Angels in the sky

Cherubic images, overwhelming blue skies in a 'soothing' exhibit by prolific artist Ultra Violet at Washington County museum

Cherubic images, overwhelming blue skies in a 'soothing' exhibit by prolific artist Ultra Violet at Washington County museum

August 29, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Ultra Violet said she began making art in her mother's womb.

Now nearly 70 years old, she still is creating, and an exhibit of her work is on display at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown.

The installation is hundreds of feet of sky and includes two- and three-dimensional works, collages and found objects. There is a wedding gown with wings and a compact disc halo in the exhibit.

"The sky is so beautiful," Ultra Violet said in a phone interview from New York. The blue - "it's so pure."


The exhibit is titled "Is Christ Politically ... Prophetically ... Correct?"

The title might be partially provocative, said Joseph Ruzicka, director of the museum, but for him, it is a soothing, contemplative exhibit.

"I'm just asking a question - to make people think," Ultra Violet said.

The artist was born Isabelle Collin Dufresne, in Grenoble, France, in 1935, according to her 1988 book, "Famous For 15 Minutes: My Years With Andy Warhol." Her family was rich and moved in privileged circles; she couldn't wait to escape her upbringing.

The autobiography, which has been translated into 14 languages, tells the story of the Factory, the 24-hours-a-day site of parties, drugs, orgies and filmmaking that emerged in the 1960s, according to the jacket of her book.

"I was born a very revolutionary child," she said.

She had been sent by her parents to a convent, was exorcised because she was thought possessed and later sent to a correctional home in France.

Her parents shipped her to New York in 1953. She wanted freedom and she found it in America.

"I love the U.S. because it was such a country," she said.

In 1963 artist Salvador Dali introduced Dufresne to Andy Warhol. He invited her to be in a film and told her that all the stars of his underground films have "catchy names." She rejected his suggestions of Poly Ester and Notre Dame and came up with her own - Ultra Violet.

Ultra Violet loved the New York art scene. Her book is full of the names of celebrities who dropped by the Factory - Rudolf Nureyev, Jane Fonda, Montgomery Clift, Tennessee Williams, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Judy Garland, William Burroughs. And there were the Factory regulars - International Velvet, Edie Sedgwick, Viva.

Ultra Violet's rebellion was accepted, even encouraged, at the Factory.

"She managed to survive," said Jos Rodeiro, coordinator of Art History, New Jersey City University in Jersey City, N.J., where Ultra Violet taught a special art class for two years in 2002 and 2003.

She created the work in the Hagerstown show in 2003 and 2004, and its inaugural exhibition was at the New Jersey university's gallery last March and April.

Rodeiro called Ultra Violet a pop art superstar and said her point of view is unique. He linked her work to the Bible's Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, and her use of the sky to the end of the world.

The artist also makes that connection. The Book of Revelation was written for our time, she said.

"I'm a Christian," she said. "I'm not hiding it. I think Christ is important."

If people would follow his message of love, there would be no child abuse, no terrorism, she said.

"I really feel he is the answer," she said.

Ultra Violet's art is not without a sense of humor. She's painted Mickey Mouse's head on Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam."

There has to be humor in art, she said. "Art takes itself so seriously."

Ultra Violet often is disappointed when she goes to art shows. She said she finds a lack of aesthetic, a lack of content. Great art in history is somehow connected to higher belief, she said.

"Art should be something that is edifying," Ultra Violet said.

Jean Woods, Ruzicka's predecessor at the Washington County museum, arranged for the Ultra Violet exhibit. Knowing that he would take his post in Hagerstown in July, Ruzicka, who worked in New York, visited Ultra Violet to talk with her about the show.

Ruzicka said the work came out of a series of angels, angels painted with an incendiary palette - reds, oranges, hot yellows.

Ultra Violet said that the angels series upset people. "I shifted to the sky. It's more universal."

Ruzicka sees "a sort of reconciliation, a certain calmness" in the work. "I personally find it soothing and poetic," he said.

Traditionally, the museum is known for exhibits of 19th-century American art, Ruzicka said. But there's room for more diverse exhibits and art such as Ultra Violet's.

Spence Perry, president of the museum's board of trustees, is looking forward to the show.

Museums should excite people, he said. "They're not dead places where you come to see the past."

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