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Luchita Hurtado's body of work

Video by Art21

Luchita Hurtado reflects on her eight-decade-long career and the relationship between the human body and the natural world that is embedded in her work. In her Santa Monica studio, Hurtado works on a new painting from her "Birthing" series, discussing how her experience of motherhood and her commitment to environmental activism merge in this most recent body of work.

Born in Venezuela, Hurtado describes her childhood growing up in New York City, her first art classes, and the challenges of starting a family while maintaining an artistic practice. "It takes a great deal of energy, having the life of a parent and having the life of an artist," recounts Hurtado. "My real painting, I could do at night after everyone was asleep."

Speaking with her studio director, Ryan Good, Hurtado explains that it was not until recent years that her work began receiving more attention from curators and museums. The artist travels to the Serpentine Galleries in London to celebrate her first solo exhibition at a public institution, showcasing over one hundred works and charting her many styles of painting and drawing: from dynamic abstractions of human figures to bold self-portraits that depict the artist's body from her own downward-facing perspective, from swirling blue skies with floating feathers to paintings with words like "AIR," "WATER," and "EARTH" embedded within them.

Back in Los Angeles, Hurtado paints "en plein air" in a local park and elucidates on the tenuous relationship between humans and nature, which is the focus of her newest work. "We're all on this planet together and we're all related," says the artist. "To be in this park, with these trees, it's just the joy of life."

Working in painting, drawing, and prints, Luchita Hurtado has experimented with many different styles over the course of her 80-year career, yet maintained a unique, independent practice that explores the relationship between the human body and the natural world. In reference to a striking series of self-portraits from the 1960s and 1970s, in which the artist painted her body from her own downward facing perspective, Hurtado states, “I concluded that’s all I had in the world, was myself. I am who I am because I’m doing what I want to do, not what I’m told to do.”

Learn more about the artist at: https://art21.org/artist/luchita-hurtado/

CREDITS | Producer: Ian Forster. Interview: Ian Forster. Editor: Morgan Riles. Camera: Matt Conway and Christoph Lerch. Assistant Camera: Matt Ward. Colorist: Jonah Greenstein. Sound Mix: Adam Boese. Artwork Courtesy: Luchita Hurtado and Hauser & Wirth. Music: Blue Dot Sessions. Special Thanks: Ryan Good, Brenna Ivanhoe, Cole Root, Jacob Samuel, and Serpentine Galleries. "Extended Play" is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the Art21 Contemporary Council; Ellen P. and Jack J. Kessler; and by individual contributors. 
Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

[Luchita Hurtado: Here I Am] [MAN] Oh look, there you are. Okay, here we go! [HURTADO] Hi! Good to see you. Here I am! [WOMAN] You're royalty! [ALL LAUGH] [APPLAUSE] [WOMAN, OFF SCREEN] Tonight, we celebrate a historic moment for the Serpentine Galleries. We also celebrate a historic moment for our artist. Luchita Hurtado is just one year short of her one hundredth birthday. I think that deserves another round of applause. [APPLAUSE] Her career has been defined by such a unique view of the world. Messages like, "When it comes to the environment, there is nowhere to hide." [HURTADO] That's right! [WOMAN] This is her first solo exhibition-- in a public institution, in fact. And it is also the first time that we have shown over one hundred paintings by an extraordinary artist, who has been named as "Time" magazine's one hundred most influential figures of 2019. [APPLAUSE] [John Mullican, Luchita's son] [Matt Mullican, Luchita's son] [HURTADO] Okay. These "Birthing" paintings are fun to do. Motherhood is full of wonderful, wonderful times. What you can do with a sky and a belly button... --[INTERVIEWER] How do you feel about this one? --[HURTADO] I like it. --I like it. This joy that you feel with a new baby, this is a joy that there is no explaining it, no talking about it. You have to smell it, you have to live it, to know it. --Okay, that's it. --Yeah, it's done! [LAUGHS] The important things are not money. The important things are the animal part of us. We live in a very limited world, and we're doing away with it in a very systematic way. We should all be concerned. I came to America when I was eight years old. Before then, I lived in Venezuela-- the outskirts of Caracas. I loved the design on butterfly wings. In the tropics, you have these extraordinary butterflies. I would pin them to the wall. That pain I inflicted on those poor butterflies, I think about today. [JACOB SAMUEL] Do you want me to do the number here? [HURTADO] The numbers, yeah. [SAMUEL] So this is going to be an artist proof. I'm just going to put "A.P." and then you put your "L.H." over there. [Jacob Samuel, Master Printer] Okay, we've started. We did four aquatints, and this is the first one. This one is going to the show at the Serpentine in London. And then there will be three other ones for the gallery. It's very exciting for me to work with Luchita because it's living history. I've worked with a number of artists that she knows from her generation... [HURTADO] I go back a long time! [SAMUEL] So it really completes the circle for me. [HURTADO] The name that I had growing up was Garcia-Rodriguez. That's like being called "Smith Jones." I decided that wasn't right. I chose my grandmother on my mother's side: "Hurtado," not "Garcia-Rodriguez." In New York, I lived way uptown. I chose to go to a high school that was downtown in the Village. My mother thought I was taking a course in dress design, and I wasn't. I was doing art. Man Ray took that photograph. And here, you see, is Lee. I married Lee Mullican, and had two boys, John and Matt. It takes a great deal of energy, having the life of a parent and having the life of an artist, working and trying to make ends meet. My real painting, I could do at night, after everybody was asleep. [RYAN GOOD, STUDIO DIRECTOR] I used to work for Matt, for a long time. And we knew each other. But them coming out here, we started just to hang out. Go to the nursery. Go to the farmers market for lunch. [HURTADO] And then we became friends and really close. You discovered me! [GOOD] When I first started finding the works from seventy years of her practice, I knew right away there was something there. With the family asking me to help out with Lee's estate, I started to uncover works at Lee's old studio, most of which were unsigned. Maybe only one in twenty had the marker "L.H." She changed her style quite often. It's actually an interesting element of her practice. It took maybe a year and a half or two years to be able to find someone that wanted to do a project. Hans Ulrich Obrist came across the work. [Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director] I remember hearing that he wanted to have a visit with Luchita. It transformed everything from then there on. She's surprised and excited that all of these things still exist. I think she thought many of them were lost. She's making new work almost every day, so there's new things all the time. Her new work is what she's most passionate about. [HURTADO] I'm very sensual. I love smells and tastes. I love fruit, you see. Religion is full of fruit. [LAUGHS] An apple means more than an apple! Those self portraits were a real surprise to me. There's one that has a streak of light coming through the door. I concluded that's all I had in the world, was myself. And I am who I am because I'm doing what I want to do, not what I'm told to do. In my dreams, I'm once again with Lee, who is long gone. And my children are small again, and I'm reliving the past. [BIRDS CHIRPING] Near the Museum of Natural History, I remember--across the way, in the park-- there were feathers on the ground, of birds. Matt and I started collecting these feathers. We wore the feathers. Put them in our hair. We really enjoyed that time in our life. We're all on this planet together, and we're all related. Our closest relative is a tree, because they breathe out, and we breathe in. --This is it! To be in this park with these trees is marvelous. It's just the joy of life-- the joy of being alive.