Figurative artist Lois Dodd is known for her unique style of realism in understated paintings of New York’s Lower East Side, winter scenes from the Delaware Water Gap, still life, and the landscapes and woods of Maine.
By the time she was 15, Dodd had lost both her parents and was encouraged by her high school art teacher to apply to Cooper Union. She studied there for three years and met artist Bill King whom she married. The two went to Italy for a year and upon returning in 1951 went to Maine and painted landscapes in the summer. When they returned to New York in the fall, she and four other artists opened their own gallery, the Tanager Gallery, which became integral to the Tenth Street-avant-garde scene of the 1950s. The gallery ran until 1962.
Dodd is known for her immediate portrayals of everyday life in landscapes, cityscapes, and still-life paintings. She paints in a nominally realistic way using straightforward techniques of expressive color, purposeful strokes, and post-modern flatness. She often works en plain air, starting paintings on site and finishing them in her studio. She spends time looking out windows to find her content and paints isolated architectural elements, often using the window itself as a frame for compositions of city life, gardens, and woods.
While viewing through windows has become a recurrent them in her figurative works, she also paints windows when seen from outdoors. She is drawn to the ready-made grid of windows and their inherent flatness. In addition, windows also provide reflections which give an undercurrent of modernist abstraction to her paintings. Architectural geometry is integral to her work. Even when she is painting plants, there is a geometry that underlies their growth pattern.
By 1971-72, she made some of her windows life-size, observed from outdoors during the night or during the day. The windows are found in city buildings or in the simple homes of Maine. Some of the windows in derelict houses or barns are broken. The windows are either opaque or reflective and sometimes open out onto landscapes.
In the 1970s, Dodd started doing nocturnal scenes in nighttime paintings done in her summer home in Maine. “You could stand outside and the moonlight was so brilliant certain nights that I realized I could paint in it.” A nature painting “Composition in White, Brown,and Grey,” 2000, is a view of a dark pond that she frequently painted with an evergreen to the side and calligraphic branches in the foreground.
There is a flattened quality especially seen in her flower paintings as in her 2009 “Foreshortened View” where a flattened, blue-petaled flower is surrounded by green tendrils. Her 2012 “Window with Amaryllis Plant” shows the plant against a window through which another view to the outdoors is seen.
Houses also feature prominently in her paintings. She often starts out with a house seen against a gray or white sky, such as her 2013 “March Snow” where flakes are painted across the roof. Spidery tree branches seem to sprout from the roofline. Sometimes she paints houses bleak and plain, looking almost institutional. Her 2013 “Night House With Lit Window” is mysterious: a clapboard house shown in the middle of the night. An outdoor light fixture splashes illumination onto gray walls. Broad trees stand in the pitch black yard. Several of her house paintings show homes on fire as in her 2007 “Burning House, Night with Fireman,” a large oil painting, 46” by 64,” which shows a house being consumed by flames in the night.
Dodd taught at the Philadelphia College of Art, Brooklyn College, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She is an elected member of the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and of the National Academy of Design.
Since 1954, her work has been shown in more than 50 one-person exhibitions. In 2013, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City held a retrospective of her work. Her first survey outside America was in London’s Modern Art gallery.
Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Cooper Hewitt Art Museum, National Academy of Design, National Portrait Gallery, Whitney Museum Print Collection, Portland Museum of Art, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, various college museums,and major corporate collections.