Juanita Guccione: Otherwhere

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Otherwhere Introduction by




“This kind of artistic evolution hardly fits into the inimically popular contemporary trend of modifying one’s style to keep abreast of fashionable changes in the mainstream art world. And it is precisely this single-minded approach to her work, this willingness to follow its development wherever that might lead, that locates Guccione squarely among the few but formidable ranks of the modernist avant-garde—a group whose integrity and vision will not be seen again in this century.”

—Michael Welzenbach, art critic of The Washington Post, 1992

Originally published on the occasion of the exhibition JUANITA GUCCIONE: Otherwhere at the Napa Valley Museum, July 27–October 27, 2019 Weinstein Gallery 444 Clementina Street San Francisco, CA 94102 www.weinstein.com © 2020 Weinstein Gallery ISBN-10: 0-9790207-4-3 ISBN-13: 978-0-9790207-4-2 Library of Congress Control Number: 2017964208 Publication directed and produced by Kendy Genovese Editing by Melanie Cameron and Kendy Genovese Artwork photography by Nicholas Pishvanov and John Hartford Design by Linda Corwin, Avantgraphics Chronology contributed by Djelloul Marbrook Text set in Goudy Old Style Printed by Calitho, Concord, California Printed in the United States of America Weinstein Gallery would like to extend our profound gratitude to the following people who helped make this book and exhibition possible: Djelloul and Marilyn Marbrook, Susan L. Aberth, Ilene Susan Fort, Tabitha Morgan, and Gloria Feman Orenstein.

Credits: Page 10: Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images; Page 12: Photo by Florence Rosen, The Woman’s Building Archive, Otis College of Art & Design Library; Page 15: Photo by Rudolf Franz Lehnert and Ernst Heinrich Landrock; Page 36, bottom: Photographer: Eric Schaal, published by ‘Koralle’ 34/1939, courtesy ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images Page 2: SELF PORTRAIT, c. 1936, Charcoal on paper, 12½ x 12 inches Page 4: PLATEAU (detail), c. 1946 (pp. 176–177)

Contents Introduction RESEARCHING WOMEN ARTISTS IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM: Documenting the Oeuvre of Juanita Guccione


Gloria Feman Orenstein AN AMERICAN NADJA: The Life and Art of Juanita Guccione


Ilene Susan Fort JUANITA GUCCIONE: Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


Susan L. Aberth LAND-SELF-SKY: Self-referentiality and Posthuman Feminism in Juanita Guccione


Tabitha Morgan THE PLATES (1930–1988) APPENDIX

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Juanita Guccione in her studio, c. 1975

Poster by the Guerilla Girls in ....



Documenting the Oeuvre of Juanita Guccione Gloria Feman Orenstein


s we approach the overview of Juanita Guccione’s artistic oeuvre in 2019, it is worthwhile to refresh our memories about the state of scholarship on women artists in the early 1970s when the women’s art movement was first beginning to delve into an understanding of what caused the absence of women from all existing art books and from the canon of art history. The publication of Otherwhere, the first book on Juanita Guccione, provides an excellent opportunity for us to gain a new perspective on her work and to see her as a pioneer and pathfinder, exploring the multiple art movements of her day and the journeys of exploration and adventurous lifestyles that enabled her to bring her dreams and fantasies into the creation of her visionary world through art. 9


ecalling the state of the studies on women artists from only a half century ago, we are reminded of how H. W. Janson’s important textbook, The History of Art,1 did not contain the name of a single woman artist in its 500 pages. As artists and scholars began to question the exclusion of women artists, a plethora of explanations emerged, as did innovative creations that might rectify this omission in the future: new journals, books, organizations, university programs, workshops, galleries, and movements began to develop that challenged the myths about how genius and creativity were identified as gifts and talents belonging

exclusively to male artists. Scholars such as Linda Nochlin2 in her ground-breaking essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” brought to light the information that we had lacked, such as the fact that most women artists had fathers who were artists. Women did not have access to art schools and art training and were excluded from opportunities to participate in the art world open only to men in past historical eras. Researchers who analyzed the causes of the absence of women artists had to deconstruct, one by one, all the prejudices in the art world such as those against genre painting that dealt with ordinary rather than extraordinary lives, and those that exalted all the hierarchies and themes in artworks that validated men’s powerful and prestigious roles in society, such as in the professions, politics, government, and in the creation of culture. All of these prejudices and hierarchies resulted in creating the impression that if there were no women artists recorded in the canons of art, there must not have been women whose talents were worthy of being remembered. Research was begun on the lives of some women artists who were singled out in the past, not solely for their accomplishments as artists, but for the ways in which they dared to defy the taboos they faced. This led critics to declare that these gutsy women were betraying their femininity. Several artists like Rosa Bonheur actually crossdressed as men to enter venues women did not frequent, such as slaughterhouses Rosa Bonheur, c. 1880


where women needed to go to learn to draw from the animal models they found there. Such women artists were strong, brave, and audacious. Some women artists were also found to have been well-paid. The history of art that would now include women had to be completely reconceived. Previously women who made art were stereotyped as passive, delicate, emotional or hysterical. Artists like Bonheur, who never married and had no children, were mocked for not choosing to live according to conventional expectations for women, even though their art was outstanding. The essentialist concept of feminine nature had to be transformed as well. This deconstruction was accomplished by feminist scholars in different fields, showing how, as Simone de Beauvoir had taught us in The Second Sex,3 “women are not born women; women become [are made into] women.� She explained how women were systematically taught how to behave according to what were then understood as the norms and role models of femininity in society, and that gender was not a universal biological essence. It was a learned behavior and ultimately a form of performance, implying that there was nothing that was a natural essence of the feminine, or of a woman, everywhere and throughout time. Gender was a cultural construction and

was fluid. Clearly many women artists such as Bonheur were living out adventures and transgressions of the norms that had almost nothing to do with embodying those stereotypes that their cultures defined as feminine. In studying Juanita Guccione’s art, we observe how Juanita was already defying the stereotypes of her own society far ahead of her time. Fortunately, encountering her art today, we are able to view it in the context of the more complex liberated practices and behaviors that women have had the courage to live out in defiance of the repressive roles previously accorded to them. Sketch by Juanita Guccione, c. 1981

Researching Women Artists In The New Millennium


Through art programs designed specifically for women such as the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles and many other teaching venues that preceded it, young artists learned how to construct their own studios, so that their kitchens were no longer serving as studio spaces. They learned how to do plastering, electrical wiring, and other work so that they could make studios for themselves that met their own needs. Simultaneously, in the emerging networks of feminist art publications, a completely new iconography of the subject matter of women’s biological and social lives was being created. For the first time women’s biological experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, menstruation and the diversities of female sexuality were all vividly expressed in art. Inspired by the art of Frida Kahlo

being introduced in the United Stated in the early 1970s, young feminist artists of the second wave began to paint miscarriage and abortion imagery into their art. As all these changes multiplied they transformed our new understanding of art history/herstory. The prevailing patriarchal assumptions and myths were being overturned, and new explorations were revealing oeuvres by women artists who were largely unrecognized and unknown. I would place Juanita Guccione in this category, which is expanding daily with the immensity of discoveries questers and scholars of women’s art history are now uncovering that illuminate the ever-expanding timeline of art by women worldwide. Many women artists like Guccione followed their dreams, their

Group of women posing while making a banner, “The Art of Community,” at the Woman’s Building, Los Angeles, 1979


intuitions, their passions and their joys while still pursuing their artistic practice and began to learn how to negotiate the challenges of the art world so that they could be included in shows and increase their recognition as accomplished, professional artists. Over the last 45 years many questions have been answered and still others have been raised in relation to women’s inclusion in mainstream art venues. Today we look at women’s art through a new lens. We have learned that the audience for which art is intended is no longer simply rich heterosexual white male buyers. Works about lesbian love and sexuality imply a female gaze, a counterpoint to the prevalence of the male gaze that fixated upon the vision of nude women almost exclusively as sex objects. The multicultural diversity manifested in the new works produced during this period of the second wave of feminism continually refocused our vision on new ethnic, racial, classist, and indigenous identities and on the plethora of new herstories that accompanied them. The question of whether there was an intrinsic female aesthetic was also debated in those years. Panels and conferences on all these themes created an excitement that permeated this period of transition and transformation. As the women’s art movement grew, artists such as Juanita Guccione, alive through many decades of its activism, were precursors and pioneers of a unique vision that had not yet been named and would today be understood as having paved the way for the creation of a daring and liberated new gaze that is

non-sexist, non-racist, and non-classist for a variety of gender identities and for lifestyles and spiritual explorations that dazzle and inspire us. Juanita’s years spent living with the Ouled Naïl tribe in Algeria4 will always ignite our desire to take off to distant lands in order to live and learn from the indigenous people whose cultural values are closer to nature and the spirit world. These women artists traveled like nomads. They sought out new encounters and even risked dangers in their adventures. We think of Juanita riding horseback across the Sahara Desert several times with Bedouins, having been warned of the many dangers that could befall her on her journeys. But she chose to let the stars guide her and to experience nights in the desert that could only enrich the creation of her future visionary artworks. She chose to explore the ancient desert rock art galleries, whose walls exhibited shamanic images—the earliest artworks ever made by any human. She chose to visit the caves and viscerally experience Mother Earth as few of her generation could ever do in such an intense way. When I first encountered the work of Juanita Guccione I was completely captivated by the series of paintings she did that related to the life she lived in the tribe of the Ouled Naïl in Algeria during the early 1930s. While many young artists would go to Paris to study art or would travel through Europe, she was among those who went farther. When she came to the city of Bou-Saada, the City of Happiness, in Algeria, she settled there and found that the lifestyle appealed to her own strengths

Researching Women Artists In The New Millennium


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with a Slave, 1839–40. Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.251

and sensibilities. The Bedouin community of Bou-Saada was called ‘matriarchal.’ This may or may not be the precise academic way to describe it, but it was definitely gynocentric. It was a world in which women lived together, worked together, and were in charge. Men were a peripheral part of this community. They did play a part in some of the women’s lives but not in the core of the life they had created together, which was what captivated me in these works. I want to speak about the absence of the male gaze in these paintings and to explore the nature of the gaze


that Juanita observed in the women in her world. To do this through art, I must refer to the fascinating book Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems, by Fatema Mernissi,5 who was a professor of sociology at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco. Fatima was born in a harem. She was taught about the way of life in the harem by her grandmother, Yasmina, who conveyed much wisdom to her through storytelling. She explained that women in a historic harem like the one she lived in had to be

ready to run for their lives or to use the arts and storytelling as strategies to avoid being murdered by the caliph or the owner of the female slaves he possessed. She explained through a story that had marked Fatima deeply when she was young, that a man had once fallen in love and married a beautiful woman who appeared as a largewinged bird, but when she removed her dress made of wings she became a most beguiling woman. This man behaved much like the owner of a harem. He stole her wings and hid them away forever so that she might never find them and fly away. “Harems that begin with love,” her grandmother taught her, “often end as prisons.” “You must live like a nomad,” she would teach her granddaughter. Once the woman found her wings, she put them on and flew away. Yasmina taught Fatima that “the western male imagination thinks of women and imagines them without wings.”6 The harem painted by JeanAuguste-Dominique Ingres (p. 14) depicts the women in his Western fantasy of a harem, like odalisques (slaves) who await their turn at sex with the man who owns and controls them. It seems that in Western harem paintings these women are happy to be doing nothing, and although they find themselves in sexual slavery, they never revolt. However, in the real harem, not the fantasy harem of a Western male, but the Eastern harem where Fatima Mernissi and her grandmother had lived, the women were never nude. They were dressed in sports clothing, in riding gear, and they were ready to take off when the right moment appeared for them to escape.

It is important for us to recognize that the images Juanita Guccione has painted of her life with the woman-centered tribe of the Ouled Naïl in Algeria do not conform to the stereotypes of femininity that preceded the advent of the second wave of the feminist movement. She had always dreamed of living a life that was more in accordance with the values of the Eastern women of the Ouled Naïl tribe. In this case, they did not live in a harem and were liberated socially. The ‘male gaze’ upon the women in the harem painted by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is completely absent from Juanita Guccione’s paintings. Juanita was bisexual,7 and although she had sexual relationships with both sexes, the core values of her lifestyle

Ouled Naïl woman, c. 1905

Researching Women Artists In The New Millennium


Women on horseback, c. 1946, Oil on canvas, 30¼ x 36 inches

were gynocentric. She lived in a world that was not ruled by men. Like the women in the Ouled Naïl tribe she was an expert horseback rider. She has depicted circus women in her art as energized and engaged in equestrian feats in the most joyous spirit, even riding horses bareback on a revolving carousel while brandishing open umbrellas and unleashing balloons to the rhythm of the carousel’s music in Women on horseback, c. 1946 (above). I have selected several of these works to study the gaze of the women as well as the interpersonal relationships of women with each other in this community as Guccione depicted them. These women


who rode horseback in the Sahara Desert were the 1930s counterparts of the women who reclaimed the wings that patriarchal caliphs and others in those roles later in history had stolen and kept hidden from them so that they would remain captive slaves and never take flight. When I think of Juanita exploring the world and discovering this community and its gynocentric lifestyle by herself back in the early thirties, I am astounded by how she was a true pathfinder in experimenting with ways of living that accommodated women artists’ aesthetic and sensual needs better than those in the Western world. It is important for us to know that communities like

the one she lived with in Bou-Saada were once historical realities, and that dreams of another way of life can be realized when the odalisques awaken, take back their wings, and revolt. In Masquerade, c. 1946 (p. 165), four tall, brawny Amazonian women dressed in colorful clown party outfits are relaxing by the sea with their cat, whose eyes are piercing and seem to emit charged energies. This cat could be their familiar, present to participate with them in exploring the realms of the occult that we know Juanita had been investigating. Their Amazonian bodies are strong and muscular and despite their height, these women are sensually appealing feminine forms. Each carries a mask. The women’s gazes are fixed, looking into the distance. One can read many interpretations into these scenes, but what I have concluded is that, strangely, they are not looking at each other. I was trying to understand what it meant that they were not looking into each other’s eyes. I was in fact disappointed that I did not encounter in any of the pieces a gaze that I would call a ‘woman’s.’ And this was what struck me, as I continued to ponder whether there even was something one could call a ‘gendered’ gaze that was the opposite of the male gaze. I did not know exactly what I had in mind, but I think it would have been an eroticized gaze, comparable to the way men looked at the odalisques but incorporating an intensity of interest in the fact that their female companions were intelligent, talented, knowledgeable in the arts, and teachers of active strategies for escape from their prison. I half

expected them to be looking to each other to decide when to take off on horseback. But these women were safe and well-prepared to defend themselves. Their gazes in many of the paintings seemed dreamy or sleepy or enchanted, or more interested in the far-away than in the immediate scene.

I pondered this for a while and came to a conclusion I hope will be meaningful in terms of understanding the entire oeuvre of Juanita Guccione. I concluded that these women were quite possibly entering into trance states. In the work appropriately titled Otherwhere, c. 1946 (pp. 154– 155) three women are relaxing by the sea under a black moon, signifying an eclipse Above: Masquerade (detail), c. 1946 Pages 18–19: Otherwhere (detail), c. 1946

Researching Women Artists In The New Millennium



Essay Title


of the moon. One of these women is barebreasted and has her back to the viewer. Their breasts are not being presented as a sexual enticement either to each other or to the viewer. Thus, a bare-breasted nude woman with her back to the viewer is clearly a statement that she is not a sex object. They have musical instruments with them so perhaps after dark they will dance and enter a fuller state of trance through which they will acquire more advanced visionary knowledge. In Sirens’ Song, c. 1938 (pp. 112–113) the musical instruments that accompany their gathering signify the important role of music in invoking the appropriate state of consciousness for creating the mood that will resonate with the state of soul conjured up by the mystery of the full eclipse of the moon. Their understanding of the human alignment with the natural cosmic energies is apparent here. The women in Four nudes, c. 1945 (p. 149), all bare-breasted, seem to have entered dreamland already. The music has a potent magnetic effect. These are not the kind of reclining nudes that we in the West are accustomed to viewing. They are not at all conscious of their bodily relaxation signaling an immediate erotic encounter. They seem to be gazing at a vision of another reality. I think it is this “otherwhere” that will turn out to be the subject of Guccione’s abstractsurrealist style that we will examine next. What I have explained here has suddenly made me aware of something I had written about the women of Surrealism in the early 1970s.8 Having examined the necessity of deconstructing the


patriarchal, sexist depiction of women by male Surrealist artists, I had wanted to understand the way in which Surrealist women artists depicted women in their art. In other words, as I was searching then for a comparable female non-sexist gaze, I came up with the observation that the women artists of the Surrealist movement depicted women not as Surrealist sex objects, as Simone de Beauvoir accused the male Surrealist artists of having done, but as subjects. In the case of Surrealism, women artists depicted women in association with the great mother goddess, and as visionaries, guides, alchemists, practitioners of white witchcraft, magicians, seekers, and adepts of occult knowledge. Now I realize that if Juanita Guccione has come to be labeled as Surrealist, an identity that is not apparent when one first encounters her work, the way in which she departs from the stereotypes of the gendered gaze that men deployed in presenting women as sex objects is that Juanita depicts the women in her Surrealist paintings as clairvoyants, magicians, seekers of occult revelations, and as subjects in search of their own visionary knowledge. This radical departure from even attempting to portray a role-reversal in what could be a female gaze is resonant with what I had found to be the radical innovation of the other women of Surrealism I had studied in the 1970s, such as Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, and Kay Sage and Dorothea Tanning. Since Juanita Guccione depicts women through the strategy of a new gaze, I think the label of Surrealist with respect to her art is appropriate

and valid. Furthermore, as we shall see in her abstract-surrealist paintings, Juanita depicts a world where life and death can no longer be seen as contradictory. This is how André Breton expressed the highest goal of Surrealism, that he named le point supreme, the point where all former binaries—male and female, high and low, life and death—are no longer contradicting each other. Her worlds are very much in accordance with the definition of Surrealism’s highest aspirations and with the revolutionary depiction of women as wisdom figures experimenting with the unconscious in dreams and trance states—just as the earliest women of Surrealism had always done. I think her work is integrally related to the tenets of Surrealism as expounded by André Breton in his Manifestoes of Surrealism.9 I conclude with a visit to the otherwhere, to the realms of spiritual reality, visualized, imagined, and conjured up by Juanita Guccione since at least the time of her return from Algeria (1935) until the end of her life. These depictions of worlds that the Surrealists might identify as the marvelous have semi-identifiable figurations in them. They are spiritual realms populated with monumental feminine forms engaging in activities of spraying light rays and water into the cosmos to purify it and to illuminate the universe. They are often playful forms fueling the universe with regenerative energies. Occasionally there is what we might refer to as the cosmic gaze of a huge eye

overlooking the scene. These feminine forms often travel through space on the rim of the moon, or they are seen journeying on pilgrimages made on spirit bridges. Planets circulate in the sky along with orbs of light and extraterrestrial forms, so that all is alive and in motion. Fishers of stars, c. 1979 (p. 22) depicts a meeting of earth and sky, as if the women sending the sprays of energy out to the cosmos are aiming the gifts from the world of stars downward to merge with the gifts of the earth. Often one cannot discern a line of demarcation between earth and sky, coinciding with the Surrealist notion that binaries are no longer in opposition to each other, for

Sketch by Juanita Guccione, c. 1981

Researching Women Artists In The New Millennium


Fishers of stars (detail), c. 1979 Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 50 inches

the Earth and the sky are fused as the starsprays fall to earth. In The magical properties of water, c. 1980 (p. 23), a giantess fills pools of water that create the heavens. Behind and beyond visible reality there are realms of activity at work, nurturing the aspects of the natural world that we live with and that need our attention and constant loving care. We see the work of the beings that inhabit the spiritual realm being done silently, as we realize that there is no void and that we are not alone, that we are the recipients of all the work done behind the scenes of visible reality. These


otherworldly beings are engaged in simple, humble tasks like watering the earth and the sky, in lighting up everything with their sprays of light rays, in guarding and overseeing the activities taking place in every dimension of the cosmos, or simply standing at attention like monumental citadels. One might think of these feminine sculptural forms standing together, as if at attention, as guardian spirits or deities. Often they are present while a colorful and explosive light show is taking place in the universe, with fireworks flashing and crackling to imply the joyous nature of cosmic inner and outer realities when they reach the point of fusion with each other—le point supreme. There seem to be festive celebrations in the outer and inner spaces of the nonrational, non-logical parts of the psyche. One comes to understand these works as possibly expressing an ascension to an alternate universe with a different frequency. Through the techniques of the Surrealist artists she both knew and admired, Juanita Guccione, while maintaining her originality, did work within many of the highest aspirations, the expanded parameters, and the quasi-shamanic ethos of the mainstream Surrealist movement of European origin. Her uniquely diverse iterations of the expressions of le point supreme, le merveilleux, and the important role of the dream, of altered states of consciousness, and of how the imaginary becomes real define her definitively as a sister traveler of the women of Surrealism. Now is the time for future generations of art historians, curators, art critics, and

collectors to become sleuths in their own searches for the women artists whose works have not yet been studied in depth, so that we may document and preserve the most complete archive of the art created by the visionary women of our time. When the unexpected is uncovered, they will share the experience of jubilation with Juanita’s light beings, who are exploding firecrackers at their extraterrestrial festivals in the otherwheres of space and the timelessness of the multiverse.

Notes 1. Janson, H.W., The History of Art, Abrams Books (New York: Abrams Books, 1962). 2.

Nochlin, Linda, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Art and Sexual Politics, ed. Thomas B. Hess and Elizabeth C. Baker (New York: Collier Books, 1973).

3. de Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex, Vintage Books, Alfred A. Knopf (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952). 4.

When she arrived in Algeria she was using Nita Rice, an abbreviation of her birth name Anita Rice. She did not use Juanita Marbrook until she returned to the United States from Algeria, and used ‘Guccione’ only after her marriage to Dominick John Guccione in the early 1940s. She then painted out many of the previous names and overpainted ‘Juanita Guccione.’ Researchers will encounter a problem when they realize (if they do realize) that the American Archives of Art and several other sources refer to her as several different artists. (Source: E-mail, Djelloul Marbrook, May 3, 2017).

5. Mernissi, Fatima, Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems, Washington Square Press (New York: Washington Square Press, 2001). 6. Ibid. p. 7, 8, 9. 7. Source: Conversation with her son Djelloul Marbrook. 8. Orenstein, Gloria, “The Women of Surrealism.” The Feminist Art Journal, (New York: Spring 1973). 9. Breton, André, Manifestoes of Surrealism, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1972).

The magical properties of water (detail), c. 1980 Acrylic and silver leaf on canvas, 54 x 40 inches

Researching Women Artists In The New Millennium


Juanita Guccione, c. 1920s



AN AMERICAN NADJA: The Life and Art of Juanita Guccione Ilene Susan Fort

Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I ‘haunt.’ —André Breton, Nadja, p. 11


uanita Guccione was a free spirit. In her search for herself, she pursued several different aesthetics over a long career of more than half a century and created unusual worlds infused with her personal mythology and spiritual ideals. She may have been the American counterpart of André Breton’s female character Nadja, who dominated his 1928 Surrealist novel of the same name. Yet, for all her idiosyncrasies and wild pursuits, Guccione was very much of her times as she responded to modern developments in art, culture, and metaphysics.



uccione’s life and art were a personal search, symbolized by the frequent changes of her name. She was born Anita Rice in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 19041 and by the 1920s was known by the nickname of Nita Rice. After travel abroad she became Juanita Marbrook. Not until she married in the 1950s did she settle permanently on Juanita Guccione.

Juanita Guccione as a model, c. 1920s


During her childhood, the artist lived first in Boston and then Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her comfortable, middleclass family consisted of a father Emery (Emanuel) Rice, mother Hilda Vanderbilt (Waterman) Rice, and three siblings: her brother Samuel (James) and sisters, Irene and Dorothy. Shortly after World War I, the family moved to Brooklyn. Her father died sometime thereafter. The three Rice sisters were close, at least until Dorothy’s untimely death in the early 1940s. Thereafter Irene and Juanita would have an on-again-off-again relationship until Irene’s death in 1971, no doubt because of sibling rivalry and their competitiveness working in the same field. Like Juanita, Irene modified her Christian name, reducing it to an initial after marrying Humberto Pereira, and thereafter was known as I. Rice Pereira to conceal her gender. The two women were both highly independent (demonstrated by their multiple romantic relationships and difficulties with the established commercial art community). It was their ideas about reality and existence—especially in Eastern religion, mysticism, and the occult—as well as their gender that separated both sisters from the major art movement of the mid-century, Abstract Expressionism, and in part accounts for the delayed acknowledgement of their significance in the history of twentieth-century modern painting. During the 1920s Nita may have received her initial art instruction close to home, at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Even though an archival search did not unearth

records of her attendance, a small group of highly accomplished pencil head studies from plaster casts (see sketch below) are annotated “Pratt.”2 Each of the three sisters attended the Art Students League of New York: Dorothy from 1923 to 1924, Irene 1927 to 1930, and Nita 1928 to late 1931. Nita attended evening classes, studying life drawing, painting, composition, and illustration, first with Homer

Boss, then William Von Schlegell and Boardman Robinson.3 She demonstrated an innate talent for capturing a person’s features, an ability that would serve her well as a source of income when she went abroad. During the 1920s all the Rice Left: Sisters Irene Pereira (top) and Juanita Guccione (bottom), c. 1940s Right: Bust of old man, 1926, Charcoal and white chalk on paper, 19 x 12¼ inches

The American Nadja


siblings worked, and because of her attractiveness, Nita modeled (p. 26). In addition she pursued a secret career, drawing from memory for discount manufacturers pirated designs of the clothes she modeled. Despite the financial crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression, Nita had saved enough money by the end of 1931 to travel. Initially she was following in the footsteps of her sister as Irene had left a few months before on a brief seven-month trip abroad. Studying in Europe was an old tradition among American art students that had begun in the eighteenth century with Benjamin West and was considered acceptable for the female sex by the second half of the nineteenth century. Nita’s stay was destined to be much longer and quite an adventure. She did not remain long in France, a few months at most.4 Instead she traveled by steamship to other, more exotic lands, Egypt, Greece, and the colony of Algeria, while earning a living sketching the passengers. In the nineteenth century, the French, as part of their overseas territories, had annexed land in Africa along the southwest coast of the Mediterranean Sea and into the desert. By the time of Rice’s arrival, the colony had become one of the jewels of Western imperialism. The French government had encouraged thousands of French citizens—who had lost their farmlands due to the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) and to agricultural mechanization—to settle in North Africa and develop land confiscated from the native tribes. By the 1930s the indigenous, mostly Muslim population in Algeria, which was still


occupied by France, was dissatisfied by its second-class status. Rice became aware of the political, economic, and social disparities, at one point writing to her mother about the starving native children in Constantine.5 This enlightened comment was the opposite of the opinions expressed by most American travelers: the heiress Peggy Guggenheim visited North Africa a decade before, and in typical twentiethcentury tourist fashion considered exotic countries as potential shopping bazaars.6 Rice visited Algeria encouraged by fellow travelers who had heard about a colony of Russian artists living in BouSaada.7 Such advice was probably confused with the fact that the most esteemed French Orientalist, Etienne Dinet, had recently died and been buried with official ceremony in Bou-Saada. It was in this oasis village that Dinet lived for decades, painting and entertaining many of the young French students studying in the Maghreb (the region that included Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya) on traveling government scholarships.8 In the nineteenth century, some American Orientalists such as Frederick Bridgman had also focused on Algeria; he traveled to the smaller towns as well as the native settlements, oases, and tented villages in the mountainous Kabylia region, the Sahel, and the border of the Sahara desert.9 Bridgman had visited an artist colony in Biskra, located as was Bou-Saada in the interior region, but preferred living more comfortably in Westernized Algiers. Rice found that large city stultifying and preferred to live in the hinterland, actually in Bou-Saada near the

Juanita Guccione, Man playing khyter, c. 1933, Oil on canvas, 39 x 39 inches

The American Nadja


mosque dedicated to Dinet, finding the town and surrounding landscape beautiful and tranquil and more inspiring for her art.10 Although Orientalism was a Western art and literary movement that lasted over a century, there is no evidence that before her foreign wanderings Rice knew anything specifically about that

Juanita Guccione, The mosque, Algeria, c. 1934 Oil on canvas, 19¾ x 17½ inches

type of art or generally about the imperialist situation in North Africa. She could have studied a few superb examples at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and many more in the major museums of Paris and even in North Africa, as the National Museum of Fine Arts of Algiers had opened in 1930 to celebrate the centenary of Algeria.11 Intended to demonstrate France’s largess and to educate the indigenous, that institution consisted of a series of imposing buildings


set high on a hill and impossible to miss. Moreover, she might have heard about or even seen paintings by some of the postwar resident artists of the Maghreb. Artists such as Kabylia-born Azouaou Mammeri approached their depictions of the land, villages, and ordinary life of the simple tribal people in terms that constituted the modernist phase of Orientalism, with its strong regard for natural sunlight, simplified forms to parallel lifestyles, and most importantly rejection of ethnocentric details and major tropes of the nineteenth-century mythical Orient, that is, the harem and Arab horsemen. Rice’s images of Arab life were quite similar to Mammeri’s and also to two women associates of Mammeri who were active in the contemporary School of Algiers— French-born Ketty Carré and Kabyliaborn Yvonne Herzig. Whatever modernist aesthetics Rice learned during her short stay in Paris might have been strengthened by her longer Algerian residency. Rice lived in Algeria for three or four years. One of the reasons behind the length of her stay was no doubt financial. Her correspondence includes family members frequently urging her to remain abroad because the depression still plagued the United States. Such encouragement was easy to follow as she was immediately entranced by Algeria, its light, warm colors, native people and their customs. French and English expatriates befriended and advised her that as a single white woman traveling alone she would be safer living in the cities or other communities with them. Rice did not trust the French,

not even the French military who was there to safeguard Western visitors as well as colonists. She felt more comfortable in the smaller towns and villages. At times, she lived in Bou-Saada with young female dancers from the Ouled Naïl tribe who were famous for their beauty. Befriended by them and other natives, she participated in their rituals, caravan trips, and shooting expeditions. She quickly came to respect their beliefs, manners, and politics. For example, she outraged the European residents by riding on horseback with tribal people and having a relationship with an Arab man, thereby flaunting Western social conventions. A half-century before, the little-known nineteenth-century American Orientalist, Ella Ferris Pell, had been called a free spirit for similar horseracing antics in Palestine.12 And just like

Isabelle Eberhardt (1877–1904), who ignored Western conventions by crossdressing, marrying a Spahi (native soldier working for the French), and expressing anti-colonial sentiment, Rice was deemed “a subversive” by the French authorities.13 This would be the first dramatic instance whereby Rice was unable to conform to the accepted practices of her upbringing. Her free spirit marked her outsider status, both to the European colonists as well as to the natives (as she remained a white American). Rice was given her first solo showing, unexpectedly, in the summer of 1933 on board a steamer bound for England. She was accompanying Rose Fitzsimmons, a wealthy Scot who had befriended her. In Algeria she became entangled in a ménage à trois, having fallen in love with Fitzsimmons’ native companion, Chehaba Ben Aissa Ben Mabrouk.14 Fitzsimmons nursed Rice during the resulting pregnancy. Although Rice may not have known much about North Africa before her arrival, she surely came with expectations, perhaps love in a faraway land being one of them. During the 1920s in the popular culture of the United States, the figure of the handsome sheik and his swooning maiden emerged as an icon and metaphor for the Orient; in 1919 the romance novel The Sheik became a bestseller, followed two years later by the equally successful movie version starring Rudolph Valentino.15 When the artist came home in 1935 with her son Djelloul, she was no longer Nita Chehaba Ben Aissa Ben Mabrouk, c. 1930s

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Juanita Guccione with her son Djelloul Marbrook, c. 1934–35


Rice but Juanita Marbrook, the altered name reflecting the change in her situation. Although she may have been naive about life and the world when she first left New York, the Algerian experience matured her in several ways. She was now an established artist having sold some of her works abroad. She had experienced a tragic love affair that resulted in a child. She now had responsibilities beyond herself. Her new last name (which was an anglicized version of her lover’s name) hid her unmarried status, but even more importantly symbolized her new identity. Marbrook immediately began exhibiting. In the summer of 1934, she had been accorded a mini-showing of her Algerian work at the Brooklyn Museum. In that grand institution she was represented by eleven paintings, including both landscapes and figurative scenes, documenting the places she especially loved, Bou-Saada and El Kantara, and the natives she met, such as The blind man and child (right). She now immersed herself in various trends. Marbrook produced a group of gouaches and oils with a nautical theme. The topic was one favored by New York progressives since the Machine Age of the 1920s, especially with those that summered in Provincetown on Cape Cod, as well as Stuart Davis, Jan Matulka (her sister Irene’s teacher), and Pereira herself. Marbrook, often working from the Brooklyn docks, shared their pleasant, light-hearted colors and simplified representational forms in scenes of river tugboats and small pleasure boats. Although a few are traditional front-on views, most of the canvases

The blind man and child, c. 1933 Oil on canvas, 63 x 39½ inches

reflect her manipulation of perspective as she tilted the topside towards the front picture plan so that the viewer seems to be actually in the boat. This nautical fascination enabled her to explore forms, especially anchors and parts of machines. In the autumn of 1935 she showed one of them, East of Avenue C (location unknown), alongside works by Matulka, Pereira and 59 other artists in the exhibition The Docks, Bridges, Waterways of New York by Contemporary Artists of the Metropolitan Area.16 Several of Marbrook’s still lifes are annotated “Hofmann.” Hans Hofmann taught both in his native Germany and

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Juanita Guccione, Ship’s Prow (detail), 1936

his adopted country, the United States, working at various institutions in Berkeley and Los Angeles in 1930 and in New York at the Art Students League in 1932 before opening his own school in 1933 in New York and later in Provincetown, Massachusetts; he also gave private lessons. For several decades, his classes attracted hundreds of students who desired to learn more about technical practices and materials. Although he became identified primarily for his “push-pull” principle of abstraction, the German master did not force his students to follow a single style but rather encouraged them to hone their individual tastes. Marbrook studied on and off with him, at times on scholarships,


and sometimes also served as his interpreter since the Rice sisters had all learned German from their mother.17 As the art dealer and writer Samuel Kootz wrote, “The importance of Hofmann . . . derives not only from the teaching of freedom, or spontaneity, of automatism, but the two great things he taught were the respect for the two-dimensionality of the canvas, and the idea of color as form.”18 Both aspects are evidenced in the few extant examples of Marbrook’s studies with him: she fragmented objects into flat polygonal forms and presented them in vibrant, non-mimetic hues. Marbrook worked briefly on a federally sponsored mural project sometime in

1936–37. The federal government sponsored many activities throughout the nation from the mid–1930s to the early 1940s, to improve the economy by placing unemployed citizens back to work. Some of the projects were awarded by competition, and others were welfare assignments. The murals decorated both old and new municipal, state, and federal buildings. Marbrook worked on the Madison Square Post Office on East 23rd Street in Manhattan, as an assistant to Kindred McLeary who had won the commission through the Treasury Section. Painted in tempera on plaster, all eight realistic figurative scenes present life in different neighborhoods of Manhattan.19 It might have been then that Marbrook also created the gouaches Family (p. 111) and WPA family, white hand, black hand (p.  109). The subject matter was quite popular with federal art administrators and surely would have been agreeable to her, especially the interracial example. She rejected McLeary’s representational style for a modernist idiom that could have been inspired by several artists. Marbrook had originally gone abroad to study with either of two French Purists working in a late synthetic cubist idiom, Fernand Léger or Amédée Ozenfant.20 As the Purists, she reduced objects to simple configurations devoid of shadows, chose a limited decorative palette, placed all the figures in the front, and occasionally used a white or black line to outline and contrast with the colored shapes. Hofmann also emphasized the picture plane. As Marbrook recalled, “He

liked the two-dimensionality of the wall, you see.”21 However she went on to admit, “But I liked mystery. So I wouldn’t dare show him what I was doing at home. When I was home I did something else.”22 That “something else” was her turn to

WPA family, white hand, black hand (detail) c. 1937

Surrealism. She began demonstrating a familiarity with the aesthetic in a group of undated paintings that were probably created around the time of the federal art projects, between the late 1930s and the early 1940s. She may have first been introduced to this major European avant-garde

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literary and painting movement during her brief stay in Paris. It is more likely, however, that she learned about it only after returning to the United States. She would have arrived home at an auspicious moment, in time to attend the landmark Surrealist exhibition in the United States, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City in December 1936. Founded in 1929 to introduce the Top: Catalogue from Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, 1936 Bottom: Salvador Dalí’s Dream of Venus Surrealist pavilion at the World's Fair in New York, 1939


American public to modern art, MoMA championed European, American and other national trends through a series of exhibitions it organized or borrowed from other institutions. Fantastic Art was a huge and memorable display of more than 700 works in various media, representing historical as well as contemporary examples. Its impact on American art and culture was immeasurable, demonstrating that Surrealism was not a single style but more complex. As Alfred Barr, curator of the exhibition, explained, “Surrealism as an art movement is a serious affair and that for many it is more than an art movement: it is a philosophy, a way of life, a cause to which some of the most brilliant painters and poets of our age are giving themselves with consuming devotion.”23 This was the official beginning of a wave of Surrealism that swept through the country, and it was easy for Marbrook to continue her education. Examples of Surrealism were everywhere—in commercial art galleries, private collections, and in other art institutions, and its impact on American popular culture was equally apparent, demonstrated in department store displays, fashion designs, advertisements, and even commercial Hollywood movies. She actually associated with some of the European Surrealists who became World War II refugees fleeing the continent for safe haven in the Americas, among them Breton and Marcel Duchamp. Her enthusiasm for the 1939 New York World’s Fair was no doubt due partly to the inclusion of Salvador Dalí’s notorious Dream of Venus pavilion with its live

mermaids swimming in an underwater surreal environment. Indeed, later on one of her admirers claimed she was one such mermaid, alluring yet allusive.24 Surrealism emerged from the general malaise and dismay in Europe caused by World War I. Intellectuals wondered how rationality, science, and so-called progress could result in such a horrible degree of destruction and death. In France Breton and his followers turned in the opposite direction for answers to the world’s problems and humanity’s needs: to “the fantastic, the irrational, the spontaneous, the marvelous, the enigmatic, and the dreamlike,” proceeding in art in two general paths, verism (a highly detailed realism that included distortions) and abstraction. Marbrook, as most Americans who came to Surrealism at this time, preferred the veristic version, and her work fell largely into two thematic groups: those in which she explored the concept of time and those in which she deplored the current militarization and war in Europe. In her most surreal interpretations, the landscape became the presentation table of the world. The idea of standardizing modern time and keeping track of it was formalized in the eighteenth century, and its synchronization became essential in nineteenthcentury industrial United States. Artists depicted its course in many ways: through the inclusion of clocks and watches (popular with so many Surrealists); the deterioration of objects, such as the melted clocks, ants and decay in Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory, 1931, owned by MoMA and shown in Fantastic Art; the inclusion

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Study for A hole in time, c. 1940 Mixed media on paper, 11 x 14 inches

of vehicles that imply motion, such as trains; the fracturing of objects permitting the spectator to see them from different angles and multiple perspectives; and after Einstein presented his theories of a spacetime-continuum, the Surrealist belief that their bizarre world of dreams was analogous. Marbrook presented A hole in time, c. 1940s (p. 141), as a typical Surrealist discourse, placing seemingly unrelated objects scattered in a desolate, flat landscape surrounded by a row of mountains. The scale of the various objects is not logical as a huge leaf frames the left edge of the scene while a ladder on the right stretches to the sky. The leaf is deteriorating as indicated by its autumnal hues and holes. In irrational fashion, the head of a white horse casts the shadow of a large bird. A woman sits in the foreground and embraces what should be a baby but appears to be an egg. Eggs have multiple meanings


throughout history and in different philosophical beliefs, sometimes symbolizing the idea of fecundity, creation, and creativity; the cosmic or world egg became popular in various discourses shortly after World War I ended. Eggs appear often in Surrealist paintings. The large ladder Marbrook placed diagonally leads the viewer from the earthbound objects towards an orb in the sky; in the c. 1940 study for the painting (left) the ladder miraculously stands upright on its own and extends to the planet Saturn in the sky, while tiny figures with arms upraised as in supplication stand near its lowest rung. The ladder indicates the implied motion through time, but even more importantly it has long been associated with the idea of spiritual quests. Marbrook would use the ladder and the related motif of the stairs in many of her late abstractions. Marbrook was one of the few female American Surrealists who commented on the rise of militarism and World War II, as demonstrated by Ill wind from Europe, 1936 (p. 39), Europa, 1939 (p. 133), War gadgets, 1943 (p. 42), and Empty glove, c. 1946 (pp. 40–41). They are heavily painted in somber coloration. Following Hofmann teachings, she intensified the black and grey hues and sometimes added a contrasting non-militaristic hue, such as romantic fuchsia, to underscore the bizarre nature of a world on the verge of an apocalypse. She divided each of the outdoor compositions by a horizon with an expansive foreground cluttered with military equipment, the debris of battle, and cemetery crosses, but absent of people. Although the wharf


1936 Oil on canvas 21¼ x 27 inches

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Pages 40–41: Empty glove, c. 1946 Oil on canvas, 28 x 38 inches Top: Philip Guston, Bombardment, 1937 Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Musa and Tom Mayer, 2011, 2011-2-1 Bottom: War gadgets, 1943 Oil on canvas, 21 x 32 inches


along the left side of Ill wind from Europe (p.  39) appears similar to the many arcades the Italian Giorgio de Chirico depicted, his The Sailors’ Barracks, 1914, which she saw in Fantastic Art, may have been the specific inspiration. Both de Chirico and Marbrook not only set their barracks/wharf motif on a diagonal but separated it compositionally from from a group of miscellaneous objects. Moreover, both artists alluded to the armed forces. She varied the depiction of airplanes from the formation of tiny orange lozenge-shapes, each with a single black backbone in Europa to the large single-prop planes and parachutes that fill the blue sky of War gadgets. The later painting includes a greatly oversized gas mask floating over small buildings and hills crowded with cemeteries. The mask extending from the top to the bottom of the canvas became the ghostly face of death. Poisonous gas entered the battlefield arena in World War I, significantly escalating the number of casualties. Essential in modern war, the gas mask also became an important trope for battle imagery. Max Ernst proposed the hazards of such warfare in a 1920 Dadaist collage, included in Fantastic Art: a mechanized figure has a gas masktype head. Perhaps the best-known image in American painting was Philip Guston’s explosive Bombardment, 1937 (left, top), (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

In Empty glove, the decimation is complete as a stone road cuts through farmland dominated by funeral crosses that enclose the view and extend to the horizon. Blood red drenches everything, even the distant mountains and sky. In the foreground keys, a glove, a roulette wheel and betting chips sit slightly offcenter on the stone road. Keys have multiple meanings but here may allude to the medieval/Renaissance tradition of the figure of Melancholia carrying a key. Melancholy would be an appropriate mood for war imagery. The idea of chance, so crucial to Surrealist ideology, is essential to the painting’s theme. After all, the fate— life or death—of a soldier in war is largely a matter of chance. Gaming accessories also appear in Marbrook’s art for personal reasons: the uncontrolled gambling habit of her father resulted in his loss of the family fortune after World War I and the demise of the Rices’ comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Her father’s behavior was the first major disappointment she would experience by a male. Enormous playing cards line her On the street of chance (p. 173), overwhelming the implied pedestrian and indicating the artist’s belief that ordinary life was as precarious as “a house of cards.” Marbrook began her Amazon paintings sometime during the early 1940s. They became her most idiosyncratic and personal work. She retained the deep landscape vistas of her Surrealist compositions, presenting individuals or groups of athletic women in the immediate foreground. Although she often set these figures on a

beach and in appearance they remind one of native Algerians, the artist would never have encountered such maidens in North Africa. In classical mythology, Amazons were a tribe of warrior women who lived in ancient Scythia, on the coast of Asia Minor. Many of the Amazon paintings seem to be light-hearted depictions of

On the street of chance (detail), c. 1949

carnivals, circus performers, and the fellowship of women, and they wear highly decorative and feminine attire, reminding us of Marbrook’s former career in fashion. Appearances can be misleading, for the undertones of the Amazon paintings

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are more complex. These women were empowered both physically and psychologically. They lived independent of men. Guccione learned that she had to do the same. During her stay in Algeria, the artist experienced two more traumatic disappointments caused by men: her brother had squandered her modest savings instead of investing it as he promised, and her lover and the father of her child had rejected her for another woman. Yet, it was probably the recent experiences of her sisters that directly inspired the Amazon imagery. According to the classical legend, Amazons cut off their right breasts to be able to shoot better with their bow and arrow. Such practice, unfortunately, echoed the medical situations of the Rice sisters as Dorothy died of breast cancer in 1941, and two years later Irene underwent a radical mastectomy. Marbrook clearly identified with the Amazons. Her paintings may have also been a warning to other women to remain resolute despite life’s discouragements. The overall physiognomy of Marbrook’s Amazons, with their broad shoulders and muscular anatomy, was similar to the anatomical type she preferred for her models and lovers.25 The artist’s bisexuality may have been due in part to her lack of faith in men as she became increasingly wary of the opposite sex, both as business associates and lovers. The correspondence of French critic Michel Georges Michel during his mid–1940s stay in New York demonstrates his frustration with the Voyage’s end (detail), c. 1940


artist in his multiple failed attempts to strengthen their friendship and to have Marbrook allow him to find a dealer to represent her.26 The Amazon paintings may have been Marbrook’s first pictorial attempt to present her bisexuality, but in cloaked terms. She usually portrayed each with a U-shaped face, topped by a straight fringe of bangs that in its overall outline resembles a mask more than a face. Masks proliferate in large numbers and at times exist without bodies, becoming the subject of her scenes, as in She had many faces (p. 167). Her use of masks no doubt had other sources besides a private desire to hide her true sexuality. Masking had a centuries-old history, and in the early twentieth century alone, it became a popular apparatus for hiding truths. When she was in Algeria, her brother had referred to the tendency in somewhat cryptic terms: “Why do we wear mask[s], this carnival mummery of life, in which we all dance and smile disguisedly, until the midnight of our allotted time comes; and the King ‘Skeleton’ com”27 mands, ‘masks off—show your skill.’  Masking was extolled in the writings of early feminists as well as by psychologists, anthropologists and philosophers. A copy of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass (also known as Metamorphosis), inscribed “Nita Rice 1928,” was in Pereira’s library. The story would have appealed to her not only because its theme of deceptive appearances and transformation was popular with the Surrealists but also due to the tale’s parallels with her own life: the story is about a young African follower of Plato, who

She had many faces (detail), c. 1949

travels to Thessaly, the home of witches, where he is transformed into an ass. Marbrook was accorded several solo exhibitions in the 1940s. The Alma Reed Gallery, noted for its promotion of Mexican artists, mounted her first solo exhibition in the United States during February 1941.28 Her Amazons and related exotic

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c. 1948 Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches


imagery were the focus of several subsequent solo exhibitions at other galleries. The Bonestell Gallery held two exhibitions, in 1942 and 1946; the George Binet Gallery hosted four solo shows between 1949 and 1951, one of which traveled to Miami Beach; and in 1949 the BarnettAden Gallery in Washington, D.C., presented a different solo exhibition that later went to the Mitchell Gallery in Woodstock, New York.29 They attracted quite positive commentary in national and local press. In 1942 The New York Times remarked that the Bonestell Gallery showing was “an especially interesting debut,” noting, “Despite surrealistic and symbolic overtone her work is fresh and spirited and she meets solitude and loneliness with a gallantry that is almost blithe.”30 The critics generally seemed to prefer her carnival Amazon scenes because they did not demonstrate the grotesque distortions associated with Surrealism, but rather they associated her fanciful imagery to “the general unrealities of a dream, which seem perfectly normal until one awakens and thinks them over.”31 These American critics did not realize that dreams were an expression of the unconscious and essential to Surrealism. Gatekeeper, c. 1948 (opposite), serves as a transitional work. It is a typical Amazon scene with gambling utensils and domino pillars implying the precariousness of life. Although the hourglass and the handless clock refer to time and its passage, the other objects on the table inspire multiple interpretations, and ultimately the large key is too old-fashioned

to unlock Marbrook’s meaning. The title hints at a new dimension. Who is the “gatekeeper” referring to: the Amazon, the artist, or the viewer? And what is the gatekeeper protecting and preventing us from reaching? Marbrook had always been investigating life’s meaning. The schematic rendering on a narrow band of color on the right edge of War gadgets (p. 42), so different from the main scene, features a tiny figure kneeling on a pyramidal mound and stretching upwards towards a large ladder hanging above him. Her Amazon paintings also featured references to magic and the occult. In her later paintings she would continue her search but change the vocabulary of that quest. After the 1951 Binet Gallery showing, Marbrook did not have another solo display for more than two decades. Nor did she participate in any significant group or thematic exhibition or annual for the rest of her career. This was due to significant personal changes in her life. In 1943, she married Dominick Guccione, an Italian immigrant who owned the apartment building where she lived. She actually met her husband through her son, as Dominick befriended the young Djelloul and eventually became the father figure Del never had. Thirty-five years her senior, Dominick Guccione was a successful businessman and taxidermist. For Juanita, it was not a marriage of love but of convenience, as it gave her financial security for the first time. Unfortunately, it also led to her isolation, some of it selfimposed. Dominick bought her a house in Woodstock, New York, but it was on the

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outskirts of the artist colony, and since she did not drive, she rarely associated with the resident artists there. During this period, her on-off relationship with her sister deteriorated—Irene was absent from the New York scene during the early 1950s, first with her new husband in England and then teaching in Indiana. Guccione no longer seemed to be an active member of progressive art circles, and the lack of artistic stimulation no doubt also depressed her. After Dominick’s death, she moved from East 19th Street to Sutton Place, a neighborhood known for its wealthy residents, and began distancing herself from her artist friends. Guccione drank more, and this may have further altered her personality. Although she was never institutionalized, nor even diagnosed by a psychiatrist, her


son thought her mental state might have been the underlying cause of her unusual behavior. Her lifelong erratic conduct, impulsivity, rejection of social norms, and fascination with what some would deem atypical spiritual beliefs always marked her as different; alcohol is known to exacerbate behavior of people with social and psychiatric conditions. Her mental state and outward personality did suggest similarities with Breton’s beloved Nadja. The Frenchman had met Nadja on the streets of Paris and admired her because of her unusual view of the world, which he at first thought seemed to parallel Surrealist interpretations; eventually he realized that Nadja’s understanding was irrational because of her mental state not her philosophy of life. The same might have been true of Guccione. Despite her issues, or perhaps because of them, her art changed. The transformations in Guccione’s late paintings were also aesthetically and philosophically driven. Her art and letters indicate a long-standing interest in metaphysics. Her parents did not provide a strong religious background for their children.32 Nor as an adult did Guccione practice any single organized religion. She, as well as Pereira, was fascinated by non-Christian concepts and practices. In Algeria, she learned about Eastern philosophies. Rice closed a letter to her mother, asserting, “The Arabs are most spiritual, to an uncanny degree.”33 She had visited mosques and other holy sites, witnessed ritual practices, and began learning about the Sufi form of Islam. Among the alternative belief systems she

found compelling after her return home were Christian Science, Rosicrucianism, and the Christian mystic Edgar Cayce, who answered questions about healing and reincarnation. Guccione investigated some of these esoteric ideas for answers to who she was and why she existed.34 Their father may have been the person to initially encourage in both daughters at an early age a fascination with magic and the occult. Since the family lived in Massachusetts the two young women should have been familiar with the story of the Salem witch trials and New England Transcendentalism, which was still quite strong in the early twentieth century. In Algeria, Bou-Saadan women, who were notorious for their talents in black magic, considered Rice to be a conjuror, and called her “The White Witch.” She surely agreed with her former teacher Hofmann who expressed in a 1948 essay: Art is magic. So say the surrealists. But how is it magic? In its metaphysical development? Or does some final transformation culminate in a magic reality? In truth, the latter is impossible without the former. If creation is not magic, the outcome cannot be magic . . . . The artist’s technical problem is how to transform the material with which he works back into the sphere of the artist . . . . This two-way transformation proceeds from metaphysical perceptions, for metaphysics is the search for the essential nature of reality.35 In essence, many of Guccione’s late abstractions parallel Hofmann’s beliefs. Their titles demonstrate her increased fas-

cination with metaphysics as well as her general knowledge of scientific discoveries related to outer space. In her art, the cosmos and a high level of spiritual knowledge became one and the same: Cosmic harvest, c. 1962 (pp. 188–189), Harbor of alchemy, c. 1973 (p. 197), Rise of the phoenix, c. 1973

(p. 193) and its study Here he comes, c. 1963 (above). Conceptually, these paintings were very much of the times as the interrelationship of art, science, and the spiritual holds a special place in the history of modernism. By the beginning of the twentieth century the philosophical search for the Absolute had become entwined with the idea of a cosmic consciousness and was explored by artists as well as philosophers and scientists. The pure use of color and form to attain the highest level of understanding was first seen in abstract painting. Above: Here he comes (Study for Rise of the phoenix), c. 1963, Mixed media on paper, 13¼ x 19 inches Opposite: Sketch by Juanita Guccione, c. 1970s

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Technological advancements had progressed so far by the post–1945 era that many American artists, such as Guccione, infused their paintings with a mixture of mystical awe and fear of the primeval forces that physicists had just released in the form of the nuclear bomb.36

Europa (detail), 1939

Guccione’s late canvases were larger than previous ones, the increase in scale due to several factors: the influence of artists she admired, such as Arshile Gorky; her excitement with the new medium of acrylics that allowed her to work more quickly; and her desire to convey the infinite spaces of the beyond. In her use of transparent backgrounds, painted with thin washes and little pigment, Guccione created a nebulous land, either set behind the veil of a dream or far off in a distant cosmos. First using mere tints for atmosphere, she eventually applied the washes in brilliant hues of purples, oranges, and


ochres. She scattered objects in a helterskelter fashion, drawing most of the details with a thin black brush. She had begun using non-representational lines in Europa (p. 133) and its related gouache Some peace (p. 131). In fact, her gouaches, whether studies for her canvases or re-investigations afterwards, demonstrate the development of her abstract language. Orbs (the black sun) and crescents from her earlier imagery are now accompanied by more planets and rays of lights from the sky. In addition, single eyes, the lemniscates (a mathematical symbol of infinity that looks like the Arabic numeral 8 on its side), and the ouroboros (the ancient symbol of introspection and self-reflection), along with zig-zags, swirls, floating amoebic shapes and other meanderings fill the compositions. Sometimes the lemniscates and other configurations appear to be ghostly images of human beings. In Vigil (p. 199), a large central figure sits in contemplation. Columnar figures consisting of thin swirling black lines hint that people are in the process of evaporating into thin air, thereby attaining a higher level of spirituality. Although Guccione’s late paintings, both the large-scale acrylics and small gouaches, convey a number of similarities to Abstract Expressionism, they were not copies per se but rather her responses. In this respect, she was part of the New York School although she was never included in contemporary and historical accounts of the movement. Until recently, few women artists were. As demonstrated throughout this analytical biography, Guccione created art that reflected her

community but was also at times on the margins or even beyond contemporary art trends. They were essential to her own private story that she never truly verbalized. Recently feminist art historian Griselda Pollock described how mental illness may affect the creation of art: artists stressed to the point at which they should logically become psychotic . . . do not go insane but instead create important works.37 Using this interpretation, I would like to propose that Guccione transformed her emotional situation and search for answers into a new personal pictorial language, one that communicated her enormously intense sensations. Her art became “an external incarnation of the body and psychic in matter with representation.”38 As her son remarked, even the process of painting was a performance, one in which she moved quickly and slowly, as if she were dancing to express herself.39 Again Guccione’s similarity to Breton’s Nadja is useful. His book was a discourse on the nature of appearances and reality. He, as did Guccione, asked many questions. Breton ended his text with a soliloquy of queries that can be applied to Guccione and especially to her existential searches expressed in her late paintings: “Who goes there? Is it you, Nadja? Is it true that the beyond, that everything beyond is here in this life? I can’t hear you. Who goes there? Is it only me? Is it myself?”40 Guccione haunts her paintings. And, despite all we know about her life and art, she remains an enigma. Vigil (detail), c. 1983

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Notes 1. The historical published accounts all list the year of her birth as 1904. However, the 1930 census records list her birth year as 1905. “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https:familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X4VS-PRT:8 December 2015), Anita Rice in entry for Hilda Rice, 1930. 2. It is not known if the annotations were added at the time the drawings were created or later. 3.

For all three Rice sisters, “Attendance and Membership Records,” Archives, Art Students League (ASL), New York. I would like to thank Stephanie Cassidy, Archivist at the ASL, for providing me with copies of all the records. Irene and Dorothy studied a second time at the League, but later on.


The details of what Nita did and when during her travels are somewhat contradictory, based largely on her memory and accounts to her family. So the dates in previous publications may be inaccurate. The same situation holds true for Irene’s trip. Karen Bearor, Irene’s biographer, attempts to correct the mistakes and possible elisions or additions that Irene gave throughout her career. For example, both sisters claimed they studied with the French Purist Amédée Ozenfant in Paris at the Académie Moderne, but neither probably did. See Karen A. Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira Her Paintings and Philosophy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973), pp. 19–20.

5. Rice to her mother, incomplete and undated letter, p. 5, Juanita Guccione Papers, Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco. 6.

Peggy Guggenheim, Art of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict (1946; New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday and Co., 1980), pp. 44 and 77. She was constantly mentioning the clothing, pipes, perfumes, earrings and other fantastic jewelry she bought.

7. Djelloul (Del) Marbrook in numerous interviews. 8.

Roger Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880–1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp.  130 and 135.

9. F. A. Bridgman, Winters in Algeria, first serialized in 1888 in the popular magazine Harper’s New Monthly Magazine and then republished in 1890 as an illustrated book. 10. Rice to her mother, June 22, 1932, JG Papers; and Del Marbrook interview with Fort, August 26, 2016. 11. Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880–1930, 2003, chapter 10, pp. 249–73. 12. Holly Edwards, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870–1930, exh. cat. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press in assn. with Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2000), p. 140.


13. Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880–1930, 2003, pp. 101–102. 14. Lawrence Morgan, Flute of Sand: Experiences with the Mysterious Ouled Naïl (London: Oldhams Press, 1956), pp. 116–118. Despite differences in this fictionalized account, Del Marbrook insists the story is based on his mother’s experience. 15. Steven C. Caton, “The Sheik: Instabilities of Race and Gender in Transatlantic Popular Culture of the Early 1920s,” in Edwards, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures, 2000, p. 99. 16. The Docks, Bridges, Waterways of New York by Contemporary Artists of the Metropolitan Area, exh. brochure (New York: International Art Center, Master Institute Building, 1935). 17. Marbrook may have heard about Hofmann through her sister, who according to Pereira’s published chronology studied with him at the Art Students League for a month in 1933 (Bearer, Irene Rice Pereira: Her Paintings and Philosophy, 1993, p. 233). 18. Samuel Kootz, quoted in Justin Wolf, “Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts,” The Art Story Foundation, accessed July 2016. 19. Her participation is according to family tradition. It is not known on which scenes Marbrook worked. Contrary to several early biographies in print and on various websites, Marbrook could not have assisted Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros when he was in New York City, as only U.S. citizens were eligible for the federal projects. Information about the Madison Square Post Office from: Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz, New Deal for Art: The Government Art Projects of the 1930s with Examples from New York City & State, exh. cat. (Hamilton, New York: Gallery Association of New York State, 1977), p. 162. Marbrook’s sister Pereira worked on the earlier, 1934, Public Works of Art Project, and later taught at the WPA/FAP Design Laboratory from 1936 to 1939. 20. Neither Léger nor Ozenfant were available the short time she was in Paris. However, Marbrook may have studied with the latter in New York as he opened his school there in 1939, and it remained open until 1955. 21. Marbrook, no title [typed statement about Hofmann], undated, JG Papers, Weinstein Gallery. 22. Ibid. 23. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936), p. 8. 24. Michel George Michel, undated note with cartoon “Buy Bonds,“ of Guccione swimming in the river near a ship. Michael was a French critic who lived in New York during World War II. 25. Del Marbrook, interview with Susan Aberth, October 25, 2015. 26. There are several letters from Michel in JG Papers, Weinstein Gallery.

27. James Rice to Nita Rice, December 11, 1932, JG Archives, Weinstein Gallery. 28. Announcement of Juanita Rice Marbrook exhibition (typed), Alma Reed Gallery, New York, 1941, JG Papers, Weinstein Gallery. 29. Pereira probably assisted in arranging this exhibition as she had exhibited with the gallery and had become very close to one of its owners, Alonzo J. Aden (See Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira: Her Paintings and Philosophy, 1993, p. 18, for Pereira-Aden association).

38. Bracha Ettinger, requoted by Pollock, ibid., p. 73. Pollock is referring to Sekula, but I am here using the quote in reference to Guccione. 39. Del Marbrook, interview with Ilene Fort, August 26, 2016. 40. André Breton, Nadja, trans. by Richard Howard (1928: New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 144.

30. H.G., “In Modern Times,” New York Times, January 11, 1942, clipping, JG Papers, Weinstein Gallery. 31. Washington Star, May 15, 1949, quoted in Exhibition by Juanita Marbrook, exh. brochure (Woodstock, NY: Mitchell Gallery, 1949, n. p.) 32. Karen A. Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira: Her Paintings and Philosophy, 1993, p. 4. Pereira was not even sure if her father was religious. Her mother was not, and as a child she went to church occasionally with the family servants. Late in life Pereira converted to Catholicism. 33. Rice to her mother, June 23, 1933, in JG Papers, Weinstein Gallery. 34. Del Marbrook interview with Ilene Fort, August 26, 2016. 35. Hans Hofmann, The Search for the Real and Other Essays, ed. by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr. (Andover, MA: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, 1948; rev. ed. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1967), p. 40. 36. Lynn Gamwell, Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 265. 37. Griselda Pollock is basing her discussion on the essay by Bracha Ettinger, “Some-thing, Some-event, Some- encounter between Sinthome and Symptom,” in Catherine de Zegher (ed.), The Prinzhorn Collection: Traces upon the Wonderboic, exh. cat. (New York: Drawing Center, 2002), p. 61. Pollock, “. . . in Sonja Sekula and Friends,” exh. cat. (Lucerne: Kunstmuseum Luzern, 2016), pp. 70–72.

Sketch by Juanita Guccione, c. 1980s

The American Nadja


Juanita Guccione in Dominick Guccione’s taxidermy studio, c. 1950s


JUANITA GUCCIONE: Reclaiming a Mystical Artist Susan L. Aberth


he profound impact that the Surrealist movement had on artists in the United States has been explored recently in such landmark exhibitions as Surrealism USA (National Academy Museum, New York, 2005) and In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013), as well as in countless smaller venues across the country. As the result of such fresh scholarly enquiry, well-known artists as well as lesser-known artists have had their oeuvres re-examined within this new framework. This is particularly true of women artists working in the United States, who appear to have been more influenced and inspired by Surrealism’s liberating possibilities than previously recognized.1 Furthermore, those possibilities not only included a more open-ended vision of gender roles but also greater engagement with esoteric ideas and belief systems. Essay Title



omen were an intrinsic part of the birth of Spiritualism in nineteenth-century America and continued to play a central role in the development of the New Age movement of the twentieth century, through to today’s feminist-oriented occult revival. Whitney Chadwick’s pioneering book Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (1985) instigated an avalanche of renewed interest in women artists associated with Surrealism, some of whom were so neglected that their rediscovery is a thrilling surprise. Juanita Guccione is one of those artists, and her recuperation now appears happily inevitable given the quality of her production as well as the visionary scope of her thematic interests. Her astonishing body of work remains enigmatic, mysterious and challenging to decipher unless one is familiar with the signs and symbols of the esoteric subjects that appear to have fascinated her over a lifetime. It will be the task of this essay to reveal the meanings of some of these signs, to examine how and why Guccione incorporated them into her paintings, and to place her work within the historical context of American art, as well as American New Age spirituality. Guccione was a woman who studied under diverse artists, changed her painting style frequently, and refused


to be categorized or identified with any one movement. In the same way that she was quietly bisexual, Guccione was comfortable mixing disparate spiritual traditions. The same spirit of experimentation that led to her travels abroad extended to her metaphysical searches. For example, although she was familiar with traditional forms of Christianity, she was drawn for a time to Christian Science, a peripheral new religious movement founded by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910). There are aspects of Christian Science that correlate to Guccione’s other esoteric interests, for example the emphasis on miraculous healing, Eddy’s involvement with Spiritualism and its belief that the material world is an illusion (a belief Eddy shared with Sufism).2 While there are no direct visual correlations to Christian Science in her work, there are crucifixes, angels, and Madonna-like seated figures. But it was cosmic imagery that held the greatest meaning for Guccione, and eclipses, crescent moons, shooting stars, and strange otherworldly scenes abound throughout her oeuvre. Combining the artist’s interest in divination with Surrealism’s love of chance, another major theme in her work is gambling, be it with dice, cards, or roulette.

Surrealism When Juanita Guccione returned to New York from Algeria in 1935, she was a very different person from the individual who left for Europe in 1931. Already highly independent for a woman of her generation, her immersion in the matriarchal culture of the Ouled Naïl left her

Top: Passport (detail), c. 1949; Bottom, left: A hole in time (detail), c. 1940s; Bottom, right: Leonor Fini, L’Ombrelle (detail), 1947 Opposite: Sketch by Juanita Guccione, c. 1970s

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


with an experience of female bonding that I believe haunted Guccione for the rest of her life. Echoes of these women reverberate across her entire oeuvre, and although modernized and disguised, they still exude an aura of ancient pride and alluring sexual menace. In a series of paintings from the mid-1940s, Guccione portrays scenes populated exclusively by strange and powerful-looking women whose tiny heads and large bodies make the viewer feel as if they are perpetually looking up at their towering forms. The 1940s would be a particularly fruitful period for Guccione, and her friend, the noted American painter Arshile Gorky (1904–1948), half-jokingly observed, “She can paint circles around me.”3 Guccione met André Breton, the leader of Surrealism, while he was in exile from the war in New York City during the 1940s. In paintings such as Passport (pp. 170–171), it is apparent that she was under its influence. In this work we can observe some of Surrealism’s hallmark characteristics like the irrational jumps in scale, lampposts in a vertiginous Giorgio de Chirico-like recession with dramatic shadows, and the arrangement of disparate objects and buildings into a single picture. Another Surrealist-inspired painting by Guccione, A hole in time, c. 1940s (p. 141), has similar features along with a tattered umbrella reminiscent of those seen in the work by the Argentine/Italian Surrealist painter Leonor Fini (1907–1996) (p. 57). In other Guccione works there are enigmatic groupings of women, often by the sea, again similar in spirit to those of Fini or even of another Surrealist who depicted


women in indecipherable scenarios, the Belgian painter Paul Delvaux (1897– 1994). As for her obsessive depiction of the seascapes, Jungian4 and other symbolic interpretations of the sea come to mind, especially as indicative of the unconscious and the feminine.5 A significant series of paintings of women by the sea depict fisherwomen, albeit in a Surrealist iteration.6 Why fisherwomen? Was this a rebellious reversal of ‘fishwife’ with its misogynous implications of smelly, bad-tempered, and loud? Guccione’s proud and self-sufficient fisherwomen bear some conceptual resemblance to the nineteenth-century American painter Winslow Homer’s (1863–1910) remarkable depictions of English fishing women at Cullercoats; otherwise they do not seem to have any modern predecessors. The women went fishing, c. 1945 (p. 151), is a lyrical work redolent of feminine mystery and sexuality. The breasts of the two upright women mimic the eclipse in the sky with the right breast white like the sun and the left bearing a black crescent moon. Her son recalls that she was fond of telling him that the crescent moon of Islam referred to the earlier moon goddess worship of the Arabs and that it represented the form of a breast. Three of the women in The women went fishing wear keys around their necks, and the key is a popular emblem used by Guccione time and again in her paintings. Keys can symbolize a variety of contradictory things: privacy as well as freedom, knowledge as well as secrets, and perhaps in Guccione’s paintings, women’s

The women went fishing, (detail), c. 1945

mysteries. Owls are another frequent symbol and appear in works such as Dancer by the sea, c. 1946 (p. 157), and Three women and three owls, c. 1948 (p. 153). Like keys, owls have positive and negative connotations including wisdom (Athena) and supernatural powers (witches) and are often associated with women’s knowledge. In Otherwhere, c. 1946 (pp. 154–155), and other paintings, Guccione makes a bold move by adding a woman symbol by her

signature in bright red paint. Although Marbrook recalls that his mother added these at a later date, they are still a remarkable gesture that can only be read as feminist.

Surrealism and Sacred Spaces One of the hallmarks of Guccione’s figurative work is an implied sense of ritual, usually involving women. In this she again is in good company with other

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


better-known women associated with Surrealism such as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Leonor Fini. Like the work of these artists, her scenes contain mysterious rites, alien but fascinating locations, and a sense of timelessness. Marbrook recalls that his mother was greatly impressed by the trance dancing she personally witnessed at the Sufi zawiyas (assemblies), that at times culminated with Sufi devotees walking on hot coals, putting hot spikes through their cheeks and other ‘miracles’ performed in an ecstatic state. In Lions, c. 1945 (below), Guccione provides us with a glimpse inside one of her imagined, exotic and fanciful structures. Pillars covered with magical pictographic markings evoking lost languages and alien civilizations hold

Lions, c. 1945, Oil on canvas, 36 x 27 inches


up tent-like roofing. This space also has arched apertures reminiscent of doorways or mihrabs (prayer niches), like the Islamic architecture she encountered in Algeria. The artist has transformed her memories of North Africa into her own sacred vision where majestic lions and monumental nude women (with keys around their necks) casually saunter through this temple-like space, denizens of some lost matriarchal society.

Surrealist Games of Chance: Cards and Divination The element of chance played a crucial role in the development of Surrealist ideology, and Breton’s theory and practice of psychic automatism allowed the artist to access the deepest reaches of their unconscious. Later on Surrealist artists also became interested in divination, particularly the reading of Tarot cards, and a number of them designed their own decks, such as Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) and Roberto Matta (1911–2002). Games of chance, gambling, divination and the mysteries of masquerade were all topics Guccione explored in her work. Lesson from the Rose (Whither my Destiny), c. 1940s (pp. 162– 163), is particularly psychologically complex as an allegory for the fleeting nature of beauty, love and life as represented by the centrally placed rose. A melancholy reflection on ephemerality, Guccione has arranged classical allegorical elements in a Surrealist manner. Mirrors, burning cigarettes, coins, flower petals, wine—hinting at the fleeting pleasures of life, sink into

a watery morass. A beautiful blond woman sits in the center of Fortune Teller, c. 1948–51 (p. 175), holding a deck of playing cards and, with eyes closed, is ready to mediate between worlds. The fortune teller’s breasts are in the shape of crescent moons that Guccione has ingeniously made to look like her signature eclipse. In the background is a wall of dangerously large cards, and the heads of King and Queen cards have fallen to the ground like discarded masks. A woman turns the roulette wheel in Gatekeeper, c. 1948 (p. 46), perhaps representing fortune herself. It is a compelling work that contains many of Guccione’s signature iconographic elements (eclipse, checkerboard floor, keys, flowers) along with new items such as an hourglass, a clock, lottery tickets mixed with letters and pillars made of dominoes. Is the elegant woman in the long evening dress a self-portrait of the fashionable Guccione, standing amongst detritus signifying the uncontrollable nature of the world? She had many faces, c. 1949 (p. 167) is another masterful work from this series that could also be a disguised self-portrait. Seated on a stool on a checkerboard floor beside the seashore and under a black sun, a faceless nude woman raises from one hand a bunch of strings attached to masks that shower down onto the floor. Odd and incongruent curtains frame the sad vista, a nod to Surrealist compositions and theatricality. Meant to be a philosophical statement about the world of appearances, in many ways it reflects the artist’s secretive nature and multiple identities. The

Fortune Teller (detail), c. 1948–51

American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning was also interested in games, with a feminist twist, such as in her Endgame of 1944, where a woman’s shoe crushes a bishop on an oscillating checkerboard that looks like a lady’s scarf. Decades later in her career Guccione would return to this theme, only now in a series of depictions of Tarot cards. In works such as Queen of Heaven, 1981 (p. 62), Guccione has taken the High Priestess card (p. 62) from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck and made it her own. Originally illustrated by an American artist Pamela Coleman Smith under the direction of the British mystic and occultist A. E. Waite,

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


this particular deck is steeped in esoteric iconography. The High Priestess in general terms represents divine feminine wisdom, and it is an interesting choice for Guccione who has replaced the Masonic pillars with curtains and renamed her Queen of Heaven, suggestive of the Virgin Mary but not definitively so. This deck was of some fascination to Guccione, who used

her previous forays into Cubist-style drawings notwithstanding. In fact, it is important to understand that this remarkable artist was able to navigate between a number of different styles and themes with ease, and furthermore, that she could return to them repeatedly over a span of decades for revision and further expansion. In addition to her Surrealist works,

Left: Juanita Guccione, Queen of Heaven, 1981, Acrylic on canvas, 54 x 40 inches; Right: High Priestess card from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck

other images from it in her paintings during the 1970s and 1980s, although always transforming them into her own style.

The Turn Towards Abstraction As early as the mid-1930s Guccione was experimenting with abstract forms,


there were other strains of her production that were equally developed, ranging from naturalistic scenes of maritime life to portraiture, as well as various permutations of abstract imagery. This latter category included quasi-abstract paintings of an amorphous spiritual nature that

demonstrated her personal lexicon of iconic elements and symbols. As previously mentioned, Guccione was certainly not the only American female artist working within a Surrealist idiom and interested in occult subjects. Sylvia Fein, Gertrude Abercrombie, and Gerrie Gutmann are other examples and who, like Guccione, are in the process of being re-evaluated and brought to greater attention. Shapeshifting of 1935 (p. 99) was done soon after her return to America and reveals the artist in the process of transformation from a more realist style to one of geometric abstraction, although the title and intense inner glow of the composition hint at something more mystical. One sees traces from her old life in Bou-Saada—the orange sun, stairs and doorways, a tower and perhaps even the calligraphic suggestion of a descending robed figure. Flat abstract color planes are rhythmically arranged and remind one of the maze of streets with bright shafts of light that penetrate the cool shadows at illuminated intervals. Executed a mere two years later, Symphony in orange, 1937 (pp. 128–129), continues her abstract language with a colorful and playful arrangement of abstract forms, some of them celestial. Once again a robed figure, reminiscent of an Ouled Naïl woman, opens a door in the center background, as if unleashing this mysterious cacophony of signs and colors. In works such as Eclipse, c. 1936 (p. 125), Guccione vacillates between representation and abstraction as she strives to express something more metaphysical, and her quasi-architectural

shapes bring to mind the odd scaffolding of another American Surrealist, Kay Sage. In this abstract dreamscape filled with totemesque structures reminiscent of Max Ernst, there is also a playful Joan Miróelement in the buoyant colored balls. The ‘landscape’ is scattered with the crescent moons of North African mosques, while also including her favorite celestial motifs

of shooting stars and an eclipse. In this indeterminate alien space there is an otherworldly yellow glow that is more science fiction than traditional ‘spiritual,’ and that is what makes it unique. Above: Symphony in orange (detail), 1937 Pages 64–65: Distractions (detail), c. 1940

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist



Essay Title


Intimations (detail), c. 1939

Equally experimental is Christmas, c. 1937 (p. 127), but because of the theme, with its color palette of reds and greens, not to mention the conical shapes of Christmas trees, it reads as more of a nocturnal holiday landscape with glittering lights. Intimations, c. 1939 (p. 135), is most likely a response to World War II, with hints of military parachuting and the Red Cross, but it resists devolving into any kind of stereotypical depiction of wartime chaos and instead remains resolutely abstract with a Stuart Davis-type of rhythmic arrangement (albeit more organic in form). Continuing in this vein is Distractions, c. 1940 (pp. 64–65), which includes hard-edge lines


and solid geometric shapes but now also hints at human forms. Of particular interest is a green shape to the right, reminiscent of so many similar figures in her works that appear to be a figure descending a stairway. This mysterious entity holds a tablet with a rounded top that could read, considering the nature of WWII, as the Old Testament Moses with the tablet of the Ten Commandments descending from Mount Sinai, but just as likely it could be a relative of the cloaked scholars of North Africa holding a typical writing board for studying the Qur’an.This must have meaning for Guccione as she replicated the figure in Rosetta of 1949 (p. 209). Marbrook believes that his mother’s first-hand experiences in Algeria with the Sufi mystics may have led her to explore the paranormal, and this is particularly interesting in light of the Muslim ban on imagery in their art and their resolute adherence to abstraction to express the spiritual. Nothing less than a masterpiece, the quasi-abstract painting Ladders, c. 1951 (p. 143), reconceptualizes her earlier depicted rope ladders into signifiers of spiritual ascension (along with stairs), calling to mind the story of Jacob’s Ladder in the Book of Genesis that has inspired countless works of esoteric art. The three white figures in the bottom center, although unidentifiable, call to mind the many sacred references of the number three (Holy Trinity, Three Marys at the Cross, etc.). Plateau, c. 1946 (pp. 176–177), uses an entirely different style to present what for lack of better words can only be described as a cosmic, otherworldly vision.

Guccione and Esoteric Trends in American Art Many aspects of Guccione’s life remain mysterious in spite of the biographical material her son has so generously shared with her admirers. Although she was a woman given to strong opinions, she was also full of contradictions. Dedicated to her craft with important friends in the art world, she was cautious of exhibiting her work and disguised this fear with feigned indifference. Djelloul Marbrook has relayed that his mother was a spiritual seeker, although in a private way, rarely speaking of her beliefs. She was interested in alchemy, Theosophy,7 Spiritualism, and other New Age-type movements, and although she attended their various meetings and lectures in New York City, with her usual reticence she eschewed actual membership in any. At the Theosophical Society Guccione most likely came into contact with their influential publication Thought Forms,8 a book of clairvoyant drawings from 1901 that contained abstract ‘visualizations’ of thoughts as they exist in the astral plane (p. 68). Another very popular occult book was Manley Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages— An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy: Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings concealed within the Rituals, Allegories and Mysteries of all Ages, first published in 1928 and in continuous print ever since. Delightfully illustrated by Ladders (detail), c. 1951

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


Augustus Knapp with large color plates, this book was widely available in libraries, bookshops and museum stores across the country and did much to stimulate fascination with occult subjects. Rosicrucian ideas appear to have engaged her to a greater extent, and she subscribed to their illustrated magazine on a regular basis. Such journals9 were part of the organization’s very successful outreach and home-learning programs, and

Thought Forms: Sudden Fright, 1901 from Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater’s Thought Forms, 1901

individuals subscribed to them much like other popular magazines. Subjects covered within its pages ranged widely from reincarnation, healing, music, and sacred architecture, with an emphasis on ancient mystery religions such as those practiced in ancient Egypt10 and Tibet. Richly illustrated with symbols from numerous mythologies and religions, Rosicrucian Digest displayed scarabs, the seal of Solomon,


stars, floating eyes, pyramids, checkered floors, Masonic handshakes, candles, and of course their own Rosy Cross emblem. One book we know was in Guccione’s library was the Scottish scholar Lewis Spence’s An Encyclopedia of Occultism: A Compendium of Information on the Occult Sciences, Occult Personalities, Psychic Science, Demonology, Spiritism, Mysticism and Metaphysics, first published in 1920, although she had the 1960 edition put out by University Books of Hyde Park, New York. As previously mentioned, Guccione was also interested in Tarot cards, and images from the Rider-Waite deck entered her work on numerous occasions. The writings of C. G. Jung were intriguing to Guccione with their emphasis on alchemy and mysticism,11 as were the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff whose devotees included for a time Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and other Surrealist artists. Guccione’s obsession with portraying the eclipse may be related to Jung’s ideas on the Sol Niger (Black Sun) in alchemy and in alchemical psychology. On its most basic level an eclipse hints at metaphysical processes of transformation, the move from Darkness into the Light of greater self-knowledge, and for artists the darkness can signify periods of creative despair and depression. Exactly what the eclipse meant for Guccione personally is difficult to ascertain, and in all likelihood, she wanted it to remain elusive and enigmatic. However, if we associate the moon with femininity and the sun with masculinity, certain gender implications can be reasonably deduced, especially since Guccione at

times pairs her eclipses with a black and white checkerboard floor, an age-old symbol of the reconciliation of opposites (i.e. male/female), used by Freemasons and Rosicrucians alike. An excellent example of a work by Guccione that incorporates multiple esoteric influences is her undated painting Don’t be so sure II (below). The airborne figure holding two staffs is immediately recognizable from the World card in

ings of all Ages of Abraxas, a Gnostic Pantheos (below). Guccione has transformed the masculine deity into a feminine one and the horses into a phoenix, a bird that held significance for her in that it tellingly was from the Arabian desert and could rise from its own ashes with renewed youth. The artist does not take us into her spiritual confidence, and although we will never be certain what her beliefs were, we can certainly ascertain that she created a per-

Left: Juanita Guccione, Don't be so sure II, c. 1991, Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 inches; Center: The World Card from Rider-Waite Tarot deck; Right: Augustus Knapp, Abraxas, a Gnostic Pantheos, from Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages

the Rider-Waite deck (above), only now winged and with a bird head. A human figure with a bird head within esoteric circles can be associated with the Gnostic Abraxas, perhaps familiar to her from the writings of Jung or from the illustrations of Gnostic gems found in Spence’s An Encyclopedia of Occultism. Her composition also brings to mind Augustus Knapp’s illustration from Hall’s The Secret Teach-

sonal mythos, accumulated from a lifetime of reading, looking and soul-searching.

Cosmic Art: Raymond Frank Piper and Ingo Swann At some point in 1950 Guccione met the Syracuse University professor Raymond Frank Piper who, with the assistance of his wife Lila, had been carefully compiling examples of work by living artists that

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


Juanita Guccione, c. 1941


he felt expressed their spiritual views. Raymond Piper (1888–1962) was a Spiritualist and very interested in all psychic matters, such as the prophecies of the American psychic Edgar Cayce (1877–1945). The Pipers managed to collect thousands of examples of artwork for their project and, along with specially designed artist interviews, a portion of these are presented in their 1956 book The Hungry Eye: An Introduction to Cosmic Art (DeVorss & Co.) (right), and then republished later in 1975 simply as Cosmic Art, with an introduction by Ingo Swann. The first edition had a cover featuring a large floating eye emitting rays of light, an arresting image that reverberates throughout a number of Guccione’s paintings. A good example is her c. 1962 Cosmic harvest (pp. 188–189) that features a number of disembodied eyes, albeit eschewing the dark and spooky look of the book cover and opting instead for a more uplifting tonality of golds and pinks.12 Stairways, oscillating spirals, and round apertures that seem to have streams of water spouting from them are enveloped in a glittering and multidimensional atmosphere. This type of metaphysical space has no precedence within the work of other Surrealist women artists but has a distant relationship to the Theosophicalinspired abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). Piper included her c. 1949 She had many faces (p. 167) in his Cosmic Art,13 but his early 1950 correspondence with Guccione indicates that he saw at least three other paintings before meeting her later that year in New York City where presum-

Top: Cover for The Hungry Eye, 1956 Bottom: Cosmic harvest (detail), c. 1962

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


Top: Emil Bisttram, Creative Forces, 1936 Bottom: Gerardo Dottori, Flight over the ocean, 1932, the Estate of Gerardo Dottori


ably he visited her studio.14 Although her later paintings would have been more suitable for inclusion in this book, the works by other artists that Piper provided in his study I believe had a very strong impact on her artistic development. Works such as Gerardo Dottori’s Flight over the ocean (1932) or Emil Bisttram’s Creative Forces (1936) (both left), to name but a few, utilize compositional effects found in her later work. More than any direct visual correlations to the work illustrated in Cosmic Art, Guccione must have resonated with the spiritual endeavors of the artists who sought to capture otherworldly dimensions and visions. For example, her c. 1970 Plateau of the green moon (pp. 194–195) is more in keeping with the style presented in the book, yet with a more contemporary flair. Ingo Swann (1933–2013) was a celebrity psychic, artist, and author known for his “remote viewing” experiments. Interestingly after the 1975 reprint of Cosmic Art he became a friend of Guccione’s, and one can only imagine their conversations stemming from mutual interests in the paranormal. He inherited the vast Piper archives that are presumably now housed within Special Collections at the Ingram Library at the University of West Georgia along with his other papers.15 It is in a new light then that we can understand such works as Vigil, a c. 1983 (p. 199) masterwork. There is a symbolist use of color as an etheric violet atmosphere holds swirling orbs of light and luminous celestial bodies. Floating ears and eyes hint at visions and sounds from other dimensions,

while a dark female figure with a halo calmly sits in meditation as the hidden energies of the universe begin to manifest. Drawing the veil, c. 1983 (p. 75), in both title and imagery reflects her ever-increasing desire to explore the unknown regions of the mind and spirit with its swirling vortexes of interpenetrating dimensions. All of Guccione’s signature markings are there: orbs, zigzag lightening strikes, crescent moons, spirals, flowing water, now bathed in a pink and purple atmosphere with humanoid figures interspersed, perhaps representing the human soul or angelic forces. The title could be a melancholy play on “lifting the veil of esoteric mysteries” and the “drawing the veil” of her own approaching blindness. This landmark exhibition of Juanita Guccione’s unique and rich body of work is perfectly timed, for now the art world is not only more open to appreciating the women associated with the Surrealist movement, but in particular to those working within the Americas who have been neglected or forgotten due to a variety of prejudices ranging from nationality to gender. Furthermore, there has been a renewed interest in looking at female artists who have incorporated spiritual and esoteric notions in their work, the most notable of those being Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), the Swedish mystic who has recently been exhibiting worldwide and eliciting ecstatic reviews. Guccione is part of an important group of twentieth-century women artists who combined their occult interests with a modern visual idiom to create transcendent and visionary

bodies of work that are only now being fully evaluated and understood. Running throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States there has been a very deep strain of intellectual exploration into the esoteric, culminating in today’s New Age movement. Contemporary art is rife with feminist depictions of witches, use of magical texts and displays of occult collections—one only has to think of last year’s highly successful MoMA exhibition Imponderable by Tony Oursler.16 Guccione has much to teach us about American artistic versatility, the unique interpretations of certain European influences such as Surrealism on artists in the United States, and possibly most of all, how many women artists—without support or attention from major exhibiting institutions—persisted and in their own way flourished despite deeply embedded gender inequities. Perhaps Raymond Piper said it best in his summation of Guccione in Cambridge University’s Who’s Who of Intellectuals: “In her artistic creation, she finds satisfaction in three basic human needs, aesthetic delight, religious faith and philosophical wisdom. She belongs to no school except to the new unorganized movement or cycle of metaphysical or cosmic art which has emerged in many parts of the world.”17 Part of the historic cycle of reclamation of women artists in general, begun by the late and great art historian Linda Nochlin (1931–2017) and then continued in the field of Surrealism by Whitney Chadwick, Juanita Guccione can now officially enter the pantheon of American art.

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


Notes 1.

Please see my essay “Harbingers of the New Age: Surrealism, Women and the Occult in the United States,” in Daniel Zamani (editor), Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvellous, (New Jersey: Routledge Press, 2017).


Guccione’s son, Djelloul Marbrook, believes that there might have been a correlation with his mother’s admiration for Sufism and her interest in Christian Science. It is also possible that Guccione, with her feminist leanings, was drawn to it because it was founded by a woman.

3. Taken from an interview with Djelloul Marbrook on September 29, 2017 by the author. 4. Guccione was interested in the writings of C. G. Jung (1875–1961) and later owned his popular book Man and his Symbols (1964).



Throughout her life Guccione painted ocean scenes—some were more realistic portrayals of working docks such as Pier 29, Brooklyn, c. 1930s; later on other sea paintings were near abstract, i.e. Seascape, c. 1960.


Other paintings from this series include They lived by the sea, c. 1946; A good catch, c. 1947; Four nudes (study for #102); The women went fishing, c. 1945; Woman with fish, c. 1946.


According to her son, Guccione attended Theosophical Society lectures, however, due to the complicated nature of this organization’s presence in New York City I am uncertain as to the exact location.


Compiled by second-generation leaders of the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant (1847–1933) and Charles Leadbeater (1854–1934). Theosophy was founded by the Russian-born Helena Blavatsky, and her widely-read book, The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888, presented a mixture of Western occult traditions, Spiritualism, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism. Her books are historically important for popularizing ideas of reincarnation, karma, secret masters, and Tibet as the land of ageless wisdom. The Theosophical Society next fell under the leadership of a British woman, Annie Besant, who began her career as an ardent women’s rights activist who was prosecuted in 1873 for publishing a book on birth control. In 1912 Besant co- founded the Order of the Temple of the Rosy Cross, which was an occult order that worked with transcen- dental ceremonial magic, and their teachings may be perceived as Theosophy presented through a Rosicrucian framework.


There were a number of different publications, but the most popular was the Rosicrucian Digest coming from their headquarters in California. In addition to this there were books, how-to manuals, and other home instruction items widely distributed by the Rosicrucian Supply Bureau.

10. The Rosicrucian headquarters located in San Jose, California, is constructed in an Egyptian temple plan, replete with entry pylon and gardens in addition to the ‘temple’ proper and is still active today. 11. Guccione later owned Jung’s popular book Man and his Symbols, and she may have visited the Jungian Center in New York City that opened in 1941 and houses the Kristine Mann Library and ARAS (The Archives for Research in Archetypal Symbolism). 12. The use of the word “cosmic” in the title reinforces the notion that Guccione was looking at Piper’s book cover. 13. Her name was incorrectly printed as “Juanita Marbrook-Guccioni.” 14. Excerpts from a letter to Guccione from Piper dated February 16, 1950 are highly instructive: “Thanks immensely for the photograph of ENDLESS SEARCH. It is a masterpiece; it speaks vividly, and I wish very much to keep it, if you are willing…As a work of art I very much like THEY THINK OF MEMORIES WITH A SIGH, but since I do not see how to fit it into my plan, I am returning it under separate cover. I am glad to see it. And now may I ask you for the completion of another DATA SHEET for this wonderful ENDLESS SEARCH? A few items need not be repeated after doing the sheet for THE STREET OF CHANCE.” Taken from the Weinstein Gallery archives. 15. I cannot corroborate this for certain at this point, however, examining Guccione’s “data sheets” would prove illuminating and may be one of the only explanatory documents of her work written by the artist. 16. Oursler’s videos and portions of his vast paranormal archives were on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from June 18, 2016–April 16, 2017, while other portions of his archives were at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, Annandale-on- Hudson, NY from June 25–October 30, 2016. Imponderable was originally commissioned and produced by the LUMA Foundation for the Parc des Ateliers, Arles, France, and LUMA Westbau, Zurich, Switzerland, 2015. 17. Raymond F. Piper, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Syracuse University, August 1, 1959, in the exhibition catalogue for Juanita Marbrook: The Artist and Her Work, Colony Arts Center, Woodstock, New York, August 22–September 8, 1959, quoted again in “Juanita Guccione and the Intellectuality of Her Art,” from International Who’s Who of Intellectuals, (England: Cambridge University, 1979).


c. 1983 Acrylic on canvas 40 x 54 inches

Reclaiming a Mystical Artist


Juanita Guccione wearing Dominick Guccione’s sharpshooter medal from World War I, c. 1945–49


Self-Referentiality and Posthuman Feminism in Juanita Guccione Tabitha Morgan


t can be difficult to reconcile the catastrophe of this life with its simultaneously sublime nature. We as a species seem to be constantly attempting to transcend the crushing human experience that we ourselves created. Yet the burden of modernity has crippled our vision, and we struggle to find peace amidst the technological revolution and loss of humanity. We have turned to the posthuman to find relief. From the old Blade Runner to the modern Hunger Games, we search for a way out of the maze of categorization and dehumanization. But why does the posthuman always seem to revolve around either deprivation or techno­logical overpowering? I would argue there is another way. There is a way to capture humanity, to be deeply rooted in the earth and our own self-determined creations of community, womanhood, and selfhood. And Juanita Guccione saw the path as well. 77


ather than simply picking up what society put down, Guccione used the artistic genres of her era as a springboard to launch into self-creation. Abandoning the Western gaze of imperialist Orientalism to create her Algerian work, Guccione used her own palette, her own compass, to create what Algerian Ambassador Idriss Jazairy called a “neoOrientalism.” This internally defined renegotiation of landscape and place begins the thread of self-determinism that informs her work throughout the next fifty years. Using her own internal markers to create and re-create depictions of land-

scapes and people, and even entire languages with which to discuss a posthuman world or a feminist aesthetic, Guccione pushes the boundaries of how we can define our own reality. Self-referentiality implies a consistent use of self as the touchstone for identity rather than external forces. It often means the simple act of using “I,” or in a deeper sense, of having self-awareness or reflexivity. Self-referentiality is used here to mean the creation of a Self that is determined by internal signifiers rather than societal categorizations. Other phrases, such as individuation, have been used to mean the creation of self, but this is often done in antagonism with society and others. I am a woman because I am not a man; I am my own woman because I am not my mother. This tension creates a self of egobias, one that is grounded in difference and dissimilarity; there can be no collectivity. However, with self-referentiality, I am not a woman at all because I choose to disidentify with societal definitions of woman as weak and inferior. Instead, I am simply strong and fierce and loving. Disidentification with societal expectations and labels allows for a re-creation of self in society not because of society. Then, when self-determined individuals come together as a community, having disidentified with all that might separate them hierarchically, it is an actual collective. This of course sounds like a farfetched feminist utopia. But that is exactly what Juanita Guccione has pushed us Cartoon of Juanita Guccione by Michel Georges-Michel, Revue de la Pensée Francaise, October 1944


to realize through the visual engagement of her paintings. The individuals in Guccione’s work—both her feminist world and her divine Partos world—are created through the formation of an individual’s essential self and being beyond society, and reaches culmination as an identity through collectivity; it is Self not self, I with You.

environment rather than superficially engaging the terrain and the tribes. In BouSaada (below) we can see how Guccione’s use of purples rather than beiges transcend the realism of portraiture in favor of the energy and dynamism of expressionism. Here the people, the furniture, the walls and floor all melt into a kaleidoscope of emotional engagement and affec-

Neo-Orientalism Guccione began her revolutionary gaze when she disidentified with all standard American mores and created her own self and family in North Africa. In the 1930s, Guccione was living in an artist’s colony in Bou-Saada and then with the Ouled Naïl tribe, crisscrossing the Sahara and internalizing the matriarchal cultural mores of the Bedouins. Algerian Ambassador Idriss Jazairy discusses the differences between colonialist painters and revolutionary ones when he writes: “Some of the initial expressions of Orientalism were intended to make art subservient to colonial propaganda glorifying . . . the savage invasion of our land by foreign troops and its subsequent occupation which lasted 132 years. In these paintings, our oppressed people are depicted in humiliating postures.”1 He goes on to state that the process of “restoring dignity” to the Algerian peoples is happening through a wave of paintings he calls “neo-Orientalist.”2 The neo-Orientalist aesthetic that Guccione employs creates a fluidity of earth and sky, color and texture, that informs how her shifting perspective of a standard gaze dives deeper into the lived

Bou-Saada, 1933 Watercolor, 19½ x 13¼ inches

tive depiction. Jazairy defines neo-Orientalism as being multifaceted rather than one-dimensional: Characteristic of this art is a rendering of the effect of the enhanced interplay of light and shade. The addition of brightness and of a multiplicity of colors immersing people and objects revolutionized traditional approaches to paint-



Top: Mosque, Bou-Saada, Algeria, 1932 Watercolor, 12 x 9 inches Bottom: Blue Industry, 1936 Watercolor, 14 x 10 inches


ings. There was also a concern to express content beyond figures and shapes as a pathway to the Eternal, a kind of Sufism-on-canvas . . . Juanita’s work is particularly meaningful to us as she impersonated this symbiosis between Western sensitivities and Algerian-ness. She is the symbol of true art which spans across cultures to become an international language.3 Creating work that is neo-Orientalist propels a revolutionary artistic “talking back” to the colonialist reality of oppression. This also creates an international language because it transcends any hierarchal constructs, such as East/West, in order to exist in a deeper understanding of humanity. The international and the revolutionary become the universal while still valuing the individual. Comparing her 1932 work Mosque with her 1936 piece Blue Industry (left) allows us to see how her multiperspectival gaze engages both Algerian and Brooklyn territories—though diametrically opposed spaces—as equal ecosystems of culture and nature. Guccione seeks the essence of a thing and thus finds its universality. Her aesthetic calls to mind a melding of artists from her era—certainly Picasso, di Chirico, Max Ernst, and her mentor Hans Hofmann—but also her signature use of line and color that becomes wholly her own. When all the stylistic choices fuse into one gaze, we can see how Guccione’s own aesthetic is one where color informs structure not the other way around. Normally, an object is constructed and then given life through color. With

Guccione, the color choice becomes the form and gives the form definition and significance. Once the color has provided meaning, it then provides function. This gives Guccione’s work a depth of character not available to Orientalist and traditional gazes. The starkly vertical buildings are juxtaposed with the horizontal flowing of earth holding the buildings and river of sky framing the scene. The melted lines, the colorful but not overly dramatized palette, the vision of fluidity, pushes viewers to dive into place-identity as an emotional quantifier not just an intellectual negotiation of the built environment. Guccione has co-authored the landscape; we are participants not simply observers in this construction of land-self-sky. Guccione uses this multiperspectival gaze to renegotiate even imaginary spaces that become fully realized in her feminist world of surrealist imagination.

Non-Amazonian Guccione’s female-dominated world has captured most critics’ attentions, myself included. Most notably we have been calling these women “Amazons.” And while this is completely reasonable, there are multiple connotations to this word choice, primarily because patriarchy is still the focal point, and this leads to complications that discredit the holistic vision of Guccione’s feminist aesthetic and artistic vision. In referencing Guccione’s women as Amazons we are solidifying their mythic nature at the expense of their approachability, and I fear this makes them some-

how overly abstract and therefore inaccessible. Since Guccione has pushed us to reconsider how we see the land and terrain, and the Algerian tribes and peoples, why not continue in this vein of reflexivity and renegotiate our consciousness even further? Instead of using external signifiers, how might we read and feel and see these paintings through a more complex lens that challenges outdated terminology and allows for the creation of a validated and reimagined sense of self and communality? When we begin to read Guccione’s feminist-world paintings, our instinct may be to position them with our own habitual iconography or cultural markers. When women are not positioned as relational to men, we don’t know how to talk about them, so we rely on terms we have always employed. Yet those antiquated terms have baggage. And the hindrance associated with the idea of the Amazons is that we discuss and categorize these women with terms of lack—they are without a male in the home, without a patriarchal social system, without two breasts— so when confronted with an independent and self-sustained female community, we have no words, no language to allow for or support a female experience except by naming it “Amazon.” I would argue that Guccione’s women are not Amazonian as much as they are just women not pictured alongside men. Tall, single, strong women not defined by the presence or absence of a male should not automatically be considered warrior queens or lesbians; they can just be tall, single women. So while



“posthuman feminist utopia” may not roll off the tongue and be so easily identified as “Amazon,” the word change does represent a significant shift from mythological referentiality to historical accuracy within a non-patriarchal moment. The historical reality of the Amazons, called the Scythians, is that they are an ancient tribe known for their stalwart horseback riding, fierceness in battle, and passionate love of men. Much like the Ouled Naïl tribe, these women were nomadic, tribal, and collective. They believed in full and participatory gender equality, an untethered and abundant creativity, and an independent creation and naming of self and society. They did not ever cut off one breast, nor did they ever sacrifice or kill boys or men.4 Therefore, to employ the mythological archetype of the Amazon, when what we really mean is just a robust or autonomous woman, is to essentialize that “woman” can only mean dainty, diminutive, and submissive. Conjuring female tropes instead of historical realities keeps us from a deeper analysis because we stop at the label. Why is it that we need to keep the myth of the Amazon alive? What and whom does it serve? And why did Guccione create a world that so clearly conjures this Wonder Woman-esque cultural icon if she wants us to see past it? Instead, I would use the word “feminist”—with all of its baggage—to describe the female world precisely because Guccione employs a distinctly feminist aesthetic. This is true primarily because a feminist stance, if we use a classical defini-


tion, is any practice that seeks, “no matter on what grounds or by what means, to end the subordination of women.”5 The entire environment of Guccione’s feminist world is based on a lack of subordination. The animals, the earth, the characters are all fulfilling their roles while being utilized as part and parcel of an equitable ecosystem. In Woman with fish (opposite) we see Guccione’s all-female world and its brilliant representation of a collective yet sovereign society where equality and harmony with the natural elements reinforce a socially defined space for the realization of a free and open self. The woman’s body is a tangled mass of interlocking ribbons and sinews but also entirely contained to her self. She is a web of complexity and beauty and all unto her own. She holds a fish in one hand, presumably to nourish herself or others, and with the other hand, she sprinkles salt or earth back onto the land. Her body, as her ecosystem, is one fluid, cohesive and holistic gesture of self-contained unity. She is the self and reference in this full-circle moment. There is no biological determinism dictating her role as a woman defined as wife and mother because there are no men and no children in Guccione’s worlds. In fact, her world goes beyond almost all societally accepted ways of being a woman. Guccione’s world “endorses the female experience” by allowing the women to define themselves and thus embodies a feminist aesthetic.6 This feminism is not man-hating, it is self-loving; “a pluralistic reality made up of connection, flow, interrelation, and therefore equality.”7

However, the revolutionary act of creating women without men, sustaining womanhood without having children, or creating a self without the antagonism of another isn’t and wasn’t ever an accepted option for our reality. So we go even deeper into alternative realities.

ecosystem around her. She is not made whole because or in spite of the other women, land, or animals. This concretizes the characteristics of communality and mirrors back to us a self that may exist in harmony rather than in exclusion. Public spaces that hold individuals, such as

Left: Woman with fish, c. 1946, Oil on canvas, 25½ x 18¼ inches; Right: Dancer by the sea (detail), c. 1946

This and Other-Worldly Feminism Aspects reminiscent of other anthropomorphic and pantheist or even ecofeminist work of the era, such as Carrington’s Green Tea (1942), Maria Izquierdo’s Sueno y Presentimiento (1947) or even Paul Delvaux’s The Break of Day (1937), are evident. But where Guccione excels is her empowerment of the individual in a collectivity that is not at the expense of the

those we see in Dancer by the sea, (p. 157) reinforce a fluid relationship within a selfdetermined conception of identity. The equality is not just a superficial balance of imposed false binaries between male/ female, black/white, but a totalizing equality of land, animals, elements, and beings. Surrealism and posthumanism intersect at precisely this place of possibility and vision. They lived by the sea (p. 85) and Three nudes (p. 149) were both completed



around 1946, yet show completely different proposed realities. These divergent environments are in stylistic and aesthetic opposition. Even their color schemes— bright primary colors versus stark monochrome—to their media—oil on canvas versus ink and gouache on paper—argue against complementary ontologies. Yet what we can see here is that Guccione was attempting to negate stifling built

Three nudes (Study) (detail), c. 1946

environments and forge new, breathing territories for these three women’s lived experiences. But it’s also not a complicated self. There is a minimalism present that is sharp and clear, and not at the expense of structure. Their worlds are still three-dimensional and detailed: fishing nets, tents, and rope make them feel determined and useful. The functionality of objects sustains a life of self-sufficiency and autonomy. This agency then allows the women to realize all aspects of their selves, and they are


therefore capable of enacting any identity they can envision, monochromatic or Technicolor. This triad of dynamic, strong women needed a home, and Guccione could not reconcile them to the feminist utopia nor could she abandon them to the chaos of Dadaism. These protagonists exist as a family, a trinity of women who seem to long for nothing. In some of Guccione’s other work such as She had many faces (p. 167), there is a constant and impenetrable longing in the characters. The lack of wholeness and awkward self-awareness is almost startling. We so want them to be comforted, and to be more independent. But in these trinities, they have come to self-realization. They are whole. But maybe this is too fragile. Maybe it is too difficult to sustain an unsupported vision of Self. Thus, Guccione succumbs to the completely abstract and her simple ink sketches take on multiple layers of meaning as we see her trajectory move from the tangible, if imaginary, to the abstract, then into the nonfigurative. Reminiscent of Matisse’s Blue Nudes series, Guccione’s Dream sower, c. 1950 (p. 86), takes an abstract surrealist turn in dissembling the womanist body while still remaining recognizably female. The curves, the breast, the long hair and wide hips, all help us negotiate the female form without complication. It is, however, the Picasso-esque Surrealism that allows us to leave behind the vagaries of oppression. In this case, the form is so disidentified with societal debris that it becomes almost self-reliant, similar to yet surpass-


c. 1946 Oil on canvas 30 x 38 inches




ing Guccione’s feminist world. The feminist world had clearly abandoned the normative female personas in favor of seaside tents and fishing nets. Yet by her work in the 1950s, Guccione has gone far beyond either the constraints or the freedom found in feminism. Dream sower is about what is absent—the simplicity of lines, the clarity of black ink on beige paper; it beckons us to see what is not there as much as we can be fulfilled by the She that is there. She exists without donning an apron, without pushing a stroller, without wearing high heels; she exists without personas and their masks and without animals as her familiars. She is submerged, holistic, and still tangible.

Posthumanism The posthuman is a realm for those who have been traditionally marginalized from the definitions of human— people of color, women, the queer, and the poor—and have often been left out of what is defined by law and culture as human, as what is allowed to achieve and hold humanity. This takes an ecofeminist turn as Rosi Braidotti goes on to include animals and the environment in her definition of maligned entities seeking a land of their own. Posthumanism disidentifies with the capitalist privatization of social and economic systems and cultural absolutes and instead embraces a functionalist, non-hierarchical way of being. We take this a step further by seeing how posthuman feminism disidentifies with the Dream sower, c. 1950 Ink on paper, 11 x 8½ inches

patriarchal structures in our society and in our thinking. This is clearly represented by Guccione’s feminist-world and more so in her later abstract works when the entire substructure of society falls away and Man has been decentralized as the locus for humanity. Francesca Ferrando writes that, “In its attempts of avoiding dualisms, Posthumanism owes to Surrealism the retrieving of such aspects of life: The dream world can offer a unique space of visualization; the possibilities opened by the future are already embedded in the mystery of the present; the consciousness becomes the unconscious.” 8 This possible world has often only been imagined as a futurism on another planet, but it still employs all the old paradigms of patriarchy, subservience, and segregation that are killing our current society. The posthuman, then, implies having transcended our ego-humanness, and ‘casting off this mortal coil,’ finding layers of meaning in an unparalleled humanity, one that is androgynous, nonconforming, and even sublime. The self-referentiality of the feminist world gives way to the transcendent, non-binary imagination of abstract expressionism. Without external signifiers, we become unbounded by societal expectations. We lose the necessity of identifying in established categorizations for others’ comfortability. We abandon dichotomies and instead relish the opportunities to portend how we truly exist in this posthuman, feminist space. In Fishing for compliments (p. 88) we find ourselves suspended in an ombre



world of garlands, nets, and twine. It’s a liminal world that once we step into, we become consumed by. The figures are here; we can almost identify them by form and function, but that’s not what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to simply exist. And we are provided a level of sustainability in order to do so. There is an interconnectivity between the figures and the few scattered external signifiers, such as the rocky shores and the way the fishing nets are cast out to become other tendril-strung nets. The bright turquoise and honey-hued amber scene is one of immersion. We could as easily be underwater as on the shore. Yet even the flimsy comforts and bare necessities of an identifiable environment must be cast aside in order to transcend.


Hot day dawning (opposite) is an exemplary piece that truly encapsulates the motive and desire of Guccione’s characters to cast off the binary worlds of the mundane and exist in a freer, more transcendent negotiation of space, environment, and self. In this case, even the animal familiars are co-creators in the push to the celestial. The birds carry our protagonist to an ever-summoning world that is memorable in large part because of its stratification of blues and greens rather than its hierarchies of males and females. In order to translate this liminal moment into a lived experience, we must resign our names, genders, ethnicities, clothes, and any other material resonances that make us so immaterial. We become blank slates and as Grace Paley urges us:

begin again Again? again again you’ll see it’s easy begin again long ago

Partos Guccione left no journals or records about her artistic process or the meanings behind her paintings. For critics this is equal parts freeing and frustrating. This is most evident in her Partos series. We have no notes about what Partos meant for Guccione; we can only discern how it fits into the overarching arguments of the body of her work. As we move into Partos, a fully abstract and androgynous world, we have come to a point of posthuman aesthetics that transcends the built

environment and the societally-constructed form. So why name it? Why give a terrain and dimensions of color; why create a structure for the structureless? There is a lack of form and function in the Partos series that is so liberating and so enlivening that as viewers we can sink comfortably into the weightlessness of just being. Parto(s) means to “deliver” or to “birth” in Spanish, and I wonder if we can’t use this as a starting point to see why and how Guccione meant to “birth” the sublime. The reinforcement of identity here Above: Hot day dawning, c. 1962 Mixed media on paper, 18½ x 24¾ inches Opposite: Fishing for compliments, c. 1963 Watercolor and gouache on paper, 13¾ x 19½ inches



Top: 3 gods of Partos, c. 1979, Mixed media on paper, 18 x 24 inches Bottom: 4 gods of Partos, c. 1970, Mixed media on paper, 14 x 20 inches


is the self, not the environment. There is no ecosystem extant, no societal signifiers. What’s so interesting is that we come full circle back to the self-referential, even if there is no self as we understand it to reference. There is no centrifugal force, no vacuum of energy sweeping us up into a consciousness of materiality or humanity. The human is not foregrounded any more than the spatial-elemental. Have we become deified? Or is the resonance we feel the birth of our own anima? In 3 gods of Partos (opposite), we seem to be negotiating a number of symbols from our previous lives. The sun that might also be a fetus, the Christian crosses, the pagan trees, the balloons of forgotten birthday celebrations; there is a whimsical note when negotiating the depressive reality of our barely remembered moments and the lives we left unlived. But to concretize our rebirth, we must discard the unused remnants of our old self-identity and change the stories we tell about ourselves. The work 4 gods of Partos (opposite) tells the story of our mythic selves. It is particularly interesting because of the form in which the gods manifest. We see the same gossamer tents, small fires, and bursting suns that we can find hints of in Guccione’s constructed feminist world and in a deconstructed form in her most wellknown work, Harbor of alchemy (p. 197). But here there is a distinct world; it has been identified and named. The placeidentity of Partos is one of divinity, and it has given birth to an array of gods. On the left foreground, one could most discernably be called female, but the others

are simply minimalist forms. There is a strong argument here for androgyny, but even this is a term and ideation from our twenty-first century society. Here, form is as valued as non-form. We have come so far past contemporary cultural signifiers we are even beyond the body in any form. One is so released from identity markers and cultural oppressions, from clothing to flesh, that we move artistic production and aesthetic meaning into self-referential phenomena. The land and gods of Partos become relational only to their desires for transformation. Braidotti writes that the idea of subjectivity informs personal creativity and will help free us from the all too human resources that frame and limit our personal creativity: We need to devise new social, ethical, and discursive schemes of subject formation to match the profound transformations we are undergoing. That means that we need to learn to think differently about ourselves. I take the posthuman predicament as an opportunity to empower the pursuit of alternative schemes of thought, knowledge and self-representation. The posthuman condition urges us to think critically and creatively about who and what we are actually in the process of becoming.9 Guccione’s depictions of feminist and posthuman worlds push us to do exactly this. And we do it through an active participatory gaze and with an unparalleled intimacy with her work. Dawn on Partos (p. 92) is a culminating work ushering in a revelatory birth. It is a dawning of consciousness and self-




c. 1965 Mixed media on paper 18½ x 24 inches


awareness. The beings are gender nonbinary and unrestricted even from the burdens of divinity. There are not gods or goddesses; it is just beings dawning. The gaze is not of “woman,” not of “Amazon,” not of “feminist,” but of Self. No attached signifiers are necessary. Just a hot yellow, a neon pink, a slight shimmer of form and the dawn of self-realization. The momentous awareness of self-reflexivity allows the viewer to translate worlds as she sees fit. Each individual character—and viewer of this work—then has the autonomy to interpret her self and others’ selves on their own merit and without external mediation. Interpreting is an act that exercises agency. It is also a revolutionary moment because the interpreter is an active participant in that generation of knowledge, language, gaze and being. The painting that brings us full circle and ties the thread that Guccione has left for us to follow is Scythian prayer, c. 1960 (pp. 94–95). This is a Scythian prayer because Guccione knows the Amazon mythology is as limiting as the entire category of Woman. The prayer here is one of autonomy and self-realization. As viewers we become co-creators in Guccione’s world. Her colors are so whisperingly specific that they create a gentle fluidity on the page and mirror us back to ourselves. Our awareness of the loss of boundaries and societal demarcations opens us to re-self-identification in any given moment. And if we do this in a collective consciousness then our entire community remains distinct on the path of individuation, and simultaneously interrelated

through its commitment to collaboration. It is a constellation of self-determination without a dependence on externally driven society. We choose who to be, how to perform, and where to position ourselves. And we can keep choosing freedom, we can keep choosing authenticity and selfhood. Why redefine Guccione’s female world as “feminist” not “Amazon?” Why use the label “posthuman” or “posthuman feminist” if we are arguing for the abolishment of labels altogether? Because if we shift our reading of Guccione’s female world into a discursive and accessible representation of feminist identity with identifiable environments, then we can access this gender equality, we can dialogue with this non-binary and unbounded reality, we can situate ourselves within an ecosystem that allows for a compelling collectivity and self-determinism within our own landscapes. And that is a world where we want to live. Notes 1. Jazairy, Idriss, “A Fond Eye: Portraits of Algeria,” The Arts Club of Washington, November 1, 2002, p. 2. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. pp. 3, 4. 4.

For more on the Scythians and Amazons, see Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across Ancient Worlds, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014).

5. Felski, Rita, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 13. 6. Ibid. p. 69. 7. Ibid. p. 73. 8. Ferrando, Francesca, “A Feminist Genealogy of Posthuman Aesthetics in the Visual Arts,” Palgrave Communications 2, 16011 (2016). 9. Braidotti, Rosi, The Posthuman, (Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2013), p. 12.




c. 1960 Mixed media on paper 14 x 20 inches


THE PLATES 1930–1988


1935 Oil on canvas 32 x 26 inches


c. 1935 Oil on canvas 23 x 19 inches




1936 Oil on board 35 x 24 inches




c. 1936 Oil on panel 20 x 11¾ inches




c. 1930s Oil on masonite 22¼ x 30 inches




1936 Oil on canvas 28 x 34 inches




c. 1937 Mixed media on paper 14½ x 8¼ inches




c. 1937 Gouache on paper 11 x 9 inches

Pages 112–113 SIRENS’ SONG

c. 1938 Oil on canvas 29½ x 42 inches





c. 1930 Charcoal on paper 25½ x 19 inches




c. 1930 Charcoal on paper 19 x 25¼ inches


c. 1930 Charcoal on paper 19 x 25¼ inches




1938 Oil on canvas 23¾ x 35¾ inches



1938 Oil on masonite 187/8 x 23½ inches




c. 1930s Oil on canvas 28 x 34 inches



c. 1936 Oil on canvas 20ยน/8 x 24 inches




c. 1937 Oil on canvas 21 x 28 inches




1937 Oil on canvas 27 x 34 inches


SOME PEACE (Study for Europa)

c. 1939 Mixed media on paper 13他 x 17他 inches


1949 Mixed media on paper 13他 x 17他 inches




1939 Oil on canvas 28¼ x 34 inches




c. 1939 Oil on canvas 28 x 36 inches




c. 1940 Oil on canvas 28 x 34 inches

Page 138–139 CROSSWINDS

c. 1940s Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches



c. 1940s Oil on canvas 22 x 30 inches




c. 1951 Oil on canvas 36 x 28 inches




c. 1940 Oil on canvas 28¼ x 40 inches



1939 Plaster 14 x 6 x 7 inches




c. 1945 Mixed media on paper 13¾ x 14½ inches


c. 1946 Mixed media on paper 13¾ x 17¾ inches




c. 1945 Oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches




c. 1948 Oil on canvas 34 x 28½ inches




c. 1946 Oil on canvas 25 x 29¾ inches



c. 1946 Oil on canvas 34 x 27 inches




c. 1946 Oil on canvas 6½ x 28¼ inches




c. 1949 Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches



LESSON FROM THE ROSE (Whither my Destiny)

c. 1940s Oil on canvas 30 x 42 inches



c. 1946 Oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches




c. 1949 Oil on canvas 38 x 32¼ inches




c. 1948–52 Oil on canvas 30 x 24¾ inches

Pages 170–171 PASSPORT

c. 1949 Oil on canvas 30¼ x 40 inches





c. 1949 Oil on canvas 40 x 32 inches




c. 1948–51 Oil on canvas 42 x 34¼ inches




c. 1946 Mixed media on canvas 21 x 30 inches



c. 1946 Oil on canvas 20¼ x 27 inches




c. 1951 Oil on canvas 33 x 43 inches



c. 1951 Oil on canvas 30 x 42 inches




c. 1960 Acrylic on canvas 40 x 50 inches



c. 1965 Mixed media on paper 14 x 20 inches


c. 1960 Mixed media on paper 14 x 20 inches




c. 1964 Acrylic on canvas 24 x 36 inches

Pages 188–189 COSMIC HARVEST

c. 1962 Acrylic on canvas 35¾ x 50 inches




c. 1973 Acrylic on canvas 40 x 54 inches




c. 1970 Acrylic on canvas 45¼ x 56¼ inches



c. 1973 Acrylic on canvas 24 x 36 inches




c. 1983 Acrylic on canvas 40 x 54 inches




c. 1983 Acrylic on canvas 40¼ x 54¼ inches



c. 1985 Acrylic and silver leaf on canvas 44 x 58¼ inches




c. 1988 Acrylic on canvas 40 x 50 inches





Chronology Born at midnight, June 20, 1904, in Chelsea, MA, a Boston suburb, to Hilda Waterman Rice and Emanuel Rice, the second of four children (Irene, 1902; Dorothy, 1906; James, 1908). Name at birth: Anita Rice. Family moves to Pittsfield, then to Great Barrington, MA, before she is 12. Family relocates again to Brooklyn, NY. Her father dies. Younger sister, Dorothy, begins art studies. Older sisters Irene and Anita follow. Studies at Pratt Institute and Art Students League. Works as fashion model and pirate, memorizing and copying the designs of competing houses for her employer. Saves money to go to Europe. Goes to France in 1931, visits classes of Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant but decides to go to Italy and Greece, supplementing savings by taking portrait commissions. From Greece sails to Egypt, creating a portfolio of character studies on board ship. Travels in Egypt briefly, leaving for Algeria after hearing that artists are welcome and able to live cheaply. Takes up residence in late 1931 in Bou-Saada, an artists’ colony in northeastern Algeria known as the Gateway to the Sahara and seat of famous Ouled Naïl tribe.

Begins astonishingly prolific sojourn lasting into 1934, occasionally traveling with Bedouins in the Sahara and frequently accompanying them on hunting forays. Produces more than 60 oil and watercolor portraits and landscapes and hundreds of drawings. At age 30 in Algiers bears a son, Djelloul, to Chehaba Ben Aissa Ben Mabrouk of Bou-Saada, an Ouled Naïl. When the relationship fails, takes her infant son first to England, then to New York on a tourist visa. Mother Hilda and sister Dorothy take the sickly boy in and begin a protracted and finally successful negotiation with Immigration Service and French government to keep him in the United States. In 1935–36 the Brooklyn Museum exhibits a portion of the Algerian oeuvre. It is greeted with a barrage of romantic tabloid press, mythologizing her life in Algeria, and respectful reviews in the more serious press. Paintings shown in the Brooklyn Museum are signed Nita Rice and Juanita Marbrook. During the 1930s she changes her name from Anita to Nita and then to Juanita. Returning to America, she anglicizes the name Mabrouk to Marbrook. Late in her life she returns to these Algerian works, and to others, and changes their signatures to “Juanita Guccione,” causing archival problems that impede her quest for recognition.

Pages 206–207: And there was a purple moon (detail), c. 1946


Designs portions of murals for post offices and other public buildings for Works Progress Administration, including the 23rd Street Post Office in Manhattan. Continues studies. Paintings and drawings during this period reflect Social Realist, Cubist, abstract and Surrealist influences. During World War II is influenced by the refugee French Surrealists in Manhattan and by artists Archipenko, Gorky and de Chirico. Studies with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, MA, and Manhattan from 1937 to 1944. In 1941 her younger sister Dorothy dies of cancer at the age of 35. In 1943 marries Dominick J. Guccione, Manhattan taxidermist and real estate entrepreneur. In November 1945 they buy a summer cottage in Woodstock, NY. Her studies with Hans Hofmann end.

In the 1960s and early 1970s the human figure exits her work by stages, at first becoming fantastical, then deific. A fecund production of watercolors and paintings on canvas begins. The work is powerfully astral and metaphysical. She writes to a purchaser of her works that she paints the world she sees remotely, distinct from imagining them. In 1971 her older sister, Irene Rice Pereira, dies in Marbella, Spain, at the age of 69. In 1972 her mother, Hilda Rice, dies in Manhattan at the age of 92. After a long relationship beginning in the late 1950s, marries Wilbert Newgold of Woodstock, NY, and Stamford, CT, in 1986; he dies in March 1989. She dies at age 95 on December 18, 1999, in Manhattan, having lived there continuously since 1935. Buried in Artists Cemetery in Woodstock, NY.

Work of late 1940s and early 1950s is powerfully feminist. Critics uneasily label it Surrealist, but its fabulist and astral elements elude the Surrealist canon. Exhibits this work frequently in Manhattan, Paris, Florida, California, Beirut and Bombay. Dominick Guccione dies June 15, 1959. During her lifetime she never again shows her earlier work.

Rosetta, 1949, Mixed media on paper 13 x 17 inches


Exhibitions Solo Exhibitions 1941

Juanita Rice Marbrook, Forty Paintings, Alma Reed Galleries, New York, NY.


Juanita Rice Marbrook, Bonestell Gallery, New York, NY.


Juanita Marbrook, Bonestell Gallery, New York, NY.


Juanita Marbrook, Barnett-Aden Gallery, Washington, D.C.


Juanita Marbrook, Mitchell Gallery, Woodstock, NY.


Twelve Romantic Paintings of Fantasy, The Little Studio Inc., New York, NY.


Juanita Marbrook Guccione, George Binet Gallery, New York, NY.


Juanita Marbrook Guccione, Taj Art Gallery, Bombay, India.


Guccione, Gallery One, Beirut, Lebanon.


Juanita Guccione, André Zarre Gallery, New York, NY.


Recent Paintings and Watercolors, Juanita Guccione, Colony Arts Center, Woodstock, NY.


Juanita Guccione, Galerie Liliane Francois, Paris.


De New York a la Casbah: Juanita Marbrouk Guccione, 20 oils and 36 drawings, Algeria 1932–35; exhibited in Algiers, Oran, Tizi Ouzou, et al; sponsor: the Republic of Algeria and the U.S. Information Agency; color catalogue with essay by Mohamed Bentabet, Director, Musée Nationale des Arts and Traditions Populaires, Algiers, published by the museum and the Ministry of Culture.


Juanita Guccione: American Solitaire, Wohlfarth Galleries, Provincetown, MA and Washington, D.C.; color catalogue.


A Fond Eye: Portraits of Algeria by Juanita Guccione, Arts Club of Washington, D.C. and Embassy of Algeria.


Voyage’s End—Surrealist Paintings by Juanita Guccione, 1930s–1970s: Futuristic Visions of a World Ruled by Women. Poughkeepsie Art Museum, Poughkeepsie, NY.


Paintings by Juanita Guccione, State University of New York /Orange, Newburgh N.Y. Campus.


Paintings by Juanita Guccione, State University of New York/Adirondack, Queensbury, NY.


Unfettered, Juanita Guccione Paintings and Drawings, McDaris Fine Art, Hudson, NY.


Juanita Guccione: Defiant Acts, The Seligmann Center at the Citizens Foundation, Sugar Loaf, NY.


Juanita Guccione: Otherwhere, Napa Valley Museum, Yountville, CA.


Juanita Guccione: Seeking the Divine, Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, CA.


Group Exhibitions 1935-1936


Critics’ Art Travelrama, an exhibition organized by Paula Insel, New York, NY.

Paintings by American Artists, eleven oil paintings executed in Algeria, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY.




The Docks, Bridges, Waterways of New York, International Art Center, New York, NY. American and Foreign Artists: Drawings, Pastels and Watercolors, Brooklyn Museum, NY.


This is Our War, Artists League of America at Wildenstein & Co., New York, NY.


Artists League of America, Third Annual Exhibition, Riverside Museum, New York, NY.


Painting in the United States, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA.


Painting in the United States, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA.


The Horse in Art, From Primitive to Modern, The Gimbel Gallery of Art with the Carlebach Galleries of New York, NY.


Miami Beach Public Library and Art Center, FL. Three Modernists, Miami Beach Art Center, Miami Beach, FL.


Juanita Marbrook, The Little Studio, New York, NY.


Watercolor Exhibition, American Artists, National Arts Club, New York, NY.

Hotel New Yorker Fall Art Show, Coffee House Art Gallery, New York, NY. Transformations, André Zarre Gallery, New York, NY.


Vallombreuse Art Gallery, Palm Beach, FL. Contemporary Circle, Cork Gallery, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, NY. La Galerie Mouffe, Paris.


Metropolitan Painters and Sculptors, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Building, New York, NY.


46th Annual Exhibition, Metropolitan Painters and Sculptors, New York, NY.


Juanita Guccione, oils and lithographs, Tate Gallery, San Francisco, CA.


53rd Annual Exhibition, Metropolitan Painters and Sculptors, New York, NY.


Non-Objective or Not: Dialogues in Modernism, Wendt Modern Gallery, New York, NY.


In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Musée national des beaux-arts du Quebec, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City.


Language of the Birds: Occult and Art, 80WSE, New York University, New York, NY.


Literature Books and Catalogues “Juanita Marbrook,” essay by Michel GeorgesMichel, Bonestell Gallery, New York, NY, 1946. “Juanita Marbrook,” essay by Alonzo J. Aden, Barnett-Aden Gallery, Washington, D.C., May 1949.

In Surrealism, Occultism & Politics in Search of the Marvelous, “Harbingers of the New Age: Surrealism, Women and the Occult in the United States,” Susan Aberth, October 2017.

“Juanita Marbrook Guccione,” essay by Marie McCall, George Binet Gallery, New York, NY, 1951.

Juanita Guccione: Otherwhere, Napa Valley Museum, Yountville, CA and Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, CA, July 2019.

“Juanita Marbrook Guccione,” Taj Art Gallery, Bombay, India, 1972.


“Guccione,” Gallery One, Beirut, Lebanon, October 1973.

The New York Times, “Brooklyn Museum Opens New Exhibit,” June 30, 1934.

Cosmic Art, pp. 73, 88, Raymond F. Piper and Lila K. Piper, Hawthorn Books Inc., New York, NY, 1975.

The New York Times, “In Modern Vein,” January 11, 1942.

International Who’s Who of Intellectuals, Cambridge University, United Kingdom, 1979. International Who’s Who in Art and Antiques, Vol. II, Certificate of Merit. Who’s Who of American Women, 12th edition. Marquis Who’s Who, 4th edition. International Register of Profiles, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Juanita Guccione, American Solitaire. Color catalogue, essay by Michael Welzenbach; Wohlfarth Galleries, Washington, D.C. and Provincetown, MA, 1992. Manhattan Sisters: Works on Paper by Juanita Guccione and I. Rice Pereira. October 2001, Fletcher Gallery, Woodstock, NY. In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. January 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; DelMonico Books-Prestel. Juanita Guccione: Defiant Acts, September 2014, The Seligmann Center at the Citizens Foundation, Sugar Loaf, NY. International Conference Proceedings on Creating Myths as Narratives of Empowerment and Disempowerment, “The White Witch: Juanita


Guccione and the Re-Mythologizing of the Algerian Landscape as Feminist Bodyscape,” Tabitha Morgan, May 2016.

Art News, “Juanita Marbrook,” January 15–31, 1942. The (NY) World-Telegram, January 1942. Pour la Victoire, “De Montparnasse a la 57eme Rue,” Michel Georges-Michel, New York, NY, August 12, 1944. Revue de la Pensée Francaise, Michel GeorgesMichel with his caricature of the artist, October 1944. France-Amerique, “Courrier des Arts: Juanita Marbrook,” New York, NY, February 25, 1945. The New York Times, “Three Who Grow,” Howard Devree, February 17, 1946. The (NY) World-Telegram, Emily Genauer, February 24, 1946. Art News, “The Passing Shows,” March 1946. The (NY) World-Telegram, “Rewarding Exhibitions: Children by the Sea,” Emily Genauer, March 2, 1946. The (NY) Sun, Helen Carlson, September 17, 1948. The (NY) Sun, “Current Displays Varied in Style,” Helen Carlson, February 23, 1946. La Revue Moderne des Arts et de la Vie, “Contemporary Art in the U.S.A.,” January 5, 1947.

Art Digest, “Fantasies by Marbrook,” February 1948. Art News, “Juanita Marbrook Guccione,” September 1948.

El Moudjahid, Algiers, Algeria, “Juanita Guccione in a Love Trip from New York to the Casbah,” January 3, 1992. Al Watan, Algiers, Algeria, January 1992.

The Washington (D.C.) Sunday Star, “News of Art and Artists: Dream World,” Florence S. Berryman, May 15, 1949.

Orange County Register, “LACMA’s two new exhibits are studies in contrast,” January 27, 2012.

Ulster County (NY) News and Kingston Leader, “Marbrook Exhibit Favorably Received,” July 7, 1949.

American Art Review, “Surrealist Women Artists in Mexico and the United States,” April 2012.

Catskill Mountain Star, Saugerties, NY, July 22, 1949. The Miami Herald, “Fanciful Canvases on View,” Doris Reno, August 14, 1949. Art Digest, “Marbrook Fantasies,” September 1951. Art World, cover story, May 15, 1954. Art World, “The Rose,” January 1972. The Illustrated Weekly of India, May 1972. Eve’s Weekly, Bombay, India, “Surrealist Art,” photographic essay in color, English language magazine, November 4, 1972. As Safa, Beirut, “Le 16 Octobre a la Gallery One, Le Monde Magique de Juanita Guccione,” October 9, 1973. L’Orient le Jour, Beirut, “Juanita Guccione a la Gallery One,” October 18, 1973. Al Anwar, Beirut, October 20, 1973. As Safa, Joseph Tarrab, “Un Esoterisme Enfievre,” October 22, 1973. Revue du Liban et de l’Orient Arabe, Beirut, “Juanita Guccione ou l’Invitation au Voyage Interplanetaire,” October 27, 1973. Ulster County (NY) Townsman, photo, August 11, 1977. Ulster County Gazette, “Anniversary of Guccione,” August 18, 1977. Woodstock (NY) Times, photo, August 18, 1977. Essalem, “Juanita Guccione,” Algiers, Algeria, December 1991.

Vogue, “Beautiful Dreamers: A New Exhibit at LACMA Highlighting Surrealist Women Artists in Mexico and the United States,” Chelsea Allison, January 26, 2012. www.vogue.com/article/beautiful-dreamers-anew-exhibit-at-lacma-highlighting-surrealistwomen-artists-in-mexico-and-the-united-states Chronogram, “Parting Shot: Juanita Guccione,” David King, September 1, 2014. www.chronogram.com/hudsonvalley/ parting-shot-fred-stein/Content?oid=2268742 The Huffington Post, “Delving into the Shadowy World of Occult Art,” Priscilla Frank, January 27, 2016. www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/delvinginto-the-shadowy-world-of-occult-art_ us_56a7c773e4b0172c65945898# Spiral Nature Magazine, “Language of the Birds exhibition at New York University,” Richard Kaczynski, January 27, 2016. www.spiralnature.com/culture/ language-of-the-birds-exhibitition-new-york/ Wonderland, “‘Language of Birds: Occult and Art’ at NYU,” Greg Cook, February 24, 2016. gregcookland.com/wonderland/2016/02/24/ language-of-birds/ Art & Antiques, “Juanita Guccione—The Shapeshifter,” John Dorfman, June 2017. Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvellous, “Harbingers of the New Age: Surrealism, Women and the Occult in the United States,” Susan L. Aberth, October 2017. FEMSPEC, “Juanita Guccione: The Journey of her Artistic Evolution Towards a Surrealist Vision of the OTHERWORLD,” Gloria Feman Orenstein, 2018.


Authors GLORIA FEMAN ORENSTEIN is Professor Emerita in comparative literature and gender studies at the University of Southern California. She received her Ph.D. from New York University and is a pioneer in the field of women of Surrealism, scholarship of ecofeminism in the arts, and shamanism, having also been a student of a shaman from Samiland. She introduced the work of Frida Kahlo to the North American feminists in the 1970s and at the same time befriended Leonora Carrington, who would be a great source of inspiration in her continued studies of Surrealism over the next three decades. Dr. Orenstein is the founding member of the Women’s Salon for Literature in New York City and has been included in Feminists Who Changed America, 1963–1975. She is a contributing editor to FEMSPEC, an interdisciplinary feminist journal, and has authored over 100 publications, including her books, The Theater of the Marvelous: Surrealism and the Contemporary Stage; The Reflowering of the Goddess; and Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. Most recently she contributed to the book In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States and has been honored with the 2018 lifetime achievement award by the Women’s Art Caucus. SUSAN L. ABERTH is Associate Professor of Art History at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. She received her M.A. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and her Ph.D. from the Graduate Center, City University of New York. In addition to her 2004 book Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, she has contributed to Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvellous (Routledge Press, 2017), Unpacking: The Marciano Collection (Delmonico Books, Prestel: Munich, 2017), and Leonora Carrington and the international avantgarde (Manchester University Press, 2017), as well as articles in Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, Black Mirror (London), and Journal of Surrealism of the Americas.


ILENE SUSAN FORT formerly Senior Curator of American Art, and the Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), is now Curator Emerita at LACMA and Senior Scholar at the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities at Rutgers University, 2018–2019. She received her Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and has organized many exhibitions and written several catalogues, articles and essays in her 34-year tenure at the museum. Some of her most important recent publications include Manly Pursuits: Writings on the Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins; Obras Maestras, 1750–1950, Pintura, Estadounidense del Museo de Arte del Condado de Los Angeles; Made in California: Art, Image and Identity, 1900– 2000; and The Figure in American Sculpture: A Question of Modernity. In 2012, Fort co-curated the landmark exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. Both the expansive exhibition and accompanying publication received critical acclaim for providing important historic context and contribution to the relatively unknown women artists of the Surrealist movement. She is presently organizing a retrospective of Kay Sage and undertaking research on abstract Surrealism and women after World War II. TABITHA MORGAN is Assistant Professor at Community College of Philadelphia. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2012 and focuses her areas of study on turn of the century American and transnational art, indigenous women’s cultural ecology, working class and gender studies, as well as community service learning. Dr. Morgan is the recipient of the 2015 Innovation of the Year Award for a Book Crossing and the Big Read grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. Her dissertation, A ‘Living Art’: Working-Class, Feminist and Transcultural Aesthetics in the United States, Mexico, and Algeria, 1930s, included “‘The White Witch’: Juanita Guccione’s Transcultural Aesthetic of Algeria and Feminist Aesthetic of a Transformative Self,” the first academic text written about Guccione.


“ Our dreams are often diffuse and fragmented. Juanita makes them cohesive and clear, as clear as the daily world. Few people can paint the world of our dreams with as much magic, precision, and clarity. It makes the myths by which we live as vivid and dramatic as our diurnal life.”

—Anaïs Nin


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