At 92, Audrey Flack Has a Juicy Memoir, a New Art Show, and a Lot to Say

In the early 1970s, the artist Audrey Flack traveled to the Basílica de la Macarena in Seville, Spain, to see a carved-wood statue called Macarena Esperanza, a polychrome depiction of a weeping Virgin Mary adorned with jewels, crystal tears, and false eyelashes. Flack is Jewish, but she was no less overcome by the Macarena’s sorrowful splendor: Here was a mother shedding tears for her child—Flack could relate—but she was also regal, grand, beautiful. Flack photographed the statue and, once back home in New York, made several paintings based on her pictures, capturing each resplendent detail in high definition.

One of those paintings, Macarena of Miracles (1971), was included in the 1972 Whitney Biennial. Critics thought Flack was poking fun at the statue’s kitsch—that she added the cartoonish tears as some ironic commentary on femininity. They loved it. When Flack clarified and said that, actually, the work was incredibly earnest, the critics withdrew their praise and labeled the piece vulgar. The same was said of her other Macarena paintings, and the photorealistic still lifes she made later: too sentimental, too feminine, tacky. But Flack was undeterred.

She still is. “I’m usually way ahead of the times,” Flack, a sprightly 92, tells me when I visit her home studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in January. She leapt from Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s to photorealism in the 1970s to public sculpture in the 1980s. She has been a teacher, a writer, a musician, and, crucially, a mother to two girls. When I visit, she is about to publish a memoir, With Darkness Came Stars (out now from Penn State University Press), which traces her sweeping career as an artist as well as the nitty-gritty of her personal life, including an abusive first marriage and the challenges of parenting a child with autism. She was also preparing to stage a show at Hollis Taggart gallery, where 16 new works bring together the many aspects of her remarkable life. (Her work will also be the subject of a Parrish Art Museum exhibition this fall.)

“It’s about the timestream,” Flack says of her new paintings for the Hollis Taggart show, which pull in art historical references like Dürer, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and Jackson Pollock, whom she knew, as well as icons of both pop culture and religion. Jesus, Charlton Heston as Moses, Queen Elizabeth I, Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Clea—they’re all here. “When I’m painting now, everything is at my fingertips. It’s magical,” she says. She has dubbed her new style post-Pop baroque. “They say before you die you see everything from your life. In my 92 years, a lot pops up.”

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