Many may only know Wood as one of the trifecta that inspired Francois Truffaut’s film Jules et Jim in 1962, which we saw decades ago, and before we knew anything of the celebrated potter and unique, provocative, and humorous woman named Beatrice Wood. The film is based on the book of the same name by Henri-Pierre Roché; the trifecta being Roché, Marcel Duchamp, and Wood. In her autobiography, I Shock Myself, Wood wrote that the characters in the movie “bear only a passing resemblance to those of us in real life!” As we remember and comparing the two, Catherine (thought to depict Wood) had less verve in her whole character than Wood had in one segment of her being.
Wood was born into a wealthy family in San Francisco and to a mother who desperately wanted a daughter who would conform to society’s expectations. Repeatedly, Wood’s mother tried to wrangle her to fit the time’s idea of womanly decorum and upper class propriety, but it was not to be. We imagine Mrs. Wood at the time of relent—after years and years of attempted subjugation; how was that moment and the years afterward? How difficult was it to step away from her only child and allow her to be who she was, to find out who she was, versus falling into line with a mother’s image. How defeated did she feel finally allowing her child to not be a reflection on her? We haven’t been able to find
Wood met Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché in New York City in 1916 and the three created The Blind Man, “a magazine that was one of the earliest manifestations of the Dada art movement in the United States.” Duchamp termed the phrase “anti-art” and the goal was to challenge the “accepted definitions of art,” dismissing and rejecting logic, reason, and the aesthetic of modern capitalism, “instead expressing nonsense, irrationality, and anti-bourgeois protest in their works.”
Coined by Duchamp, the term “readymade” came to designate mass-produced everyday objects taken out of their usual context and promoted to the status of artworks by the mere choice of the artist. A performative act as much as a stylistic category, the readymade had far-reaching implications for what can legitimately be considered an object of art. (TheArtStory.org)
As Hugo Ball expressed it, “For us, art is not an end in itself… but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”
Dona Budd put it more exactly: Dada was born out of negative reaction to the horrors of the First World War.
Walking the rooms at the modest home in which she resided is to experience Wood’s experimentation with subject matter, glazes, and technique, her frank tongue and snap humor, and the evolution and joy of a complex life.
Reality was my rebellion against my mother, a dominating, aristocratic woman who devoted herself to protecting me from life—both its miseries and its ecstasies. Determined I should remain a virgin, perhaps forever, she dressed me in lace, taught me to curtsy and to remain silent unless spoken to. As my dear but rather passive stood by, my mother and her two sisters, my aunts, attempted to turn me into a porcelain doll. But I was no doll beneath my childhood lace. At fourteen, my secret accomplices had been Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, de Maupassant, Colette, Shakespeare, Freud and Oscar Wilde. I have no idea how found out books by such writers existed, but I lost my virtue reading Madame Bovary by a spirit lamp.
—I Shock Myself by Beatrice Wood (Chronicle Books, 1985)
I was full of curiosity about the world beyond. I would look at the stars and wonder why they did not fall down; I would watch myself falling asleep, trying to catch the moment that I left wakefulness for dream state. Deep down I longed for the carefree life of an artist, and imagined living in a simple garret, free of porous antique furniture. Artists were not interested in material things, as my mother’s friends were. In the dark, secret dreams of my youth, I envisioned resting my head on a man’s shoulder and leading an immoral existence, whatever that might be.
Every time I mentioned painting and living in a garret, my mother threatened suicide.
Walking the grounds at Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts is to enjoy the trees, expanse, and rolling hills and be surprised by totems, wood nymphs, and works by students of the art center tucked here and there, hiding in plain site or camouflaged; and Easter egg hunt of art.
“I owe it all to art books, chocolates, and young men,” Wood was known to remark. And, that’s not a bad trifecta.
Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts
8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Rd., Ojai 93023
Hours: Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Beatrice Wood died in 1998 at the age of 105.
“The Forgotten Legacy of Cult California Artist Beatrice Wood” by Alexxa Gotthardt, Aug. 1, 2016, Artsy.net.
Wikipedia.org: Beatrice Wood and Dada
The Art Story: Marcel Duchamp
I Shock Myself by Beatrice Wood (Chronicle Books, 1985)