Five Essential Graphic Biographies of Women Artists –

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A graphic novel is a powerful way to tell a story, but graphic works also lend themselves well to artist biographies, with each graphic artist using their own style to interpret another artist’s work and life. Here are five graphic biographies of female artists that combine stunning visuals with clever narrative devices.

The Five Lives of Hilma by Clintby Philip Danes and Julia Voss
Hilma af Klint’s 2018 show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York was the most visited exhibition in the museum’s history. Julia Voss and Philip Daines have obsessively studied the early 20th-century abstract artist since Daines came across one of her works in the mid-2000s, with the couple’s children learning her name before they even knew who Picasso or Mathis. For this graphic novel based on Voss’s new biography of af Klint, illustrator Deines uses a rich color palette and vibrant drawings to tell the artist’s story. In addition to dispelling several myths about Clint’s life (such as the idea that none of her abstract works were exhibited during her lifetime—a false narrative), the book takes the reader on a journey through turn-of-the-century Europe showing intellectual salons, spiritualism and contrasting artistic movements across the continent. Af Klint’s visions and alleged clairvoyance dominate the narrative: Curiously, she predicted that her work would find the greatest recognition in a spiral temple—and lo and behold, she ended up at the Guggenheim.


The Five Lives of Hilma by Clint


Georgia O’Keefefrom Maria Herreros
Last year, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid hosted the first retrospective in Spain of the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. As a liaison, Spanish illustrator María Herreros was asked to create a graphic biography of the artist. Herreros covers the years 1915–1986 (from the time O’Keefe was about 28 until her death), with a special emphasis on the artist’s relationship with the desert. Images of O’Keefe and her art take over the page with sparse text written in italics. Herreros’ muted color palette and softened line work perfectly suit her portrayal of the artist herself.


Kusama: The Graphic Novelby Elisa Macellari
Whenever one of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s mesmerizing Infinity Rooms opens, good luck securing tickets: These tripty mirror environments are the pinnacle of what we (alas) think of as social media-friendly art — you’d hardly considered the work of a provocateur. But through Elisa Machellari’s graphic biography of Kusama, which focuses on the late 1950s and 1960s, when Kusama lived in New York, we understand why her early works were so radical: for example, she began making smooth spheres that become a trademark of her work to sell for pennies at the Venice Biennale, a frenzy in the commodification of art. Other provocations included having her models pose as nude sculptures in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden and hosting the “first gay wedding” in a downtown loft called the Church of Self-Destruction. Like Herrero, Macellari stays true to her own very distinct style and color palette of faded reds, teals and grays.


Kusama: The Graphic Novel


Frida Kahlo: The Story of Her Lifeby Vana Vinci
Van Vinci is one of Italy’s most acclaimed graphic artists and caricaturists, specializing in biographies of extraordinary women, including Maria Callas, Tamara de Lempicka and Marquise Luisa Casati, patron of the arts and that of Frida Kahlo. In Vinci’s graphic retelling of Kahlo’s life, we see the Mexican artist engaged in dialogue with Death, decked out in Santa Muerte regalia, as the two trace her story. When Kahlo tells the story of the accident that crippled her, she asks Death to recite the list of her injuries, and as Death shakes them, we see her injured body parts hanging on a thread, like laundry left to dry. Particular attention is paid to the artist’s traditional Tehuana dresses and accessories, which Vinci presents as a statement but also as a screen. The dialogue between Frida and Death proves to be a clever visual device, as they meander through the places that define her as if they were actors standing in front of a set, and the author does not shield us from Frida’s flaws, fully revealing and celebrating her humanity.


Frida Kahlo: The Story of Her Life


I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschiby Gina Siciliano
This stunning graphic biography of Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi is rendered entirely in black pen. Author Gina Siciliano balances historical facts with what is known about Gentileschi, who was known for her depictions of women from myth and the Bible and has recently become something of a feminist icon. To help the reader understand the world in which Gentileschi lived, Siciliano begins with a lengthy introduction to the realities of late 16th- and 17th-century Europe: Forget Botticelli’s idealized world and observe instead Caravaggio’s violence, austerity the Counter-Reformation agenda for the arts, the exploration of new lands, and scientific discoveries that made people question their long-held beliefs. The book is divided into three parts (or acts): Gentileschi’s early life; her rape and subsequent trial against her rapist; and the rest of her life spanning 50 years. This will be a treat for art history buffs: Following the narrative are 40 pages of bibliographic and historical annotations.


I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi


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