Exhibition News: Biala opens at PAAM (Provincetown)

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Opening reception: Friday, August 10, 8pm

Provincetown Art Association and Museum presents Biala: Provincetown Summers: selected paintings and drawings. This historic exhibition is the first to focus entirely on the paintings and drawings by Janice Biala (1903-2000), which were created or inspired by her summers in Provincetown and on Cape Cod. The exhibition opens with a reception on Friday, August 10 at 8pm and will run through September 30 at Provincetown Art Association and Museum (460 Commercial Street, Provincetown, 508.487.1750 ext.17 / www.paam.org)

Organized and curated by Jason Andrew, the exhibition features twenty-seven paintings and twenty-three works on paper ranging in date from 1924 to 1985. Highlights include the earliest painting by the artist titled The Violin (c.1923-23) painted as an homage to her mentor and friend, Edwin Dickinson; Portrait of a Writer (Ford Madox Ford) (1938), who she met in 1930 and remained at his side until his death in 1939; The Beach (1958), a masterwork from the artist's most gestural period; a group of whimsical drawings of her grandnephew's first steps in Provincetown Bay; and Pilgrim Lake (1985), a pensive and contemplative painting that sublimely captures a layering of water, dunes, and the sky above. Works are on loan from the Estate of Janice Biala (courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York), as well as several major loans from private collections, The Art Collection of the Town of Provincetown, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

Mr. Andrew will give a gallery talk on Tuesday, August 21 at 6pm as part of the Fredi Schiff Levin Lectures.

An online catalogue with essay by curator Jason Andrew is available here by visiting www.janicebiala.org

 

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“I envy you going to Provincetown for the summer.
If only I had two lives—I’d spend one by the sea and the other traveling the world.”

These were the words of an artist who, at the time of this declaration, had already lived two lives: one, painting in France during the 1930s with her companion the English novelist Ford Madox Ford, and the second, as one of only a few women to gain critical acclaim during the male dominated era of New York School of Abstract Expressionism.
 
Biala (1903-2000) was a feisty and articulate painter whose career spanned eight decades and two art capitals: New York City and Paris. A Polish èmigrèe, born Schenehaia Tworkovska in 1903, she arrived in New York from her native Biala in 1913 with her older brother Jacob (who would later become the noted Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov). Opinionated and tough, the young brunette with a soft Eastern European face was a free thinker of the highest order. She had a passion for life that fueled a rather aggressive social independence. She was a true bohemian.
 
Provincetown loomed large in the life of both Biala and Tworkov having first hitchhiked their way to study with Charles Hawthorne in the summer of 1923. However, their intellectual attraction toward modernism had them rebelling against Hawthorne’s ridged traditional plein air approach. While Jack sought out the artist Karl Knaths, Biala sought out another highly respected and revered painter, Edwin Dickinson. It was through Dickinson that she received her earliest and most informed art training. Because of Dickinson, Biala said, she “found her true way.”
 
Although that first year spent in Provincetown would be the only time Biala would reside on the Cape with any duration, it would prove to be most critical in defining her path and sensibility. It was soon thereafter at the suggestion of William Zorach that she changed her name. “I decided to change my name,” she wrote, “My name is now Biala.”
 
The Cape was the place Biala returned to after a decade in France during the 1930s at the side of the English novelist Ford Madox Ford. Ford told Ezra Pound that Biala was “rather modern,” and introduced her to all the artists working at the cutting edge of modernism including Brancusi, Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein. Searching for a place to heal following Ford’s death and her heroic escape from the growing threat of Hitler’s regime, Biala spent the summer of 1940 with the Dickinsons in Truro. It was there that she plotted to re-establish herself in America while vowing to return to France.

Biala believed that “all art is sensual before it is anything else. The art of painting is for the eye first and last..." It was this statement that set her apart during the rise of Abstract Expressionism. Although she counted among her closest friends Willem de Kooning, she never fully embraced pure abstraction, as the attention to subject was paramount in her work.

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She exhibited extensively in the leading galleries of New York and Paris, and following the end of World War II, she boarded one of the first passenger boats to France in 1947. Despite the bond she had with Paris she never felt bound by ties of nationality. “I always had the feeling that I belong where my easel is,” Biala said, “I never have the feeling of nationality or roots. In the first place, I’m an uprooted person. I’m Jewish. I was born in a country where it was better not to be Jewish. Wherever you go, you’re in a sense a foreigner. I always felt that wherever my easel was, that was my nationality.”
 
As she settled into her full life in Paris, Biala became the person every American artist in France would come to see. These included Norman Blum, Sam Francis, Shirley Jaffe, Bill Jenkins, Milton Resnick, critic Harold Rosenberg and the occasional run in with Joan Mitchell. And though the sea and the dunes of Provincetown and the Cape may have been miles away, they were only a step and a brush away when she was in her studio.

Biala’s paintings retained an intimacy rooted in the Old World. A sensibility that began with memories of her childhood in a Polish village, broadened by the community of immigrant artists that she discovered in downtown New York, focused by the very delicate hand of Edwin Dickinson, and lastly shaped by a calculated assimilation of French painters like Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse and George Braque.

Provincetown and the Cape were an enduring source of inspiration as the sea and the dunes were among her favorite subjects, which included the bridges and architecture of Paris, the canals and facades of Venice, and the bullfights of Spain.
 
And so she returned at intervals to traditional themes of interiors, still-life, portraiture and landscape but did so with abstract flare, and directness. As critic Michael Brenson noted Biala was “a blend of intimacy and exile."

An online catalogue with essay by curator Jason Andrew is available here or by visiting www.janicebiala.org

Exhibition News: Pavel Zoubok Gallery presents collages by Biala

Biala, Table Chargee (fond fonce a droite), 1963, collage, pencil, oil on canvas, 51 1/2 x 45 inches

Pavel Zoubok Gallery is delighted to be exhibiting once again at The Art Show (ADAA) in the Park Avenue Armory. To mark the 30th Anniversary of this prestigious fair, we will be featuring important works by the Polish-born American painter and collagist, JANICE BIALA (1903-2000).

Please visit Booth D10 from Wednesday, February 28 – Sunday, March 4, 2018.

This solo booth will feature a select group of key works from the 1950s and 1960s, making a compelling case for Biala’s inclusion in the pantheon of postwar abstractionists working in collage. Critic Mario Naves writes:

The tension between pure abstraction and the everyday accrues most bluntly in Biala’s collages. Forget Kurt Schwitter’s loving accumulations of detritus or Max Ernst’s adroitly choreographed absurdities—a Biala collage…storms with impatience; scraps of paper, roughly geometric in form, align along a barely discernible grid…The collages aren’t strictly representational, but the specificity of motif is felt as underlying structure—Biala captures its heft and integrity, albeit in abbreviated or obscured manner.

Janice Biala’s work has been exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally during her lifetime with seven solo shows at the storied Stable Gallery and in five Whitney Museum Annuals. Her works are in private and public collections throughout the United States and Europe, including the Whitney Museum of America Art, New York, The Pittsburgh Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., The National Museum, Oslo, Norway, Musée Cantonal de Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland and Musée National d’Arts Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.

To preview works and for additional information please contact Kris Nuzzi at kris@pavelzoubok.com.

Exhibition News: Biala at Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Biala, “Horse and Carriage,” c. 1983, oil and collage on canvas, 45 x 58 in. (115.2 x 148.4 cm) Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection

Tibor de Nagy Gallery presents its fifth exhibition of paintings by Biala (1903-2000), featuring over twenty works from the 1960s through the 1990s including selected works from the Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection. Harvey Lichtenstein was an ardent supporter of new talent and the President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1967-1999. The exhibition will run January 6-February 11, 2018.

Biala’s contribution to modernism has been noted by critics who championed her assimilation of the School of Paris and the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Her eight-decade career began in the early 1920s when she hitch-hiked with her brother Jack Tworkov to study art in Provincetown. A fateful Paris encounter with English novelist Ford Madox Ford led to a ten-year relationship with the writer and a life-long relationship with France. Upon her return to New York in 1939 following Ford’s death, Biala was in the thick of a milieu of the New York School, befriending painter Willem de Kooning, and critic Harold Rosenberg among many others. Biala thrived on her transatlantic life maintaining a studio in America while returning time after time to her beloved Paris.

Biala’s approach was a synthesis which danced on the lines between representation and abstraction materializing in a uniquely personal style. Intimate interiors, subtle still-lifes, portraits, and long views of the many landscapes of her various travels acted as her creative point of departure. These initial subjects characterized components of Modernist French styles such as Intimism and were translated through the gestural strokes of Abstract Expressionism which epitomized her mature aesthetic.

In addition to celebrating her undefinable painterly uniqueness, this exhibition highlights the extraordinary relationship Biala had with the director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Lichtenstein and his wife Phyllis.  Biala and Harvey were related through marriage (Biala’s sister-in-law was Harvey’s first cousin). The Lichtenstein Collection includes emblematic examples from important themes of Biala’s career, as well as a cohesive representation of the significant places the artist featured in her paintings: France, Italy, and especially Spain.

 Harvey Litchenstein (seated far right) with the first artists of the New Wave Festival, BAM, 1997 (Front row from left: Jene Highstein, Kristin Jones, Merce Cunningham, Mark Morris. Back row includes Andrew Ginzel, JoAnne Akalaitis (third from left), Bill T. Jones, Lou Reed, Ping Chong and Pina Bausch (third from right) among others. Photo: Joanne Savio for  The New York Times

Harvey Litchenstein (seated far right) with the first artists of the New Wave Festival, BAM, 1997 (Front row from left: Jene Highstein, Kristin Jones, Merce Cunningham, Mark Morris. Back row includes Andrew Ginzel, JoAnne Akalaitis (third from left), Bill T. Jones, Lou Reed, Ping Chong and Pina Bausch (third from right) among others. Photo: Joanne Savio for The New York Times

About Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein
As one of the foremost theatrical producers of his time, Harvey Lichtenstein’s first Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) season included Alban Berg’s atonal opera Lulu; performances by a number of modern-dance troupes — Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and Alwin Nikolais, among others; and the Living Theater’s evening of political protest, Paradise Now. He went on to start the Next Wave Festival where he presented important artists such as Robert Wilson and Pina Bausch. This exhibition aims to not only highlight the collection, but celebrate the Lichtensteins’ eye for talent and close relationships with visual artists.

Harvey and Phyllis not only loved the theater, but also the visual arts and amassed a small but important collection that solely included Daniel Brustlein (1904-1996), Jack Tworkov (1900-1982), and Biala (1903-2000). One historic note, for her 80th birthday Biala had one wish and it was to spend it in Seville, her favorite city in Spain. Family and friends gathered to join her there including Harvey and Phyllis. The group took a horse and carriage ride around the plaza at La Giralda. So memorable was the experience for Biala, she preserved it in the painting Horse and Carriage which would become part of the Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection and is featured in this exhibition.

Lecture: Biala: The Woman Painter Among Men

^ Photo: Rudy Burckhardt, 1956

Biala: The Woman Painter Among Men
a special evening with curator Jason Andrew

Thurs, Jan 11, 6:30pm

RSVP (seating is limited)

Art Students League
215 West 57th Street
NYC

__________
Painter Janice Biala (1903-2000), known to history primarily by her surname, was an integral figure in the art scene of mid-twentieth century Manhattan. Sister of painter Jack Tworkov, friend of Willem de Kooning and critic Harold Rosenberg, Biala was in the thick of a milieu that gave rise to the New York School. But before all that, she was the lover of the English novelist Ford Madox Ford.

Curator Jason Andrew will trace the remarkable life and art of Biala from her early days of hitch-hiking to Provincetown in the ‘20s, to jumping on a boat to Paris and later her dramatic escape from Nazi occupied France in the ‘30s, to her early support of Willem de Kooning and participation in the New York School in the ’40s. Above all, she left a history of painting noted for its sublime assimilation of the School of Paris and the New York School of abstract expressionism.

This lecture coincides with the exhibition Biala and the Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection, on view through February 10 at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 15 Rivington Street, New York

Interview: Curator Diane Kelder on Biala retrospective

 Curator Diane Kelder with biala's  Black Interior (Cold Water Flat) , 1955, Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of an anonymous donor [55.44]

Curator Diane Kelder with biala's Black Interior (Cold Water Flat), 1955, Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of an anonymous donor [55.44]

With only a few weeks left to catch Biala: Vision and Memory, the historic retrospective of Janice Biala’s work at Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, curator Diane Kelder opens up about her very personal connection with the work of Janice Biala and the struggles that come along with mounting the first museum retrospective of Biala’s work.

Kelder is Professor Emerita of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She taught at Queens College from 1960 to 66; Finch College from 1967 to 1971; College of Staten Island from 1971 to 2000 and the Graduate Center from 1980 to 2000. She was Curator of the Art Gallery of The Graduate Center from 2000 to 2008 where she mounted many notable exhibitions. Her research interests include Baroque Stage Design, the art of the French Revolution, 19th and 3arly 20th Century French painting and Early American Modernism.

Kelder was the Editor of the Journal of Art from 1973 to 1979 and Acting Editor of Arts Magazine in 1988. A a well published author her publications include:

  • The French Impressionists and Their Century. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1967
  • Stuart Davis: A Documentary Monograph in Modern Art. New York: Praeger Publishers, 19712
  • Aspects of “Official” Painting and Philosophic Art (1789-1799). New York: Garland Publishing, 1976
  • The Great Book of French Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1980 (French and German editions, revised edition 1997)
  • The Great Book of Post-Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1986 (French and German editions)
  • Lowery Sims et al. Stuart Davis, American Painter. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990
  • Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory, 1920-1931. New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library, 2002
  • Jim Dine. Selected Prints, 1996-2006. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007

The Biala exhibition at the Queens Museum is somewhat of a homecoming for Kelder as she explains, “I graduated from Queens College with a B.A. in History, but was very interested in Art History. Happily, on graduation in 1955, I received a fellowship from the University of Chicago where I mainly did Art History and got an M.A. Subsequently, I received a fellowship in Art History at Bryn Mawr and received my Ph.D in 1966.”

How did you become interested in curating?

DK:  I have always been attracted to curating, and as an Instructor in Art History at Queens, in the early 60s, I organized exhibitions such as Scenes and Spectacles, which was devoted to Baroque stage design. To my great good fortune, it was reviewed in the New York Times by Brian O’Doherty. In 1966, I was offered the position of Assistant Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Philadelphia Museum –  and had the opportunity to curate four major exhibitions. However, I missed teaching, the freedom to write and being  in  New York so I gave it up and returned to teaching at CUNY.

  Nancy Graves  photographed with  Variability and Repetition of Variable Forms,  1971. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Nancy Graves photographed with Variability and Repetition of Variable Forms, 1971. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

In the eight years I was Curator at the Graduate Center we did 24 exhibitions, plus 7 collaborations with the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study  Exhibition Program. In retrospect, I’m proud of quite a few, but for different reasons would cite “Elective Affinities: Prints by Goya and Manet” (Spring 2001) featuring works from the Arthur RJoss Foundation and the NYPL; “Nancy Graves: Breaking Boundaries, Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings on Loan from the Nancy Graves Foundation” (Spring 2002). Nancy was an amazing artist and one of my dearest friends who left us too soon; “Splendors of the Renaissance, Princely Attire in Italy” (Spring 2004). This exhibition of  fifteen splendid examples of 16th century courtly dress was one of the most theatrical and ambitious shows we did. It featured mannequins sporting clothes that appear in portraits by Bronzino, Giulio Romano, Titian and others and for seven glorious weeks the gallery’s Fifth Avenue windows returned to the Altman Building’s original mission of showing beautiful things; Unquestionably “Technical Detours, The Early Moholy-Nagy Reconsidered” (Spring 2006) was the most challenging show we undertook. Featuring 216 sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and films it involved an enormous number of loans from private and public collections in the U.S. and Europe. I worked with the Guest Curator, Oliver Botar on every aspect of the show and our installation was sensational. Moreover, we produced a 208 page, fully illustrated catalogue that subsequently became a collectors item. I still receive inquiries from people who are looking for a copy.

Another great experience was “Jim Dine Selected Prints, 1996-2006.” Jim is unquestionably one of the most gifted and innovative printmakers of the late 20th and earl21st century. I’ve always loved his imagery and he generously designed the 148 page catalogue which was published by Gerhard Steidl.

One of the great things about running the gallery at the Graduate Center was the interaction with students in our program who served in many capacities – as Research Assistants, helping with the installations, giving weekly gallery talks. I started teaching when I was twenty-four, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Working with our very bright young scholars has given me a perspective I might not otherwise have had.

For sheer pleasure and satisfaction I would say that my most exhilarating curatorial experience was “Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920-31” at The Pierpont Morgan Library (Fall 2002). It was a jewel-box of a show, only about 20 paintings, drawings, prints and notebooks, but we produced a gorgeous catalogue and it got an extraordinary reviews in The New York Times, The New Criterion, and even the London Times Literary Supplement.

It seems like your career and the work of Janice Biala have been intertwined for some time, Can you describe the first time you came in contact with the work of Janice Biala?

DK:  I met Biala and Brustlein in l980 while I was a tenant of their friend, the painter Giorgio Cavallon. I’d seen Biala’s paintings in exhibitions at Tom Gruenebaum’s gallery and when she had the first of her many exhibitions at Kouros in 1990, I was asked to write the catalogue essay.

Biala “The Flower Pots,” 1985, Oil on canvas, 51 x 38 in., Private Collection, NY

DK:  There were a number of challenges in undertaking a retrospective. Biala died in 2000, her work was no longer with the Kouros Gallery and they were not particularly helpful in providing information about the whereabouts of works. A trip to Paris was imperative, since I needed to connect with her professional milieu and personal contacts, visit her home. The people I contacted couldn’t have been nicer including the doctor, who knew her from childhood, and purchased her home, the painter Shirley Jaffe, friend and collector Nicole Kugel, etc. It was a great experience.

The challenges came when I realized that I would have to raise a great deal of money if the exhibition were to include substantial numbers of works from Europe and collections outside of  New York. My hope that the Jewish Museum might be responsive was extinguished after three months of waiting for the “curators” to come to a decision.  The fact that my proposal to a variety of museums and university galleries came at a time of considerable financial stress didn’t help. However, the enthusiasm of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum with its two, unexpected Biala bullfight paintings, and Joseph Brewer’s friendship with Biala and Ford, was a godsend.

While we managed to represent works of Biala’s from the 20s through the 90s, the sheer difference in scale presented a challenge.

Is there any one period or aspect of Biala’s work that interests you most?

Biala was a painter of impeccable taste and remarkable intelligence, She had an intuitive feeling for composition and her orchestration of color was, at times, breathtaking. I respond particularly to the interiors, the Venice paintings, and her marvelous blacks.

What do you see coming in the future? And maybe you can offer a glimpse of a dream curation?

I haven’t any particular plans, but I wouldn’t mind doing an exhibition of some of the magnificent Baroque Theater drawings in the Morgan collection. Maybe cook up something that joins manuscripts, scores in their Music collection with the fabulous sheets given to the Morgan by Donald Oenslager, Janos Scholz and others.

Review: Biala: Courage of Her Convictions

Edwin Dickinson Portrait of Biala, nee Janice Tworkov (1924) Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm) Private Collection, New York

The New York Sun

September 17, 2013

by Xico Greenwald

Janice Tworkov (1903-2000) changed her name to Biala to differentiate herself from her older brother, Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov. The artist-siblings, Jewish immigrants from Poland raised on the Lower East Side, lived divergent lives.

An action painter, Jack Tworkov played a leading role in shifting the center of the art world from Paris to New York after World War II. Biala, on the other hand, moved to France during the interwar period, where she socialized with some of the leading writers and artists in Europe, including Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Brancusi and Ezra Pound. There she embraced the modernist innovations of synthetic cubism, making quiet cityscapes and interiors that emit the gray light of Paris.

This Queens College retrospective opens with an arresting portrait of 21-year-old Biala by her teacher Edwin Dickinson. The darkly colored portrait is softly modeled with crisp contours; Biala’s gray eyes stare out in a confident, unflinching gaze.

Next to Dickinson’s portrait are several ink-on-paper illustrations for Ford Madox Ford’s “Great Trade Route,” published in 1937. Biala met Ford upon arriving in Paris in 1930 and the couple remained lovers until Ford’s death in 1939. Notable works from this period include dizzying paintings of bull fights, arena pictures alive with movement, and a roughly drawn portrait of Ford, with hash marks over rubbed graphite tones giving the writer’s head sculptural form.

But it is after World War II that Biala came into her own. In “White Façade,” 1950, the shuttered windows of Paris’ limestone buildings are abstracted into thinly painted olive and ochre rectangles. On the right edge of the canvas a tree’s foliage is also simplified into muted green geometry, as the blocky shapes and colors convey an overcast day.

“Nature Morte,” 1963, a tabletop scene, features loose strokes of black carving out a white tablecloth arrangement. The canvas presents a wonderful interplay of negative and positive shapes. In “Table Chargée,” 1963, Biala, working in collage, uses clusters of torn pieces of colored papers to roughly describe an interior.

In the 1980s and 90s Matisse’s influence on Biala seemed to grow as her paintings flatten and objects, including cups, fruits, books and even a cat, are isolated in fields of color.

Neither during her long life nor in the years since her death has Biala’s contribution to art history received the attention it deserves. Museum Director Amy H. Winter says “the politics of gender and style” and the fact that Biala “never fully embraced the mythic freedom and daring associated with abstract expressionism” left the painter “marginalized.” Making “intimate” artworks while living in Paris “rendered her ‘other.’” For Ms. Winter this overdue exhibition “serves as a tribute to artists who, like Biala, persist in remaining faithful to their personal vision.”

BIALA: Vision and Memory on view through October 26, 2013 at Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, CUNY, 405 Klaper Hall, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, NY, 718-997-4747, www.qc.cuny.edu/godwin_ternbach

Biala and Brustlein, a concurrent exhibition featuring works by Biala and her husband, cartoonist Daniel “Alain” Brustlein is on view through October 27, 2013, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 212-262-5050, www.tibordenagy.com

More information about Xico Greenwald’s work can be found at xicogreenwald.com

Exhibition News: First Posthumous Museum Retrospective Announced

 Biala,  Blue Interior with Man and Dog , 1979, Oil on canvas, 64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm)

Biala, Blue Interior with Man and Dog, 1979, Oil on canvas, 64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm)

Flushing, NY – The Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, is pleased to present Biala: Vision and Memory, September 12-October 27, 2013. The exhibition is the first posthumous museum retrospective of American painter Janice Biala (1903-2000) ever held in New York. This historic and comprehensive exhibition brings together paintings, collages, and drawings from across seven decades the artist’s career from the late 1920s to the 1990s. It includes important loans from public and private collections, including two paintings from the Godwin-Ternbach Museum’s permanent collection as well as significant loans from the Estate of Biala. Additionally, the exhibition will display books by celebrated author Ford Madox Ford for which Biala provided illustrations, as well as personal photographs, exhibition catalogues and announcements that document her social and artistic circles in New York and Paris. The exhibition will also feature a documentary about Biala, filmed in  the artist’s studio in 1994. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with an essay by its guest curator Diane Kelder, Professor Emerita of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

An opening reception on Thursday, September 12 from 5-7 pm, will feature an informal exhibition walk-through by Diane Kelder, beginning at 6 pm.

Born Schenehaia Tworkovsky in a town near the Polish Russian border (c. 1903-2000), Biala pursued a career that spanned more than seven decades and brought her critical recognition in New York and Paris. In both cities she formed close friendships with legendary figures of modernist art and literature. She witnessed the eclipse of Paris as the international center of modernism, the rise of Abstract Expressionism, and the dizzying succession of movements that radically transformed the very concept of art during the second half of the 20th century. Through it all, she continued to paint exquisitely crafted canvases in a personal style that, even now, resists classification.

On a visit to Paris in 1930, Biala met and fell in love with the British novelist Ford Madox Ford. She created illustrations and dust covers for several of his books and managed his dealings with publishers until his death in 1939 when she became the Executor of his literary estate. Returning to New York the following year, she reconnected with her brother Jack Tworkov, who introduced her to Willem de Kooning and other artists who would subsequently transform American painting.  Throughout the 50s and 60s, while spending extended periods in Paris, Biala was one of a select group of women who participated in the activities of Studio 35 and The Club and exhibited at the Stable Gallery, a cooperative that showed many artists of the New York School and enjoyed the support of critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. She briefly explored gestural abstraction during this period, but her abiding fascination with the world around her proved more compelling. After taking up permanent residence in Paris, she continued to exhibit regularly in New York until her death in 2000. Since 2005, the Tibor de Nagy Gallery has presented three solo exhibitions that have generated renewed critical interest in her work.

In her opening essay for the catalogue Diane Kelder writes: “Overcoming the hardships encountered by legions of Eastern European immigrants and years of precarious existence as an aspiring young artist, the painter known as Biala (1903-2000) pursued a career that spanned more than seven decades and garnered broad critical recognition in New York and Paris. In both cities, she formed lasting friendships with many of the legendary figures of modernist art and literature. Tough-minded and fiercely independent, she created an idiosyncratic body of work that reflected her peripatetic life, resistance to prevailing art trends, and extended dialogue with the School of Paris. After settling in that city permanently in 1965, Biala continued to exhibit in New York. However, her aesthetic concerns and expatriate status gradually isolated her from the increasingly fashion and market-driven priorities of the late twentieth century art world. In 1989, when asked by a critic to contemplate what her career might have been had she remained in New York, she replied “If I had it to do all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.”[1]

Continuing, Kelder explains, “In canvas after canvas, she displays remarkable visual intelligence and absolute control of her medium. If Biala’s paintings offer immense gratification to the eye, they also are reservoirs of feeling and memory, lyric affirmations of the life she chose to lead.”

A series of lectures will follow during September and October—dates will be confirmed. Dr. Kelder will discuss Biala’s themes and variations, poet and art critic Mary Maxwell will speak about Biala and the Provincetown Art colony; Biala Estate curator Jason Andrew will discuss Biala and Ford Madox Ford; and GTM Director Amy Winter will comment on women artists in the New York School in the post-WWII period. The museum will also screen the BBC film series “Parade’s End,” based on Ford Madox Ford’s 1924-28 novel about WWI, hailed as “possibly the greatest 20th-century novel in English.”

For further information about the exhibition and program times and dates, as well as upcoming exhibits and events, call 718-997-4747 or visit Godwin-Ternbach MuseumGodwin. All exhibitions and public programs are free.

By car, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum is 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan. Directions are: atwww.qc.cuny.edu/directions

About the Godwin-Ternbach Museum:
The Godwin-Ternbach Museum, a part of Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, presents exhibitions and programs that provide significant educational opportunities and aesthetic experiences to residents of the borough and neighboring Long Island and Manhattan. As the only comprehensive collection in Queens, housing over 5,000 objects dating from ancient to modern times, the museum introduces many individuals to art and artifacts they might not otherwise encounter. The breadth of these holdings, and the rich resources of the college, allow presentations that speak to the interests and needs of the diverse audiences of the communities the GTM serves. Lectures, symposia, gallery talks, films and workshops, and an active website, complement and interpret the art on view. All exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public.

For more about Queens College visit: www.qc.cuny.edu

[1] Michael Brenson, “Three Who Were Warmed By the City of Light,” The New York Times (June 25, 1989): 32.

Essay: Hurly-burly Intimism: The Art of Janice Biala

 Biala,  Table Chargee , 1963, Torn paper collage with paint on canvas, 25 x 51 in. (63.5 x 129.5 cm)

Biala, Table Chargee, 1963, Torn paper collage with paint on canvas, 25 x 51 in. (63.5 x 129.5 cm)

By Mario Naves

The painter Janice Biala (1903-2000), known to history primarily by her surname, was an integral figure in the art scene of mid-twentieth century Manhattan.  Sister of painter Jack Tworkov, friend of Willem de Kooning and critic Harold Rosenberg, Biala was in the thick of a milieu that gave rise to the New York School.  While not an Abstract Expressionist per se, she was shaped by its hardscrabble verities.  Biala’s artistic process, whether embodied in zooming brushstrokes or an agitated flurry of ripped paper, is unimaginable without them.

Biala didn’t yield to abstraction.  Things in the world–concrete objects we hold, traverse or trip over–were her art’s impetus and end-point.  The ages old endeavor of working from life puts Biala’s achievement at odds with prevailing notions of avant-gardism, of forward momentum and innovation.  But looking at her pictures of unapologetic domesticity—Biala’s immediate surroundings served as inspiration–you wonder why the improbable marriage of de Kooning’s hurly-burly and Edouard Vuillard’s intimisme shouldn’t, in and of itself, be considered radical.  At the very least, it’s a tough row to hoe.

The tension between pure abstraction and the everyday accrues most bluntly in Biala’s collages.  Forget Kurt Schwitter’s loving accumulations of detritus or Max Ernst’s adroitly choreographed absurdities–a Biala collage like Vitrine (c. 1961) storms with impatience; scraps of paper, roughly geometric in form, align along a barely discernible grid.  Elsewhere, an arcing tumble of tawny swatches coalesce into a tangible shape–a seated figure.  An abrupt swipe of rust-red oil paint coupled with rambunctious shards of tan paper ultimately reveals a parent and child.  The collages aren’t strictly representational, but the specificity of motif is felt as underlying structure–Biala captures its heft and integrity, albeit in abbreviated or obscured manner.

At other moments, Biala was considerably more deliberate and the resulting images are readily apparent–a stately clatter of houses in Provincetown, say, or the blocky effigies of a pianist and a cellist in the whimsical Untitled (The Concert) (c. 1957).  Whatever speed she was traveling or however brusque the composition, Biala remained true to the world out there.

Biala’s investigations into collage would never reach the same level of intensity as they did during the years 1955-1960.  In this tight knit group of works, we see her channeling Matisse’s élan, Braque’s unassuming virtuosity and we feel her debt, grateful and profound, to Velazquez.  In each of the collages, you experience the heady excitement of an artist tussling with process, precedent and the unexpected poetry of the everyday.

This essay was originally published in the catalogue accompanying Biala: Collages 1957-1963, a 2009 exhibition at Tibor De Nagy Gallery.

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody: Paintings by Janice Biala

Biala, “Vue despuis de la Giudecca,” 1985, Oil on canvas, 77 x 59 in.

The New York Sun

December 13, 2007

By John Goodrich

One of the tangential intrigues of art is the Bohemian lifestyle that often attends it — that liberated, marginal existence that feeds upon and nourishes creative intensity. The painter Janice Biala (1903–2000) lived such a life and lived it to the very fullest.

Her résumé sounds like a potboiler: Overcoming a precarious childhood, she pursued a seven-decade-long career that spanned the art worlds of both New York and Paris, and befriended many of the giants of art and literature on both sides of the Atlantic. Generous but tough — and always opinionated — she produced a unique body of work reflecting her peripatetic life in the limpid, graceful style of French modernist painting. Her geographical and stylistic distance from the New York School meant that she never achieved the fame of some of her contemporaries, but recent shows of her work at Tibor de Nagy Gallery — where her paintings are currently on view until January 5 — have brought her some long-overdue attention.

Biala was born Schenehaia Tworkovska in a region of eastern Poland historically subject to pogroms. By 1913, she left with her Jewish family for a tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side. (The young girl was later to take her hometown’s name as her own. Her older brother Yakov changed his name, too — to Jack Tworkov.) As a teenager, Biala worked various jobs in order to attend classes at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, where she studied with Charles Hawthorne. Edwin Dickinson and William Zorach became her friends and mentors. After a brief and unhappy marriage, Biala left for Paris in 1930, where her encounter with Ford Madox Ford was to change her life.

At age 26, she was less than half the author’s age, but their romantic relationship endured until his death in 1939. For both it marked a time of emotional nourishment and artistic productivity . Through Ford, Biala met such luminaries as Picasso, Matisse, Joyce, and Pound. She later wrote that in living for Ford, she had found herself: “He found a little handful of dust and turned it into a human being.” The comment tells not only of the poignant depth of her love, but also the forthrightness of her self-image. Perhaps, though, she undersold herself: When they met, Ford, an inveterate womanizer, was in a deeply depressive and lonely state. Under Biala’s attention, he regained his writing stride, while Biala managed his contracts and illustrated several of his books. After his death, she became his literary executor, staunchly defending his reputation against the insufficient praise of critics.

When Ford died in 1939, Biala barely had time to secure his papers before the Nazi onslaught. She departed for New York, where her brother Jack Tworkov, now well-connected in the New York art world, introduced her to de Kooning and other future Abstract Expressionists. In 1943, Biala married the French artist Daniel Brustlein, best known to New Yorker readers as the cartoonist Alain. Again, theirs was a mutually supportive relationship, as Biala collaborated with Alain in two-person exhibitions and on a number of children’s books. The couple shuttled between Paris and New York for many years before settling permanently in France.

Over the years they befriended Saul Steinberg, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan Mitchell. Biala’s work, regularly exhibited in Paris and New York galleries since the 1930s, appeared in numerous museum shows. She continued to exhibit to the very end, with her final show at Kouros Gallery in 1999. She died the following year at age 97.

Biala lived as she wished — simply but thoroughly, and in the company of remarkable artists and writers. Spanning nearly 40 years, the paintings and mixed-media collages now on view at Tibor de Nagy Gallery reflect her unpretentious pleasure in her visual surroundings: the street scenes and monuments of France, Spain, Italy, and Morocco. Her admiration for Matisse shows in her simplified descriptions and planes of bright but subtly adjusted colors. In “Bateau sur la Seine” (1980), myriad grays and greens convincingly catch a river’s surface, alternately absorbing and reflecting light. Just two condensations of color punctuate its expanse: a patch of warm white, perfectly capturing a houseboat’s buoyant weight, and the rich, opaque green of a tree’s foliage rising from the near shore. “Open Window” (c. 1989) records a scene reminiscent of Matisse: a window view framed by vertical notes of curtain, wall, and the glass panes of the inward-turned sash. Biala’s hues beautifully convey the illumination of the interior and do so with a self-satisfaction quite alien to Matisse, whose unease disclosed itself in more compulsive contrasts and more swiftly cutting lines. All of Biala’s paintings seem touched by a tough ingenuousness — never sentimental or naïve, but slightly nostalgic in their playful intimacy. Suffusing them is the outlook of a painter who has found what she needs and knows what she wants to do. The results glow with a wondrous candor.

This review accompanied the exhibition Biala: I belong where my easel is… at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, NY, November 15, 2007-January 5, 2008.

From the Archive: Biala in VOUGE Magazine (Jan 2006)

 Detail from "The Flower Pots", 1985

Detail from "The Flower Pots", 1985

by Jean Nathan

published: VOGUE, January 2006

I first saw a Biala painting many years ago at the New York apartment of a woman whose friends and intimates included such blue-chip names as de Kooning and Noguchi. Their work was well represented there, but what really dazzled me was a large winter landscape hanging on the wall behind the dinner table. It was a partial view of an evergreen tree, a snowdrift obscuring its roots and, beside it, a bird feeder inhabited despite the season. Something about the painting gave me the uncanny sensation that I was looking at a self-portrait. I knew I risked appearing ignorant — its prominent placement was surely no accident — but I had no idea whose work it could be, and I became increasingly curious. “Biala,” said my hostess. “I’ll tell you about her someday.” Although I would return often to that apartment, that day never came.

That was, until last winter, when Biala’s name seemed to surface everywhere I turned. First she showed up in my mailbox in the form of an announcement from New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery that they were representing her estate — a show of the late painter’s work is to be exhibited there from January 5 to February 4. Around the same time, her name jumped out at me from a biography of the writer Jean Rhys — actually Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams until the writer Ford Madox Ford, best known for The Good Soldier, convinced the young Ella that she was a writer, to change her name, and to become his mistress. When their affair ended in 1927, Rhys replaced him quickly, but, I read, “Ford had to wait until 1930 for his last love.” It was Biala. And there she was again in the Pulitzer Prize-winning de Kooning biography by Annalyn Swan and Mark Stevens. She was married to her second husband and stepped in to give the then-penniless artist an impromptu wedding lunch when he married Elaine in 1943.

Who was she? I was determined to find out, and my inquiries conjured a stormy, abrasive, and extraordinarily poetic woman, tough and intensely feminine, practical and fanciful, whether painting with a towel thrown around her neck like a prizefighter or dining out with a white fur flung over her shoulders. A tailor’s daughter from Poland, she had lived among the greatest writers and artists of the twentieth century, first as a Greenwich Village Bohemian, then as an accomplished painter and a captivating hostess in Paris after the war, with two profoundly happy partnerships along the way. “She was quite an amazing character,” said her niece Hermine Ford. “And no one was more amazed by her life than she herself.” But the story of Biala (1903-2000) had somehow slipped between the cracks.

Talking to those who knew her well, including my long-ago hostess, Priscilla Morgan, and the daughters of Biala’s brother, Jack Tworkov (a New York artist who had been an original member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism), reading about her in the many Ford biographies, and looking at her art, I discovered a painter whose work had been widely exhibited and praised by everyone from John Russell to John Ashbery but whose reputation had been all but washed away on the tides of a movement back and forth between Europe and America. This life in constant motion was partially the consequence of the very worst events of the last century, from pogroms to Nazism and war. But it was a result, too, of her restless and uncompromising nature and her insistence upon finding a place that felt like home, even if she had to paint it into existence. “I belong where my easel is,” she once said in answer to a journalist’s question about her incessant uprootings.

The story begins in 1903 in Biala, the Polish village near the Russian border where Janice Tworkovsky was born a Jew “in a place,” she later said sardonically, “where it was better not to be one.” Poland was left behind, though, when Janice and her family fled to America in 1913. By the time they arrived here, as her older brother Yakov — later Jacob, then Jack — would write, their early life had “fallen off… like a dead branch, especially that part which is merely data.” Settled into a tenement apartment on New York’s Lower East Side and without documentation of even so much as a birth date, the children were refused admission to public school until their father, struggling to navigate red tape in a culture he didn’t understand, simply made up the missing facts.

Even before completing high school, Jacob and Janice were searching for a way out of the mean life that, despite every effort, was all their parents could provide. It was Jack who first discovered the art scene in Greenwich Village but Janice who felt the first stirrings of a sense of belonging and the desire to become an artist. To pay for classes at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League she took jobs at the Western Union telegraph office and as a shopgirl. And as if to signal a new start while keeping a beloved place and her past with her always, Janice decided to take “Biala,” which means “white” in Polish, for her name. She kept with her, too, an enormous hostility toward the Poles, who had forced her from her homeland and taught her of “the ferocity of men to men,” which, she wrote, “staggers my mind and fills me with such horror and disgust.” But these feelings also galvanized a young immigrant to make an extraordinary life, surrounded by what she called “the redeemers, all those people who by their thoughts, their works, their actions, or their lives have redressed the balance a little of ferocity, injustice, and cruelty.” She would later say that her life didn’t really begin until she met Ford. “In living for him — I became myself,” she wrote. “He found a little handful of dust and turned it into a human being…” But she sold herself short. By the time they aligned, when she was 26, she had already done the hardest work.

In the spring of 1930, Biala headed for France, a place she had longed to visit ever since she first read The Three Musketeers as a girl in Poland. According to her niece Helen Tworkov, she was also anxious to find a way out of an impulsive early marriage to Lee Gatch, a fellow artist. Just days after her arrival, she met Ford when a friend invited her to one of his Thursday “at-homes.” Biala had never heard of him and agreed to go only when she learned that Ezra Pound, who she revered, was a regular.

At 56, Ford was a literary titan, having by then published 68 books and countless articles and edited two of the most important literary journals of the time. “Practically every writer of serious substance in Britain or America moved through his life and gained from his mind and presence,” wrote Eudora Welty. As did a long chain of lovers. Although not handsome, he was always irresistible to women. Long after the bitter ending of their nine-year alliance, the Australian expatriate painter Stella Bowen, the mother of one of his three daughters, could still write of the “tremendous attraction of his gorgeous mind…”

Ford had led a life of broad womanizing, his changing lovers both ancillary and critical to his creative output. But when Biala met Ford, he was a womanizer — and consequently a writer — in a dry spell. His affair with Rhys had rocked his relationship with Bowen, who finally threw him over when she learned of his next dalliance, with St. Louis socialite Rene Wright. And in a one-two punch, Wright — having divorced her husband only to find Ford wouldn’t marry her — did, too. Never shy, Biala’s first words to Ford were to express her disappointment that Pound was not there. But by the time they had spent the next night at dinner, followed by a tour of Paris boîtes, where they danced until dawn, she had forgotten all about Pound.

Her friends expressed shock when they discovered she had taken up with a man twice her age. “I have looked all my life for a man with a mind as old as my own,” she blasted back. “And what difference does it make if, when I find the man, he has a potbelly!” Ford’s friends were sooner amused, an amusement shot through with perhaps more than a trace of envy. When James Joyce, the godfather to Bowen and Ford’s daughter, Julia, was introduced to this latest conquest — five-foot-two, slim-hipped, and very coquettish — he raced to report his findings to a mutual friend. He said he was unsure whether this was Ford’s “eighth or eighteenth wife,” but he was sure of his friend’s sexual prowess, to which he paid tribute by rejiggering the words of a popular song: “O Father O’Ford, you’ve a masterful way with you / Maid, wife, and widow are wild to make hay with you / Blonde and brunette turn-about run away with you / You’ve such a way with you, Father O’Ford.”

Ford was more than just a sexual predator, though. As one of his characters says in Parade’s End: “You seduced a woman in order to be able to finish your talks with her. You could not do that without living with her. You could not live with her without seducing her; but that was the by-product. The point is that you can’t otherwise talk. You can’t finish talks at street corners; in museums; even in drawing-rooms. You mayn’t be in the mood when she is in the mood — for the intimate conversation that means the final communion of your souls.” In Biala, he found that communion, and in Ford, “humane, generous, kind,” she found a redeemer — and the best mentor imaginable.

While Ford’s previous loves had played the role of “consort to another and more important artist,” as Bowen had described herself, Ford and Biala fell naturally into an equal partnership that extended beyond their respective careers to housework, cooking, gardening. It helped that neither cared much for bourgeois comforts. Ford liked to say that he hated comfort but loved luxury. They owned no house, had little in the way of possessions and were always strapped for cash. Food and wine, however, were taken very seriously. A famously good cook, Ford taught Biala to be one also.

When they weren’t traveling all over Europe and America, where Biala would paint while the couple tried to generate income from Ford’s teaching and writing assignments, they lived mostly in Cap Brun, outside Toulon, subletting the ground floor and garden of a rundown villa whose best feature was a “long terrace, giving over the foam of the Mediterranean.” Ford admitted cheerily that the living conditions at the Villa Paul, with no indoor plumbing or electricity, were “troglodytic.” But if the constant houseguests groused, it didn’t stop them from coming.

Seeing Biala’s work around this time, the writer Katherine Anne Porter described her as a “really serious good painter,” a judgment seconded by Theodore Dreiser, who wrote a catalog essay to a show in New York in 1937. “This Biala is doing things,” he enthused. “Nothing escapes… her revolving, camera eye.” Indeed, the subjects for the show’s portraits and figurative landscapes were all that came before her lens in her life with Ford — Ford himself, his daughter Julia (a portrait Porter bought), and scenes of Paris, New York, and other places they had traveled to.

Porter was less certain what to make of the woman herself and described all the contradictions with which Biala’s character was etched. “Janice is a little creature, thin, young, and too much acquainted with hardship and trouble for her years, abrupt, courageous, and baffled. Very mature in her feelings, uninformed, full of Jewish melancholy… She hasn’t an atom of frivolity in her but a very caustic and clever humor…” Except for the point about frivolity — Biala could be playful and great fun to be around — Porter got it right. Regardless, Ford embraced Biala’s idiosyncratic nature and was transformed by her presence in his life. When the poet Robert Lowell came to call, he found a Ford who could not have been happier to be “the old master still in harness… Bohemian, newly married, and in France.”

Quite a lot about this woman whose love had so reinvigorated him would find his way into the eleven books Ford would publish during their time together. She flourished, too, as he filled up her life and canvases, including one in which her model lay in a hammock, potbelly in high relief, reading a book on her hero Cézanne.

“He wanted us always to be together, side by side in everything, before the world,” she wrote. It was Ford who arranged her first solo show in New York, and Biala who took over the managing of his often messy affairs with publishers. “Your letters,” she chided one, “are in the tone of a person repelling beggars. This is not the way to write to a person of Ford’s standing…” “The fact that she had that kind of self-confidence is mind-boggling to me,” says Helen Tworkov. “She was so young and so far out of her league.” Biala never seemed to think so. “Anyone could talk to Picasso,” she said. And she was equally unfazed when everyone from Joyce to Pound showed up for lunch. She never hesitated to speak her mind, excoriating Pound when he became a Fascist sympathizer, and pronouncing Gertrude Stein “an angry bitch.”

“Biala was a woman of declarative opinions,” says Helen. “There was not a lot of gray. She could be sassy, overreactive, dismissive.” But her abrasiveness coexisted with a capacity for kindness, generosity, and loyalty. And her warmth and charm came through in her work and friendships. Ford considered her “an unexpected and undeserved gift” for which he was full of gratitude. But their “long passionate dialogue,” as Biala expressed it, came to an abrupt end in June 1939, when he died in Biala’s arms at a Deauville hospital at the age of 66.

In that instant, “grounded in pain,” as she described her feelings in a letter, Biala nonetheless knew she would have to get on with it, if only because her beloved would have wanted her to. She snipped off a lock of “his beautiful hair”, tossed a bouquet garni on his grave, and tried to think where to turn. The intensifying Nazi threat made the decision for her. With the pluck and good luck that often attended her, she found passage on what she said was the last ship out of town, which she risked missing when she detoured to the Villa Paul to rescue Ford’s papers and manuscripts. He had made her his literary executor, and for the rest of her life she would remain the faithful keeper of Ford’s flame.

She arrived this second time in America in the wave of refugees fleeing Hitler. Her brother, Jack, by then a well-established painter in New York, could provide comfort — and entrée. He helped with gallery connections and introduced her to his circle, which included de Kooning, whose studio was next door to his on East Tenth Street. “I can only say how fresh and bright and swift I find her total magic,” wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Carl Van Doren of her first New York show after her return. But if she was professionally on track, emotionally she was reeling — from the loss of Ford, the world at war, and her struggles to readjust to life in New York. That was what led her, longing for sea air, to take a sketchbook and a bottle of whiskey to Coney Island one afternoon. As she drew, a man, tall and very handsome, tapped her on the shoulder. He only wanted to say that he, too, was an artist. She had turned around to meet her next “redeemer.”

Born in 1904 in the Alsatian town of Mulhouse, Daniel Brustlein was a descendant of George Frideric Handel’s sister, his closest claim to fame. Having come to this country in 1925 after studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, he brought Handel’s cello, which he had inherited, a minor musical talent, and a major artistic one. Originally a textile designer, he later worked as a commercial artist until 1931, when he was hired to draw cartoons and covers for The New Yorker, which he signed “Alain.” Alain, as almost everyone called him from then on, proved himself a master at the art of the cartoon, the clean black-and-white line, the one or two facts that can be manipulated in a comic way. Having successfully mined the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk for ideas in the past, he was again seeking inspiration on that day.

Alain and Biala were married at New York’s City Hall on July 11, 1942, and, as soon as they could after the war ended, they left for Paris. From the moment they arrived, Biala said, “I felt as if I had come home.” It reminded her of her native village, she said, “the same smells of bread baking, the dogs going around in a very busy way…” But they could not yet put down roots. Postwar immigration laws kept them shuttling back and forth between New York and France for the next decade. In 1960, finally legally free to stay, they bought a house at 8, rue du Général Bertrand, in the seventh arrondissement, actually a converted stable reached through a courtyard hidden behind an apartment building. They added a second floor for side-by-side studios. “This wonderful, magical, strange little house just reeked of all her history and genuineness,” recalled Nancy Rosen, an art adviser and close friend. “It was just beautiful in a very real and modest way.”

Every inch of the house, from a pot of flowers on the table to the dishes in a breakfront, found its way into the intimate and lyric works Biala painted there, reminiscent of Pierre Bonnard but also seemingly inflected with Paul Klee. In the early years her subjects had been mostly landscapes and interiors; she veered into more abstract work in the fifties. But with this first real home it was if she had finally found a place to come inside, to look in but also to gaze out — into the courtyard, to capture the conifer she had transplanted outside the front door, or from the window of the The Blue Kitchen to turn her imaginative scrutiny to the Paris housefronts that John Russell called “small encyclopedias of European life” in a New York Times review of Biala in 1985.

When not painting, she collaborated with Alain on a half a dozen well-received children’s books and traveled through Egypt and India and all over Western Europe. In Paris they were surrounded by what they loved: books, music, cats, good food, and friends. “They lived simply, but it was gracious living,” recalled Shirley Jaffe, an American expatriate painter who knew Biala for more than 40 of the Paris years. “Mealtime,” she added, “was essentially important.” Guests marveled not only at the impressive quality of her cooking but at how she was able to produce it in so tiny and ill-equipped a kitchen.

And, too, they marveled at her work. The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who befriended the Brustleins in 1947, had this to say in a catalog essay he wrote for a 1977 show: “I like Biala’s attitude — her sense of color, of form, her aesthetic rigor, her perpetual disquiet. Her painting… has a gravity and exaltation.” He was among the writers, artists, next-door neighbors, friends, or family members from America who all crowded in for dinners around the rickety table. “She attracted people,” said Jaffe. “They flocked around her. She had a presence that you didn’t ignore.” Alain, more retiring, loved it when Biala held the stage.

“Theirs was an old-fashioned Bohemian life in Paris,” said Helen. “She couldn’t have cared less about comfort to an astonishing degree.” Her nieces urged them to make home improvements, but this held no appeal. Luxuries, though, as Ford had taught her, were another matter. Biala visited the dressmaker next door to have the hotly colored silks she brought back from India turned into blouses and dresses.

When she donned her featherlight white broadtail-lamb coat for an evening out and enveloped herself in a cloud of her favorite perfume, Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, the effect, said her niece Hermine Ford, could be quite seductive. But even in the more no-nonsense pants and shirts she usually wore, with her dazzling smile and girlish figure she remained attractive and always intensely feminine even into old age, as recalled by the director Arthur Penn, who became a friend and collector, and who spoke at Biala’s memorial service. The critic Michael Brenson describes her as “the sexiest 90-year-old I’ve ever been around.” He was also deeply impressed to see a woman of her age painting and doing housework, shopping and cooking — and without complaint.

This, too, was part of what Ford taught her early on. She had followed his credo, taken from a Spanish proverb, that the only way to live was to “do what you want and take what you get for doing it and no complaints.” Asked to participate in a 1995 documentary film about American women artists living in Paris, Biala, then 92, who in eight decades as a painter had never painted a self-portrait and hated being asked to go over the past, finally stood back to assess the canvas of her life. She pronounced it a good one. “I lived the kind of life I wanted to live,” she said, her smile widening, her blue eyes twinkling, “and where I wanted to live it.”

From the Archive: Obit: Biala, 97, Whose Paintings Were Cryptic and Luscious

 Biala, 1956. Photo: Rudy Burckhardt, © Rudy Burckhardt

Biala, 1956. Photo: Rudy Burckhardt, © Rudy Burckhardt

The New York Times

By Roberta Smith

published on: October 12, 2000

Janice Brustlein, whose painting career, pursued under the name Biala, spanned two art capitals and several generations, died on Sept. 24 at her home in Paris. She was 97 and had lived in Paris since 1958.

She was known for cryptic, lusciously painted interiors, still lifes, landscapes and street scenes that hovered between abstraction and representation. They belonged to a trans-Atlantic tradition that included French painters like Matisse, Bonnard and Marquet, as well as Milton Avery and Edward Hopper. She might also be grouped with artists like Loren MacIver, Fairfield Porter and Anne Poor, who borrowed from the abstract tendencies of the New York School while concentrating on their immediate surroundings.

Always carrying a sketchbook, Biala drew her subjects from her homes and studios, the cities she lived in and the places she visited, including Cape Cod, Venice, the French Riviera and Fire Island. Although she preferred to live in Paris, her career was based in New York, where she had regular gallery shows beginning in the 1940’s.

Biala was described by her niece, the New York painter Hermine Ford, as a ”uniquely wonderful, widely beloved character” whose house in Paris ”would fill in the late afternoon with all kinds of people — writers, artists, next-door neighbors.” Her close friends included the photographer Cartier-Bresson, as well as the expatriate American painter Shirley Jaffe. She knew literary Paris as well, having lived there with the English novelist Ford Madox Ford from the late 1920’s until his death in 1939, during which time she illustrated some of his novels.

Biala rarely revisited her complicated past — refusing several offers from potential biographers — and as a result its facts are not always clear. Neither Ms. Ford, or her sister Helen Tworkov, a founding editor of Tricycle magazine, remember the name their aunt was given at birth. She was born in 1903, the daughter of a Jewish tailor named Tworkovsky in Biala, a village on the Russian-Polish border. Her father soon left for New York, where he set up a shop on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side; Biala, her mother and her older brother Jacob, who would become the Abstract Expressionist painter Jack Tworkov, followed in 1913.

While both nieces contend that Biala knew she wanted to be a painter from a very early age (before her brother did, in fact), all they know of her artistic education is that at the age of 18 or 19, after a brief period of study at the National Academy of Design, she went to Provincetown, Mass., to study with the painter Edwin Dickinson, whose painterly representation was especially influential on her work. By then she was already living on her own, supporting herself with menial jobs and becoming familiar with Greenwich Village bohemia. Sometime in the mid-1920’s she was briefly married to the painter Lee Gatch. After that, a wealthy couple interested in art paid her expenses on a trip to Paris, where she met Ford and became a Francophile.

In 1943, having returned to New York, Biala married Daniel Brustlein, an Alsatian-born painter who contributed cartoons to The New Yorker under the name Alain. Over the next 15 years the couple split their time between Paris and New York. (The McCarran Act did not permit naturalized citizens to live abroad for more than two years at a time.) Their New York circle included Jack and Wally Tworkov, Harold and May Rosenberg, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Saul Steinberg and Hedda Sterne and Rudy Burckhardt. Mr. Brustlein died in 1996.

Biala’s first exhibition was at the Passedoit Gallery in Manhattan in 1936, by which point, it is thought, she had already taken the name of her birthplace. She exhibited at the Stable Gallery, an important artists’ cooperative, in 1954, 1956 and 1961. In the 1970’s and 80’s she was represented by the Gruenebaum Gallery in New York and in the 1990’s by the Kouros Gallery, where she had her most recent show in 1999.

Despite her love of Paris, Biala never gave up her United States citizenship. She was at home everywhere. ”I never have the feeling of nationality or roots,” she once said. ”I always had the feeling that I belong where my easel is.”