At the LA Review of Books, Catherine Wagley writes about Dorothy Iannone: You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends, a book featuring many of the artist’s key works that is, according to Wagley, “intended to be experienced not as a record of production but as a work of its own.” Iannone is an 82-two-year-old painter originally from Boston who spent much of her working life in Germany. She is somewhat obscure—mostly because her work is adamantly feminine and sexual—but she has many admirers among radical female artists and writers of today, including Ariana Reines and Sheila Heti. Here’s an excerpt from Wagley’s piece:
The Icelandic Saga may be Iannone’s best-known series. Perhaps it owes its popularity to its satisfying story line and to the fact that it prominently features Swiss artist Dieter Roth, whose work was and remains well known (he was a jack-of-all-trades who, according to the press release for a 2013 MoMA exhibition of his work, “offered an expanded definition of art in the twentieth century”). The first installment of An Icelandic Saga appeared as black-and-white panels in 1978, 11 years after her affair with Roth began. It chronicles Iannone’s transition from a postwar American wife who, in her words, “found infidelity unfamiliar” to a self-reliant expat.
In the panels she drew at the start of An Icelandic Saga, Iannone usually rendered herself as a dark-haired woman with curious, mysterious eyes and exposed breasts. But when she returned to the project in 1983, further illustrating the early stages of her love affair with Roth, she took more liberties in depictions of herself. On the page describing the “harsh sexual proposal” Dieter made before laying his head on her lap, the image of her torso is filled with drawings of his round, oval-eyed, scruffy head: two heads in place of her breasts and one each in place of the buttocks, thighs, and knees. “One head in the lap is worth two in the hand,” she writes below her figure, in letters made up of bead-like circles. On a subsequent page, her image appears leaning to one side, face decorated with little circles, a cross on her chest, a spidery black plant growing between her legs, and a halo of ornate pillows surrounding her. Here, as she writes, her body calls “attention to the turmoil it had to endure as her soul was breaking forth into the unknown.” And, a few days later, she recalls making love with her husband for the last time — depicting their bodies beneath a curtain shaped like a circus tent — with gusto, “honoring the past and embracing the future she was filled with love for everyone.” Perhaps this is where the turning point of You Who Read Me begins, 50 pages in, as Iannone becomes a woman easing her way into a radicalism that is both aesthetic and ideological.
Image: “Ten Scenes” (1969), Dorothy Iannone. Via LARB.