The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

ART/WRITE – Audrey Flack

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Audrey Flack (b. 1931)

Flack, Audrey, Fourth of July Still Life, 1976. Gift of Lorillard, a Division of Loews Theaters, Inc. Screenprint. 36 7/10" x 36 7/10"

Flack, Audrey, Fourth of July Still Life, 1976.Gift of Lorillard, a Division of Loews Theaters, Inc.Screenprint. 36 7/10″ x 36 7/10″

1. Biography

Born in New York City, Audrey Flack graduated from Cooper Union in 1951. While enrolled at Yale University, she studied with Josef Albers, the abstract artist most famous for his series Homage to the Square (ca. 1949). Her early oil paintings of this era were primarily large scale abstract compositions with bold shapes, lines and dark colors. In the 1960’s Flack’s work became more expressive and involved political subject matter, based on news media photographs.

These photo-based works evolved in the 1970’s to photorealist works, paintings that looked like photographs. Working from slides projected directly onto the canvas, Flack’s paintings focused more on the color, light and space of a composition. The dominance of line from her earlier work was eliminated as forms became more realistic.

In the 1970’s Flack began to use airbrushed acrylic paint in addition to oil paint in order to render realistic effects of color and light on three-dimensional forms. In her well known series of still-lifes from the 1970’s, Flack’s paintings depict close up compositions of personal, feminine, small objects. Her large scale photorealistic works such as Fourth of July Still Life, 1976 and Marilyn (Vanitas), 1977 (both in the UAMA collection) were quite revolutionary for their feminine subject matter and high realism.

Flack was an early forerunner in the Photorealist movement of the 1970’s. In 1966, she was the first Photorealist painter to have her work in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.


Audrey Flack: Biography. Retrieved from http://www.audreyflack.com/af/index.php?name=bio

Gouma-Peterson, T. (1992). Breaking the rules: Audrey Flack; A retrospective 1950-1990. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Inc.

2. History

“As the only woman artist in the groundbreaking Photorealist movement, I broke the unwritten code of acceptable subject matter. Photorealists painted cars, motorcycles and empty street scenes. Cool, unemotional and banal were the terms used to describe the movement. My work, however, was humanist, emotional and filled with referential symbolic imagery.”  -Audrey Flack

In the 1960’s as Flack’s work began to take on a Photorealist style, the movement itself was derided in the art world. While working from photos was viewed as acceptable, placing the emphasis on the photographic reproduction and making one’s work look like a photo was not. Her subject of the realistic still-life was actually well grounded in art history. The Dutch still-life genre (see Jakob Gillig and Abraham Mignon) used a rich vocabulary of symbolism and iconography in its highly detailed depictions of food, glass ware and other objects.

As Flack’s statement above explains, her Photorealist works were revolutionary for their subject matter. While her contemporary male counterparts painted masculine scenes, Flack concentrated on intimate close-ups of still-lifes with personal objects full of symbolic meaning. Her painting Marilyn (Vanitas), exemplifies this aspect of her work in its subject, Marilyn Monroe, and its representation of objects traditionally associated with femininity.

The Fourth of July, commissioned for the bicentennial in 1976, is a slight break from her usual subject matter in that it displays objects associated with Independence Day. While war is mostly considered a male experience, Flack intentionally includes beads to “denote a feminine presence” (personal communication, May 9, 2013). She also included objects from her personal childhood memories of Fourth of July celebrations, such as red, white and blue crepe paper rolls and firecrackers. Tea and the Liberty Bell bank, representing American heritage and Americana are, “offered to invite personal thought on the involvement of our country” said Flack (personal communication, May 9, 2013).

Her modern take on the traditional still-life tells a story through objects. In a world where our lives are full of stuff, Flack’s paintings are able to give us a “sense of the world as a place full of objects”. Her clever combinations and pairings of objects present the viewer with a distinctly personal, not distant, perspective.


Brooklyn Museum: Audrey Flack. Retrieved from http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/flack.php

Gouma-Peterson, T. (1992). Breaking the rules: Audrey Flack; A retrospective 1950-1990. New York:         Harry N. Abrams. Inc.

3. Writing Exercises

Poetry- Descriptive List Poem

Some great poems are nothing more than a list that describes a thing, person, or place. Start by slowly looking at Audrey Flack’s Fourth of July for a few minutes. Take in the work object by object, from top to bottom and back again.  “What do you see in Fourth of July?” Make an opening line. The rest of the poem is a list of what you see.

Line 1 What I see in Fourth of July

Line 2  name and describe observation 1

Line 3  name and describe observation 2

Line 4  name and describe observation 3

Line 5  name and describe observation 4

Line 6  name and describe observation 5

Line 7  name and describe observation 6

Continue until work is completely described…..



Line 1  What I see in my family portrait

Line 2  One father, taller than the rest

Line 3  A mother holding back a smile

Line 4  Child with freckles and a mess of curls

Line 5  House porch cracked with old white paint


Persuasive- Interpretation

Audrey Flack’s work can be viewed as a contemporary spin on seventeenth century Dutch still-life paintings. These paintings, like Flack’s use a great amount of symbolism within the objects to communicate a meaning. Complete a “What I See- What it Means” worksheet in order to analyze the message/s of The Fourth of July. Record the denotations and connotations of the objects you see and then share your findings with the class. Summarize the overall main ideas and meaning of the image in a short essay, citing the visual evidence to support your conclusions.

Expository- Text to Text Connection

Perform a careful analysis of the two still-life paintings, Fourth of July by Audrey Flack and Still Life of Fish and Tackle, by Mignon and Gillig.

What similarities and differences do you see? How can you explain for these similarities or differences? Do you think their intentional purposes were the same? What in the work makes you say this? What does each work say about the time and place they were made? Use the Text to Text Comparison worksheet to record your findings.