945 women’s right to vote was established in France.
  • 1946 women’s right to vote established in Italy.
  • 1947 women’s right to vote was established in Belgium.

In 1948, Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy of nonviolent protests directly inspired the civil rights leaders in the United States, was fatally shot. Also in 1948, President Truman charged Communist Party leaders with trying to overthrow the United States government. The nation felt threatened by the expansion of Communism, which was influencing the Peoples Republic of China, Romania and Vietnam. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI began using overzealous tactics to falsely accuse people of being communists. 

In the arts, Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock (drizzling paint),Barnett Newman (first vertical line painting, Onement, l), Willem de Kooning (biomorphic abstractions) and Franz Kline (used a Bell-Opticon projector for the first time to see his brushstrokes blown up into abstract gestures) along with surrealists Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Fernand Leger were painting. Alberto Giacometti was in his second year of sculpting large elongated figures. An ironic group of books were published: Alfred Charles Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist treatise The Second Sex and Hugh Hefner began publishing Playboy magazine. Authors William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, J. D. Salinger and T.S. Elliot were also publishing, representing the counter-culture, existentialist, searching, dissident and chauvinistic intellectual climate of the time.

During Maughelli’s college years at UC Berkeley, both Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera died (1954 and 1957) and the world encountered the substantial threat of atomic war. It was determined that between the United States’ 4,000 atomic bombs and the Soviet Union’s 1,000, we could kill everything on our planet several times over. The buildup of our armed forces to withstand a Soviet military attack expanded the United States military reserves to 2.9 million because Fidel Castro had allowed Soviet missiles to be installed in Cuba. When our U2 planes saw the missiles, we went to DEFCON 3 (imminent war status). It was estimated that one nuclear missile from Cuba would hit Washington, D.C. 13 minutes after it was launched, killing 600,000 people and constituting an all-out nuclear war.

Meanwhile, Chinese forces dissolved the Tibetan government (The Dalai Lama sought asylum in India). Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states and the first Xerox machine was made (Maughelli would use Xerox copies in her artwork throughout her career). There was a vast abortion black market in the United States, with up to 10,000 women dying each year as a result of sloppy backroom operations. Pan American Airways began transatlantic flights. In 1959, airplanes carried more people to Europe than ships. Maughelli was 24-years-old and graduating with her master’s degree from UC Berkeley.



In 1930, Hans Hoffman briefly taught at UC Berkeley. He had been in Europe teaching many of the Berkeley artists well known today. At this time, art schools taught traditional figurative classes (anatomy and realism) with a commercial bent. Hoffman presented a new blend of modernism, incorporating the teachings of Cezanne, Matisse and Kandinsky and introducing a formalist vision (“art about art”), which emphasized the abstract qualities of line, value, texture and space. Hoffman emphasized the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane, with color controlling the “push pull” of 3D space on the 2D format. He referenced still-lives and the figure, but unlike in realism, he taught the spatial significance in terms of the planes on the subjects. He frequently used a cubist style with the fragmentation of forms. This influence is seen throughout Maughelli’s work. The first generation of students who studied under Hoffman were the teachers for the second generation. Maughelli was taught by the second generation. Hoffman was the primary influence of what became known as the “Berkeley School,” a group of accomplished artists from all the generations.

A partial list of artists from the Berkeley School from both generations include:

James B. Acherman
Boyd  Allen
Darrell A. Amyx
Elmer Bischoff
Joan Brown
William Theo Brown
Herschel Chipp
Edward Corbett
Jay Defeo
Stephen De Staebler
Richard Diebenkorn
Felix Ruvolo
Claire Falkenstein
Sam Francis

John Haley
Hans Hoffman

Karl Kasten
Walter Kuhlman
Ward Lockwood
Erle Loran
Otto J. Maenchen
Fred Martin
James McCray
Worth Ryder
Virginia Gould McCray
Manuel Neri
George Miyasaki
Eugen Neuhaus

Richard O'Hanlon
Chiura Obata
Stephen Pace
David Park
Roland Petersen
Sonya Rapoport
George Stillman
Sam Tchakalian
Peter Voulkos
Oliver Washburn
Glenn Wessels
Paul Wonner

(In bold are professors who were teaching when Maughelli attended Berkeley)

Some of the visiting artists over the years included Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney and Wolf Kahn.

“Soon after I became his student in 1936, I felt that he was communicating more than factual material, more about art than factual material, more about art than what could be seen; he was offering me some kind of magic—an ability to sense the beauty that existed in areas between or beyond what was tangible. I felt that I had begun to become aware of values as a human being of which I had been unaware.”

—Karl Kasten (Foghorns & Peacocks, page 113)

It is significant to note Kasten is referencing abstract thinking.

The United States climate changed in the 1950s with the Cold War. An artistic sensibility emerged that went against the grain of what was becoming "the American way of life." The Beat Generation bohemians met in bars and coffeehouses in San Francisco and displayed their work in informal galleries while Abstract Expressionism emerged from art schools. The Beat Generation was translating French poetry, such as Charles Baudelaire, combined with T. S. Elliot’s modernism. These poets, painters and musicians were searching for their identity through an existential quest. They challenged the values generated by a government where society was controlled by wartime scientists and engineers, and the patriotic war years of obedient conformity. The reading of the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg symbolically opened a new era called "The San Francisco Renaissance." Howl poignantly described the (male) feelings associated with post-World War II. The American existentialist emerged out of feeling disillusioned with society. Don Jones, Maughelli’s husband (from 1979-81), was included in a National Anthology of Poetry and Power along with Ginsberg and was a democratic socialist from the Beat Generation working for social causes.

One of the characteristics of this era is the intimate connection between music, poetry and the visual arts, particularly jazz music. As in jazz improvisations, painting became about the spontaneity of the moment. Abstracted subject matter was apolitical or if it was political, the message was hidden. The gesture on the canvas was liberation from the foundations of values—be they political, aesthetic or moral values. Bohemian and Abstract Expressionistic artists expressed their defiance through behavior described as “cool.” Jazz, with its sense of cool, was an art form of resistance. “Cool,” became a primary element of a bohemian hipster. Beat is also referencing beatitude, in the Christian sense. You feel and are therefore transformed by this.

The name Abstract Expressionism is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, Bauhaus and Cubism. Rebellious, anarchic, idiosyncratic, nihilistic, non-objective, spontaneous abstraction implied the expression of ideas concerning the unconscious mind. Non-hierarchical compositions were emphasized, using painting as an arena within which to come to terms with the act of creation. Critic Clement Greenberg focused on a work’s “objectness,” or the physicality of a paintings oil-caked surface, as key to understanding it as a document of the artists' existential struggle. This shifted the emphasis from the painting to the struggle itself. The finished painting was only a physical manifestation of the process of painting, allowing brushstrokes, thrown, splashed and dripped paint to fall and remain in a subconscious act of creation.

“When I’m in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing…”

Jackson Pollock

“I paint things not as I see them but the feelings they arouse in me.”

—Franz Kline

Abstract Expressionism primarily reflected a masculine experience. Feminist Art came as a backlash. Women creating significant Abstract Expressionistic work included Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler.



 Abstract Expressionistic Work

Untitled #3, 1958 Oil on canvas, 49” x 60 ½”

Mary Maughelli

Untitled #3, 1958

Oil on canvas, 49" x 60 ½"


Large palette, expanding beyond canvas, heavy gestural impasto with dominant red diagonal, gestural white worked into wet pigment. Feeling of tangled freedom, weaving amid itself. 

“Application appears to be anti-compositional.”

—Robert Ogata



 

Blue, 1958 Oil on canvas, 61 x 61

Mary Maughelli

Blue, 1958


Oil on canvas, 61" x 61"


“An example of art making at its best.”

—Robert Ogata

“Primary cool palette, non-objective with gestural strokes. Interesting placement of value and warm color. Outer edges pulling forward, interior pushing back, creating the feeling of falling into a rectangular depth in center.”

—Nanete Maki-Dearsan



 

Red, 1959 Oil on canvas, 65” x 49”

Mary Maughelli

Red, 1959


Oil on canvas, 65" x 49"


“Rich, complex layers of surface, deeply worked.”

—Robert Ogata

“Saturated, repetitive short strokes with low tempo echoing sound. All push, selective with restricted generous pull back, movement below the surface supporting defiant surface strokes. The blue is not smothered, but compliant.”

—Nanete Maki-Dearsan



 

Yellow Ochre, 1958 Oil on canvas, 39” x 51”

Mary Maughelli

Yellow Ochre, 1958

Oil on canvas, 39" x 51"


“Abstract expressionism, directly out of the language of de Kooning and Pollack.”

—Robert Ogata 

“Heavy impasto honoring the opacity of Ochre, slowly oozing in an avalanche across the painful depth, remnants of interior civilization’s final blinks of life, obliviously continuing to burn. Ochre stretched to its own elastic end.”

—Nanete Maki-Dearsan



 

Rose Lake, 1963 Oil on canvas, 73” x 70”

Mary Maughelli

Rose Lake, 1963

Oil on canvas, 73" x 70"


“More geometric in abstraction...moves toward monumental expression.”

—Robert Ogata 

“Triangular and crossed planes ascending and descending, stopped abruptly by thinner planes (lines), deeper color pulling toward viewer, while receding space appears to form distance, many stops.”

—Nanete Maki-Dearsan



 

Vomero, 1960 Oil on canvas, 61” x 61” on loan from Manuel Vasaure

Mary Maughelli

Vomero, 1960

Oil on canvas, 61" x 61"

On loan from Manuel Vasaure


“Collapse of space.”

—Robert Ogata

“Rectangular dissention toward center, masterful tonal changes in an isolated, soundless scream.”

—Nanete Maki-Dearsan



 

Untitled, no date Oil on canvas, 53” x 61” 

Mary Maughelli

Untitled, no date

Oil on canvas, 53" x 61"


“Expressive gestural application, fragmented order.”

—Robert Ogata

“Fractured Francis Bacon.”

—Nanete Maki-Dearsan



Maughelli earned two back-to-back Fulbright scholarships to study painting in Rome and Milan, Italy from 1959-61. She was 24 to 26-years-old. She travelled to Europe by ship. She did not relay existential angst or purge feelings in her journals or in her person. As a uniquely and almost singularly visual person, she cryptically recorded what she saw, noting the frescos at the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii as “very figurative, red background, ochre figures of Dionysus—sensual and spiritual priestess—this mural was one of the most satisfying things we’d seen and it is one which makes a deep impression on the mind.”

In 1960, women were socialized to marry in their early 20s, start a family and be homemakers, spending an average of 55 hours a week on domestic chores. Women were legally subject to their husbands via “head and master laws” and had no legal right to their husband’s earnings. Husbands legally controlled what their wives earned. Women had to prove wrongdoing on the part of their husbands to divorce. In 1960, women accounted for 6% of American doctors, 3% of lawyers and professors and less than 1% of engineers. Working women were regularly paid lower salaries than men and were denied opportunities to advance. It was common for women to be sexually objectified. Some present day responses from women about those years include, "It’s a wonder we had any ego left at all," and "looking back, the hardest part is the disappointment in yourself that you put up with it."

Most women went along with it, not wanting to make waves because the culture socialized women to back down and socialized men to dominate. Acceptable women said only “nice” things. It was demoralizing that there was no recourse for sexual harassment or even rape, as complaints were typically ignored or blame was placed on the woman. Many women felt isolated, as though they were a lower class of people. Many women felt genuine fear challenging their husbands because their husband was their boss and authority. Maughelli’s longtime friend, Erma Jones, while describing those years said, “The African American Civil Rights Movement was dealing with blatant, aggressive oppression. The Women’s Civil Rights Movement was a more insidious oppression, with men being ‘nice’, while removing our freedoms.”

Legalities were a common thread between the fight for civil rights for African Americans and the fight for women’s rights. During these years, Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas determined that segregation violated the Fourth Amendment and the Supreme Court ordered desegregation in schools. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) forbade racial segregation on interstate busses and trains and the Civil Rights Act was enacted, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion or natural origin, all of which was met with strong resistance. City bus lines were boycotted in Montgomery, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gaining national prominence for advocating passive resistance to segregation in public places.

Civil rights activists were black, brown, white, male, female, young and old. There were many women involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but it was a man’s world. Women supported men, while men were the spokespersons. When asked how the Civil Rights Movement influenced the feminist movement, Nancy Youdelman replied, “The Civil Rights Movement set a pattern and precedent for women on how to organize. Women were realizing they didn’t have to live only in the background. It influenced the feminist movement because women realized they could also stand up and be powerful.”

In 1963, a year after Maughelli began teaching at Fresno State, during the UC Medical Center’s conference on “The Potential of Women,” Edmund W. Orestreet, a gynecologist, commented on women’s capacity to live longer than men saying, “When you come right down to it, perhaps women just live too long! Maybe when they get through having babies, they have outlived their usefulness.”

Existentialist author Albert Camus and Beat authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were publishing. The Tate held the world’s first "art blockbuster" exhibition when it showcased Pablo Picasso’s work and Jasper Johns made Flag and Rene Magritte painted The Spirit of Presence and This is not an Apple.

When Maughelli retuned to the United States, she taught part-time at Berkeley. In 1962, she was hired at Fresno State. Maughelli was 27-years-old in the chauvinistic world of academia. Male faculty sleeping with female students was commonplace nationwide and racial and gender “jokes” were common. Maughelli was respected because she was educated at a prestigious university and had just finished two European Fulbrights. Maughelli was hired into a position of authority. Ernie Palamino described Maughelli as “confident, strong and direct, a striking woman.” He felt that she was under pressure. He recalled her strength made him stronger, reflecting that he felt women and people of color had to be tough, to not let people run over them. Joyce Aiken remembered Maughelli as being dedicated to her painting and her classes, defending students and principles. Speaking about Maughelli’s feminist paintings in the mid-1960s (in this show)Aiken said, “They were very radical, people were uncomfortable with them,” and agreed that Maughelli used her paintings to speak for her. Later, during the feminist program, Youdleman remembered Maughelli as “strong, powerful, but very silent, never revealing what she thought about as a female. I think she was trying to survive in a male department, keep her job, stay respectable.” When Youdleman saw Maughelli’s large feminist canvases, she said they "knocked my breath out, they were so powerful." Throughout Maughelli’s life, her paintings spoke for her more than her words. She didn’t show anything she didn’t want others to see. This does not mean she didn’t have private battles. It is significant that Maughelli was teaching at Fresno State nine years prior to Judy Chicago and the beginning of the feminist art program in 1971. Maughelli, Aiken, Jane Gale and Gayle Smalley were setting the foundation, enabling the force of Chicago’s arrival in 1970. During these years, Maughelli’s work changed from large Abstract Expressionistic canvases into figurative work.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was then murdered live on TV by minor mobster, Jack Ruby. Civil rights leader Medgar W. Evers was shot and killed and the world was horrified by the deaths of four young girls (+20 injured) in a bombing at the 16th Baptist Church (the 21st unprosecuted bomb attack in eight years on African Americans by the Ku Klux Klan, in Birmingham, Alabama). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a massive peace march in Washington, D.C., delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech. “King drew his words from a deep, cold well of suffering and pain, a well created by centuries of cruelty...describing their suffering in the words of the Old Testament prophets and bearing their pain with the consolation of Jesus’ gospel of hope...the heartbreaking phrase ‘I have a dream’ came like an amen at the end of each ringing sentence” (Follit). Dr. King was redefining what it meant to be an American. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers organizing committee became an independent organization in Delano in the Central Valley. These were the years pop artist Andy Warhol was making his Marilyn Monroe prints and Roy Lichtenstein made his piece Whaam.

In 1962, Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique captured the frustration of a generation of college-educated housewives. The feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s originally focused on dismantling workplace inequality via anti-discrimination laws. In 1964, a prohibition on gender discrimination was passed into the Civil Rights Act. However, it became clear the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would not enforce Title VII laws protection of women workers, and so a group of feminists, including Betty Friedan, decided to found an organization that would fight gender discrimination through the courts and legislatures. In 1966, they formed the National Organization for Women (NOW), (Maughelli joined in mid 1970), which went on to lobby Congress for pro-equality laws and assist women seeking legal aid as they battled workplace discrimination. Maughelli was teaching formalist Abstract Expressionist foundations, influenced by Hans Hoffman, in life drawing and painting classes. She became a full professor in 1973. Although her temperament was quiet, she reflected strength and her paintings of women were powerful. Maughelli was a serious, constant foundation throughout her life. Her figurative pieces were personal introspective statements about her experiences as a woman and about “the self.” Maughelli’s paintings in the 1960s were concerned with innocence and a reinterpretation of the female body. They were psychological images rather than specific people. She intermingled her paintings with references to art history, particularly reinterpreting “the Venus” with new feminist symbolism.

There were large anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in 1965, and Dr. King led two marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama protesting voting rights. In Los Angeles, the Watts riots were responding to police racism. Malcolm X (age 39)was shot and killed in New York while preaching about the dangers of racism and working toward “human” (versus “civil”) rights. During 1966-7, riots continued across the country. The Ku Klux Klan was still targeting civil rights workers in the south. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) marched from Delano to Sacramento and were beginning to unionize. The Cultural Revolution in China was purging bureaucrats and we were increasing troops and our bombing in Vietnam. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court but in 1968, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while peacefully protesting on behalf of sanitation workers whose wages were so low they qualified for welfare. Riots broke out in 125 cities. 

Cesar Chavez fasted 25 days to keep the UFW movement nonviolent, while protesting the violent repression of farmworkers. In 1969-70, the UFW grape boycotts yielded contracts with most California growers. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, “Bobby” (age 42), was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles while riding a huge swell of support to become the democratic candidate to run for president.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives. In Vietnam, the Vietcong conducted "the Tet offensive," the strength of which shocked the majority of the United States public into no longer supporting the war. In a single week, 543 soldiers were killed in the deadliest year of the war where 16,592 soldiers were killed, followed by the second highest draft of 48,000 men. There were large anti-war demonstrations across the country.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon and the three-day peace concert at Woodstock, New York, had close to 400,000 people. San Francisco was experiencing the Summer of Love.

Prior to the 1960s, women were typically the subject of art, rather than the artists. The studio system excluded women and the gallery system kept women from exhibiting. Many female artists sought to de-gender their art by changing their names to male names so their work could not be identified as woman-made because women’s art was trivialized. Feminism exposed the reality that most art had been made by men, for men. Linda Nochlin, in her 1971 essay, Why Are There No Great Female Artists? wrote “…the fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.”

In 1970, during the Democratic Party’s Committee on National Priorities, Dr. Edgar F. Berman declared that women were incapable of holding important decision-making jobs because they were subject to “raging hormonal imbalances” as a result of their menstrual cycles and menopause. The feminist movement was fighting the misconception that women were genetically inferior to men and feminist artists were criticizing the canon of art history. They were asking questions such as, how is a woman’s gaze different from a man’s and what constitutes pornography in art? Feminist artists paved the way to question the exclusivity of the white heterosexual art experience and they sought to rediscover female artists from history. The world came to know and appreciate the work of Frida Kahlowith the rise of the feminist movement. When Maughelli journaled what her ex-husband said to her, “he said when women are finished with women’s liberation then we’ll need men’s liberation because men won’t know how to relate to women,” she was illustrating how most men, like women, had been living in a predetermined social structure. The feminist movement was a genuine learning experience for everyone.



Feminist Paintings 

 ‘I have seen, I have heard, I have understood’, 1968 Acrylic on canvas, 49” x 72”


Mary Maughelli

I Have Seen, I Have Heard, I Have Understood, 1968

Acrylic on canvas, 49" x 72"

This painting has five black/white/gray portraits and a reclining female figure in a warm monochromatic palette laying on an orange rectangle. The darker male portrait at our right appears to be Joseph Stalin, while the three portraits in the center representing intellectuals in the arts: the clown (the theater, the actor), the poet (the intellectual and the artist) and the observer (the thinker, the critic) all genuinely trying to understand and navigate this system. The full-figured, muscular male figure on our left is draped and resonates symbolically as Soviet “workers” and “the masses” (purposely bound and blinded). There is a combination of males and females, which indicates that this concerns everyone, all of us. The voluptuous color figure at the bottom is rich, generous and life-giving and she is dreaming. Could she represent the Soviet motherland? Humanity? Could her dreams be pregnant with hope for the future? The partial poem on the back of this painting is by Louis Aragon and seems to indicate these references and the struggle of the arts:

“There is no place for us in this scheme of things. There’s even too little elbow room in dreams.”

—Louis Aragon

Louis Aragon lived 1897-1982 in France. He was a resistance poet during the French occupation (by Germany during World War II, 1940-44) and a leading communist intellectual. He served in World War I and World War II (earning medals for bravery in both) and was granted the Lenin Peace Prize. Aragon harshly criticized Soviet totalitarianism, condemning “show trials” of Russian writers and he published writings of Soviet dissidents. Aragon founded Surrealism in 1924 with Andre Breton and Philip Soupault and was a Dadaist from 1919-1924.

Joseph Stalin lived 1878-1953 in the Soviet Union. He was the leader (dictator) of the Soviet Union from 1922-52. He participated in the 1917 Politburo (the Bolshevik Revolution with Lenin, Trotsky, etc.). Stalin took power after the death of Vladimir Lenin and replaced Lenin’s economic policies causing catastrophic Soviet famine. Stalin purged, imprisoned (in Gulag labor camps), exiled and executed millions in “show trails.” In 1958, Nikita Khrushchev replaced him, repudiating the harshness, and began de-Stalinization.   

 “Death of one is a tragedy. Death of millions is a statistic.”

—Stalin

Surrealism attacked the bourgeois literary and cultural norms in 1924 and Breton published the Surrealism Manifesto while Aragon published Une Vague de Reves or A Wave of Dreams.

Edith Thomas lived 1909-1970 in France. She was post-war intellectual and author. She introduced herself to Aragon concerning the French revolution, telling him that she was a bourgeois who wanted to stand with the proletariat (the working class people), explaining that individualism was at the heart of bourgeois intellectualism and that he would need the bourgeois for the revolution to succeed. She warned him not to attack individualism, but instead to make the bourgeois see that individualism was an illusion in a society based on class exploitation, advocating a “new humanism.”

Thomas’s participation in the resistance became redirected into her criticism of the political and cultural construction of the feminine, which denied women rights and she later reconfigured this argument to negotiate the relation between the feminine, the individual and “feminine humanism.”(Edith Thomas: A Passion for Resistance, D. Kaufmann, 2004)

Dadaism ran from 1919-1924. It struggled against Stalinism and its consequences in Eastern Europe.

Part of the Manifesto of the Dada Movement (1920) by Aragon:

“No more painters, no more scribblers, no more musicians,

No more sculptors, no more religions, no more royalists,

No more imperialists, no more anarchists, no more socialists,

No more communists, no more proletariat, no more democrats,

No more republicans, no more bourgeois, no more aristocrats,

No more arms, no more police, no more nations, an end at last

To all this stupidity, nothing left, nothing at all,

NOTHING, NOTHING”

John Lennon’s song, Imagine (1971) was published three years after this painting by Maughelli and 50 years after Aragon’s Dadaist manifesto. Imagine was inspired by Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit book, particularly her Cloud Piece. Lennon said it should have been attributed to Lennon/Ono, but he had been too selfish and macho at the time. Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit conceptual art book was written when she was a regular at John Cage’s with his circle of friends in the late 1950s (published in 1964, five years before this painting). The lyrics contain the Communist Manifesto:

“Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics.”

The intellectual climate in 1968 resonated from the history that led up to that time. Aragon was still alive when Maughelli painted this painting and the consequences of Stalinism and the theory of Communism reverberated through American society. America was reevaluating the devastating effects of World War II while engaging in Vietnam. The river of intellectual and artistic thoughts streamed together in a country with the freedom of speech and a readily available education for all. Maughelli was an artist living in the midst of a powerful wave of intellectual freedom, reconsidering not only women’s roles, but the roles of everyone while questioning the powers of world leaders and governments.



 A Group of 5,  1967 Acrylic on linen, 70” x 65”

Mary Maughelli

A Group of 5, 1967

Acrylic on linen, 70" x 65"

“Based on Greek Caryatid sculpture of women, but with what I think are humorous or whimsical expressions.”

—Mary Maughelli

Caryatids, or Karyatides, are sculpted female figures serving in place of a column. The Greek term Karyatides literally means "maidens of Karyai." Caryatids were dedicated to the goddess Artemis, the warrior and virgin goddess of purity. The most famous are the Erechtheion caryatids in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. 

Vitruvius (Roman architect first century B.C.) wrote that the Erechtheion caryatids represented the punishment of the women of Karyae for betraying Athens when they sided with Persia in the Greco-Persian Wars. Although he could be wrong, decorative female columns have been associated with slavery ever since. They are also thought to have acted as symbols to control women through modesty and servitude. Caryatids are primarily referencing women carrying baskets on their heads. The earliest known examples are found in the treasures of Delphi dating to about the sixth century B.C.

Erechtheion Caryatids
Erechtheion, Acropolis, Athens, Greece  Caryatids
 

Upon reading Maughelli’s comments, it appears that Maughelli’s painting, A Group of 5 is showing strong, assured and powerful women/goddesses taking a silly selfie together. Associating these women to Caryatids indicates an exchange of the “punished slave” association with the power and integrity of real female leaders.



They Come from Many Lands to worship at this Shrine, 1969 Acrylic on canvas, diptych 8’ x 6’They Come from Many Lands to worship at this Shrine, 1969 Acrylic on canvas, diptych 8’ x 6’

Mary Maughelli

They Come from Many Lands to Worship at this Shrine, 1969

Acrylic on canvas, diptych 8' x 6'

Written on back of the canvas: “large face is based on face of actress Jean Harlow, the lower sleeping woman comes from an Italian Renaissance painting by Tintoretto.”

Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594) Venetian school, last great painter Renaissance. Dramatic use of perspectival space and lighting effects—a precursor of Baroque art. Bold use of perspective in the Mannerist Style while maintaining color and light typical of the Venetian school.

Jacopo Tintoretto jean Harlow
Deucalion and Pyrrha praying before statue of the goddess Themis 2  Jacopo Tintoretto Jean Harlow (1911-1937) American film leading lady, nicknamed "blond bombshell" and "platinum blond vamp." One of the biggest stars in the 1930s.

This painting contains the abstract qualities of composition and space reflecting the influence of Hans Hoffman and the Mannerist style of Tintoretto as well as Maughelli’s comfort with the figure, scale and foreshortening. The large planes, limited palettes using stained fields of dramatic color, analogous within each canvas, and strong complementary contrasts between the two canvases, formally reflect opposing statements.

The lower canvas is seen from “the female gaze” of oneself from her assumed “male gaze.” This imagining of oneself in a green-yellow passive dream state dramatically contrasts with the hot upper canvas as she may actually be perceived as the bearer of sensual possibilities to the male gaze.

Maughelli is asking the viewer—how does one see oneself while being valued because you are primarily defined as a sexual object? How does one balance this praise against your whole person? This "honor" is limiting, burdensome and confusing.



Was it all in Vain?  1967 Acrylic on linen, 61” x 48”

Mary Maughelli

Was it all in Vain? 1967

Acrylic on linen, 61" x 48"

*Michelangelo slave sculpture could be representing Christ at the side of the cross, in perspective with the grief stricken face of Jesus reflecting "They know not what they do." Or is this a dying slave with the upper woman reaching across the cross to him? Why is the other woman covering her face, and is she carrying the cross? On the brink of the feminist movement, was Maughelli relating more to the slave?

The two female figures on our left contain the only color beyond neutrals—blood red bordering the women, reaching across to Christ within and overlapping the cross. Their arm movements are not submissive, but forceful—controversial—directing the viewer. This powerful composition is contained using a hard edge, a limited palette, diagonal symmetry, anatomy and expression.

Maughelli is addressing the conflicting roles of women. The upper woman imitates Christ’s position, but she is strong and bold. She is not humble. She wears a Catholic saint-like head covering.

This image contradicts the bare-breasted martyrs to which we are accustomed. Does our society define Jesus as helping men more than women? Is this woman claiming Jesus as equally hers? Has the cross, representing “the church,” become a division, separating women from Jesus? Has patriarchy tried to claim Jesus as “mine” versus “ours?” Could this be asking to interpret his teachings differently?

Or could the cross represent Jesus teaching one way, while we are separated from him by living another way, with the cross and “the church” separating us? Is she “claiming” Jesus, saying, “I am with Jesus?”

Is the lower woman ashamed of something? Why is she covering her face? The upper woman wears a head covering and arm that are outlined in red, gently resting her hand on his. Could she be reflecting the strength of her conviction about him and the strength of women throughout the history of Christianity? Does this reflect gender issues concerning Christianity?

Was it all in Vain? asks the viewer a question within feminist philosophy. It is at once bold and contemplative. Privately, Maughelli was Italian Catholic, more concerned with contemporary thinking than pious theory.

 *Michelangelo (1475-1564) Slave, dying, Tomb of Pope Julius ll 
slave dying statue Michelangelo Michelangelo Slave dying

 


Against Thy Will, 1967 Acrylic on linen, 62” x 49”

Mary Maughelli

Against Thy Will, 1967

Acrylic on linen, 62" x 49"

“Against thy will thou art formed. Against thy will art thou born. Against thy will die.” is written on back of canvas.

This confrontational painting is bold in its use of fluorescent color with a hard-edged graphic style. Surrounded by fire, we follow the mother’s clenched fist, past her strangling neck to the midwife gently easing an adult head from the mother’s birth canal.

Maughelli’s quote is traced from the Septuagint(from rare fragments of the Latin translations by “The Seventy” or the legendary 70 Jewish scholars who translated the Five Books of Moses into Greek) from the third century B.C.E., to its interpretation in the Pseudo-Philo(based on the Jewish work in Latin of the biblical history from Adam to the death of Saul, an even earlier history of biblical events, including passages that are not currently part of the Hebrew Bible) from sometime between the time of Jesus to second century C.E., through the Chronicles of Jerahmeel(by Jerahmeel ben Solomon) in 1150, to the Chronicles of Jerahmeel (by M.Gasten) in 1899.

These references address questions between predetermination and free will. In these texts God gives specific instructions to the male angel Lailah (appointed over conception) by explaining this process. First, Lailah is to break sperm on the threshing floor into 365 particles so God can decree if the child will be weak or strong, male or female, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, long or short, wicked or righteous. God then enters the spirit into the sperm against its will. The spirit pleads not to be placed in the impurity of the sperm. “God then causes it to enter this new being against its will.” Lailah returns and places it inside the womb.

“Thou must know that thou wast formed in the womb of thy mother against thy will, and now know that against thy will thou wilt be born, and wilt come forth into the world.”

After the baby is born, it enters seven worlds:

  1. The baby is “like a king,” adored.

  2. At 2 year olds, the child is “like a pig in the mud.” 

  3. At 5 years old, “like a child in a meadow.” 

  4. To 18 years old, “like a horse striding haughtily.” 
  5. To 40 years old, “a beast of burden.” 

  6. Like a dog, “wandering around stealing food.” 

  7. Like an ape, “when their family is sick of them.”

When it is time to die, an angel comes to take him and he cries but no one hears him. The angel replies:

"Have I not already told thee that against thy will thou wast created, against thy will thou wast born, against they will thou livest, and against thy will thou shalt die…"

In 1967, society was ripe for investigations into the traditional roles of women and the sources of these roles. This painting is an investigation into women’s predetermined roll as birthers. It was not uncommon for women to be “put in their place” as nothing more than bearers of children when they strove to achieve more in their lives. Many women retain vivid memories of this aggressive treatment. To challenge this became a challenge of one’s faith, which resulted in an effort toward a deeper understanding of God and his love for us.



Little Yellow Riding Hood and Hermaphrodite, 1967 Acrylic on linen, 49” x 73”

Mary Maughelli

Little Yellow Riding Hood and Hermaphrodite, 1967

Acrylic on linen, 49" x 73"

Hermaphrodite—an organism that has reproductive organs associated with male and female sexes. They can act as male or female. Ambiguous genitalia.

  • Michelangelo dying slave sculpture, reinterpreted as female, with yellow face.
  • Seeing God without gender or emulating Christ?
  • Similar to previous painting Was it all in Vain. Less bold, more contemplative, soft filigree edges. Filigree is suggestive of lace. Typically used in jewelry and metalwork in gold or silver.

The woman’s breasts are exposing male and female portraits, her parents? Is she protecting them? The woman appears powerful, defiant, determined and more symbolic than an individual portrait.

Little Red Riding Hood represents innocence, a common theme throughout Maughelli’s work. This “hood” is yellow with red outlining her cape. Is strength developed from and within that innocence? Jesus was innocent of all sin. The innocence of Little Red Riding Hood representing an ideal for women could be seen as a shroud covered in the blood for all of humanity’s sins.

This could be a challenging other bare-breasted representations of liberty and women. Meanings associated with breasts range from the male gaze (sexual) to female empowerment, a life-giving force and an equal. There is nothing passive or sexual associated with these images of womanhood, liberty or nakedness. This painting questions the myth of women’s traditional responsibility for loyalty, liberty or for morality and honor. To be unthreatened or to not be excited by a nude woman is freedom for women, releasing women from the consequences conferred as sexual objects. This allows women an equal place in humanity. The filigree symbolizes iconic fetish saint pieces—traditional roles and “pretty” beliefs. Challenging these established beliefs concerning women has been interwoven throughout with issues concerning our faith.



Venus, 1967 Acrylic on canvas, 54” x 59”

Mary Maughelli

Venus, 1967

Acrylic on canvas, 54" x 59"

Venus is the Roman version of the Greek Aphrodite. These goddesses were the embodiment of love, beauty, sex, desire and fertility. In this painting, the concept of Venus as a goddess of fertility is torn apart and the whole concept of “women” is being challenged.

The hard edge, diagonals and flat geometry contain a powerful statement. Maughelli continued splitting images throughout her career, remarking, “It’s hard to divide something in half and see if it pulls back together again.”

The split canvas cuts the woman and the embryonic portraits apart. The woman’s facial emotions and mind are on the larger lower section and her genitalia and legs are on the upper section. In the genitalia slice, Maughelli has disconnected the legs from the torso.

Being born with female genitalia has defined women’s worth as artists and as human beings.

Male artists dominated the 1960s. Fluxus was one of the few groups with an unusually high number of female artists. A few of the key artists were:

  • Yoko Ono (1933-) was a pioneer of feminist art performance. (In Ono’s Cut Piece (1964) she invited viewers to cut her clothes off, piece by piece).
  • Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991), whose performance of Nam June Paik’s Opera Sextronique, was played on her cello in various stages of undress, resulted in her arrest for indecent exposure.
  • Carolee Schneeman(1939-), whose discourses on the body, sexuality and gender were performed to confront social stigmas.

Schneeman’s artwork evolved through the 1960s into her signature piece Interior Scroll, where she pulled a long thin scroll out of her vagina and read it. Schneeman was opening a discourse concerning “vulvic space,” challenging the idealized, fetishized female body. She brought attention to the fact that images of vulvas were more prevalent in Paleolithic caves than images of animals or phalli and inferred that figures such as the “Venus of Willendorf” were made by women as manifestations of sacred places—sacred vulvas, sacred mounds and sacred caves and the source of sacred knowledge. Schneeman was trying to return women’s bodies back to themselves and “physicalize the invisible, marginalized, and deeply suppressed history of the vulva, the powerful source of orgasmic pleasure, of birth, of transformation, of menstruation, of maternity, to show that it is not dead, invisible space.”

The feminist movement was challenging the place of women in society based on their bodies. Social pressures and how the world defines women can still split a woman’s self-image in half. Maughelli’s work reflected this journey, in the throes of the early years of this movement, challenging existing definitions of women and their roles in society.

Referencing pregnancy—to give birth to one’s dreams, ideas and potential can be in conflict with what one is forced to be. The split embryonic portrait of an adult woman can be seen as symbolic of the rebirth of women during the feminist generation as well as seen as the torn self-identities that drove the feminist movement and the pain of this new rebirth.



In 1971, Chicago began the first feminist art program in the United States at Fresno State. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled that hiring policies must be the same for men and women, which was followed by a constitutional amendment prohibiting sex discrimination against women being sent to the state for ratification.

Over her 35-year professorship, Maughelli attended many artist retreats. These artists’ colonies included a mixture of visual and literary artists. She met her husband, poet Don Jones, at one of these retreats in Taos, New Mexico, in 1976: 

“…There is something about art colony experiences that put me close to my emotions. It is so strange and I suppose frightening to be so vulnerable….Coming here and my immediate realization in relation to my nervousness about being with these strangers was that I have been sheltering myself a lot and I lead a protected life….” and later in her more typical cryptic style of journaling, “the search for the new, for forms, it is to the point of absurdity…all these artists I have met are very serious individuals—sensitive.”

Maughelli and Jones continued visiting in New Mexico after their divorce. Describing their marriage, Jones said they were, “very in love,” describing her as “kind-hearted, decent and very intense.” He recalled attending Chicago’s exhibition of The Dinner Party at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1979 and Maughelli’s pride associated with Chicago.

Maughelli lived with arthritis pain for the majority of her life, at times it was disabling. Her journals reflect her methods to deal with the pain, but she learned she just had to live with it. Her pain was so severe in 1976, Jones objected to having children due to her pain, saying, “She was very strong willed with a steely determination.”

Maughelli was a private observer. Her service was through her artwork and her teaching, for which the Fresno community remains grateful. Maughelli showed her work locally in Fresno for over 50 years and at AIR Gallery in New York for 14 years, as well as ARC Gallery in Chicago and many other national and international exhibits, including Germany, Sweden, Israel, Russia, Japan and Armenia. She was a member of Fig Tree Gallery, the Fresno Art Museum and the Council of 100. Other exhibits include participation in Curator's Choice at The Brewery in Los Angeles and the Orlando Gallery in Tarzana. Maughelli was a founding member of Gallery 25, remaining a member until her death. She was invited by Chicago to show in the opening exhibition at Womanspace. She also exhibited her work at the Woman's Building in Los Angeles.

1974, Gallery 25, Fresno, CA.  Mary Maughelli - front row, center

1974, Gallery 25, Fresno, CA.  Mary Maughelli—front row, center

 

Mary and William Raines 2014

Mary Maughelli and William Raines, 2014

 

“I would like my art to be remembered for the perseverance and struggle that goes on in the images, and the juxtaposition of these images. I interweave layers of meaning and layer images to convey what our life is like. So much happens on so many different levels in our life.”      

– Mary Maughelli