See Part I in The Interviews. To inquire about her art, contact Jude at email@example.com
Abstract, oil on plasterboard, 2018
Jude, photographed in the 70s.
What is your experience of being a female artist?
I grew up in a family of sisters. Without brothers, I never saw how parents might have treated girls and boys differently. There was no talk that I can recall of women being limited by social norms or in any other way. We were each expected to go to college and to have careers. My maternal grandmother and great-grandmother were widows and both businesswomen. My great-grandmother ran her deceased husband's Girard piano company in Oakland, California. My grandmother was a practitioner in the Christian Science Church, which I believe is like being a minister. According to my mother, she was the first woman to own and drive a car in Oakland. She also bought and managed several apartment buildings. They were both suffragettes. My mother was a dress designer. I never knew a time when she wasn't working. My father's mother was in the first graduating class of registered nurses in San Francisco. She became the surgical nurse for the first plastic surgeon in the Bay Area. My father's sister had a P.H.D. from Berkeley. Her first job was to be Mary Pickford's social secretary. She learned to operate a plane, and during the Second World War she started out as a ferry pilot and later taught men to fly. She also spoke fluent Chinese and ran the Chinese Play Ground in San Francisco, which was like a WMCA for Chinese people.
Jude's mother, from a series of 'nude' portraits.
When I was twelve years old, my grandfather died and left my sister and I a substantial trust fund that was to be used only for education. We were in a position to go to the best schools we could get into, and to go as far as we wanted to go. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I also understood that was a great way to starve to death. The decision to become an artist was difficult because I had been given to believe that no matter what, I would have to support myself. My solution was to become an Art History Major at Berkeley and later to come to New York to do graduate work in Art History at Columbia University. I thought this way I could always support myself as an academic and paint on the side.
Artwork from the 60s
In the meantime, however, I had taken a year in Colombia before graduate school and made a living there teaching ESL. When I got to New York, I got a part-time job while in graduate school, doing the same. It occurred to me that I could be an ESL teacher and paint on the side. But first I needed to go to art school. So I took a leave of absence from the Art History department at Columbia and off I went to the Art Students' League. While there I never experienced any discrimination. I received both a prestigious monitorship and a scholarship, which enabled me to have morning and afternoon classes tuition-free. All but one teacher met me with great respect, and I realize now he was patronizing me because of my sex. At the time I thought he didn't get what I was trying to do artistically. After two and a half years at the League, I pursued an MA in painting from Hunter. There too, I encountered no condescending attitudes or discrimination because of being a woman.
A photo-booth portrait series Jude took in the 1960s.
I received my MFA and had my first solo show in NY in 1971. I immediately got into three galleries. I knew that there was terrible discrimination against women, and I worked for women's rights trying to change attitudes towards women, both in my work and in my life. But I, myself, never felt discrimination in the world. I actually encountered it with my husband and my in-laws who had not been part of the liberal culture I grew up in. If I didn't make it into a gallery or a show, I assumed that it was the work, not my sex. At home, however, I experienced severe endemic sexism that my (in other respects) very politically savvy and progressive husband still held. More than anything, it was what was happening at home that stayed momentum, and caused me to limit my scope. By 1973, I knew I had to have my life back. My husband and I split up. He is a dear man, and we are still friends, but he was very much a creature of his family and his time. I knew I could not be a victim of his cultural limitations.
In this photo, I had someone take a picture of my torso and wrote, "Pay your own way," over and over. At this time, I was getting divorced and had decided not to take support or alimony. I felt very fragile but recognized I had to be brave and pay my way or I would never be able to look myself in the mirror again. This piece was the result of that decision.
I have never questioned my choice of becoming an artist. I've always thought that my work would make a difference. If the art were good enough, I would be accepted. I think that belief has held true throughout my entire career. Perhaps, I'm naive, but I don't think I've been left out of anything or overlooked because of my sex. And I have been aware of discrimination in other areas, so I think I would have known.
How has the voice of the "Me Too" movement resonated with you?
I have been raped twice in my life. I decided each time that to let myself feel like a victim was the worst thing I could do. I never wanted to give anyone that much power over my life. I acted the same way I would if someone robbed my house, or someone caused me to be in an auto accident. I did whatever was necessary to repair the damage—in one case I had to get an abortion—and get on with my life. That is just who I am. I've been harassed in various ways by men. But the truth is that for most of my life I've worked for myself and was not under a man's power to keep my job or get ahead in my field. Maybe that has been intentional. I don't like anyone, especially a man, to have dominion over me. I want to deal with women in business. All my dealers are women. I've had three male dealers in my life. Two of them were certifiably insane, and I think they were both scared to death of me. The other one was just a dear guy. I think he was gay.
The "Me Too" movement is important to me because it is a just cause and because I have a daughter and granddaughter. Though we are physically smaller and weaker, women deserve respect. I believe the only way forward is—by shaming and outing sexual predators, as the "Me Too" movement is doing. Power corrupts. It must be limited. It's a simple equation. But we will always have to figure out ways of protecting ourselves. I think we are on the cusp of achieving that. It is an inspiring time.
Jude, visiting with her daughter Cassandra Vivell Neyenesch and granddaughter Io Girard Dersin, 2018.
Who are your gods in art, literature, and music?
It is not a question I can answer. It feels limiting in some way. I would not be truthful in replying, because there are so many favorites in each field that it would take a complete volume to explain my feelings. At the moment (meaning just for today) I love Rousseau in art, Ravi Shankar in music, my daughter in literature. Why? I know there are no words to say what I see, so I'm going to be honest, and say, I can't tell you.
Jude, working an interview for "Talking About Art" in the recording studio of WBAI, New York City, during the 1970s.
I want to hear more about your experience hosting "Talking About Art." How did your involvement with the moderately radical, listener-sponsored radio station WBAI happen? What were your responsibilities and how did they shape your youth? What did the political culture of New York City look like in the 60s and 70s? If you could impart a few critical messages from the era to future generations, what would they be?
I can't remember how I got involved with WBAI. Someone in the BAI Arts Department may have asked if I would volunteer to produce a program. I don't remember who asked me though. I did not make up the name, "Talking About Art." It existed. What I did there was I invited people who were cutting edge or interesting in some way to come on my program and talk about what they were doing. I was very much part of the downtown art scene and knew a lot of people. I was surprised by the positive reception I received; people were more than happy to be on the show. It was a great moment for WBAI because it was during the Vietnam War and it was the only station that had full and extensive coverage and very left-wing coverage of what was going on. So in those days, EVERYONE listened to the station. It was sort of like what WNYC is now. And it was a crucial moment in history, in much the same way as the present moment is a frightening and very critical moment. Mainly I did shows about art, but once in a while I would stand in for one of the lit people and do an interview with someone like Buckminster Fuller or Doris Lessing.
I edited the final tape of the show—I mean with a razor blade I cut out and edited the program. It is impossible to believe that I did that now. But that was the process.
The politics of the time remind me a lot of what is going on now with the kids from Parkland and Me Too. Young men were being drafted to go and fight in a war that nobody believed in and one we were obviously losing (WBAI was in the forefront of uncovering the fact and of showing the lies told by our leaders). Young men were demonstrating in the streets and in the capital because they were fighting for their lives in the same way the school kids are fighting for their lives now. Things get very real, very fast when your own life or the life of a loved one is on the line. That is why Nixon's doing away with the draft was such a tragedy for the politics of this country. Now it is some poor kid who needs a job and has no other opportunity who joins the army and gets killed. It is all too easy to overlook those lives. It's the same problem with Black Lives Matter.
If the police brutalized everyone, instead of a minority, there would be an outcry, and something might change. Luckily for women, a considerable number of women work now, and a vast amount encounter discrimination and are being sexually harassed and assaulted. So things will change. The problems faced by minorities will only change when we see them as OUR problem, no matter what our color. I don't have any idea how to make that happen. When I look at the generation of kids who have started the Fight For Our Lives movement, I am in awe. I have no words of wisdom for them, but they have plenty for me.
What are your metaphysical beliefs and how have they evolved?
I believe in a higher power that I call, The Universe. It is an energy that is flowing through all living things. It is a mystical body that runs underground of our consciousness like the roots of a fern, which manifest in an actual plant (a human being or other living things) every so often. But underneath we are all connected, and we are all part of The Universe. I believe that thought has a direct effect on this energy— that is a dominant force. I think that The Universe is me and I am The Universe. I listen to the inner voice as if I were listening to God because that is what I believe I am doing.
Judith Vivell and her husband Gordon McClure at home in Soho, 2018.