Queen of Arts
Simply put, Audrey Flack is a force of nature.
Never one to sit idle or fall in step with the status quo, the internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor has been at the forefront of the changing artistic landscape for the past seven decades. Her work has made its mark on contemporary culture — from the earliest days of the Abstract Expressionist and Photorealism movements to the burgeoning Feminist movement, and today’s rising waves of Environmental and Political art.
“Art, to me, is a calling,” she says. “It’s meant to be shared, to connect — not for elitism, or something just to hang on a wall or collect. It’s a continuous discovery into reality … each artist contributing to the next generation’s advancement.”
A well versed explorer of art history, Flack began her studies at the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, after which she went on to Cooper Union to study with Nicolas Marsicano. Her career began in earnest there, as did her acquaintance to the hyper-masculine art universe at the time.
In 1949, Flack’s teacher introduced her to the first-generation members of the abstract expressionist movement, notably Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. “Starry eyed” over her “art gods,” and still a teenager, it was there that the young woman first sought to distinguish herself; no mean feat considering the legendary status of her already established male counterparts, most of whom were twice her age and quite well known at the time.
But she did.
Two years later, in 1951, Bauhaus master Josef Albers recruited her to Yale University, where she studied everything from the early Masters to modern art. The following decades saw her putting her considerable talents to use and into the realm of public consciousness.
Flack was the first photorealist painter of either sex whose work was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection, back in 1966. She was also the first woman, along with Mary Cassat, to be included in “Jansen’s History of Art” text. A major accomplishment.
Even given her considerable achievements, there’s so much more to the 88-year-old East Hampton and Upper West Side resident, whose work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. She’s also an in-demand university art lecturer, an author, wife, mother, mentor, musical front woman and songwriter for the History of Art band, and a darn good five-string banjo and ukulele player to boot.
And now, thanks to Academy Award-winning director Deborah Shaffer and co-director Rachel Reichman, Flack is the focus of a new feature-length documentary. Titled “Queen of Hearts,” the film delves into the many facets of Flack’s fascinating life, including her desire to succeed in an historically male profession, her joys and struggles in balancing work with her domestic duties as a single mother of two young children, one with special needs, and even some rare personal asides and insight about her artistic contemporaries.
Advance word on the 75-minute documentary, which sold out quickly for screenings at DOC NYC and Film Columbia and opens Hamptons Doc Fest on December 5, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I think it’s a terrific film and they did an incredible job,” says Flack of the filmmakers. “When I finally saw the whole thing, I was surprised at how much of my life is there. Some of it was difficult to see — some of the tougher things, and of course seeing my face, wrinkles and all, across the entire screen — but overall I was amazed at the beauty and the generosity of the film, especially as it related to the inclusion of other artists. It really contextualizes art movements.”
Watching her life unfold on screen also gave Flack, who is “barreling toward 90,” some pause but even more positivity. And she is not slowing down. Some of her earlier work is currently on view at Guild Hall in East Hampton, she’s working on an “Apocalypse” painting about global warming for exhibit at the Pompidou in Paris, she’s getting ready to teach again at the New York Academy of Art, and she’s laboring over her 35-years-in-the-making memoir.
“I’m getting older honey, but I’m still as nutty as ever. And just because I am closer to the end doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop,” she laughs. “It’s something that everyone has to face, because nobody gets out of here alive. The good news is that art extends your life. At least it has for me.”