Audrey Flack is a Jewish American artist best known for her photorealist paintings and sculptures.
Born in New York in 1931 to a middle class family, she attended the Music and Art High School in New York City before going on to graduate from Cooper Union in 1951. At this time, Flack identified as an Abstract Expressionist and found herself having to be "one of the boys" in order to fit in. Flack says that she was not treated differently as a woman as a student, but many artists, students and visitors, could relate to her only as a woman. They treated her as a sex object, and her goal of becoming a professional artist was not taken seriously.
Following her graduation from Cooper Union, Flack attended Yale University and studied under Josef Albers. It was there that Flack was influenced to move beyond abstract expressionism. Albers encouraged her to use realism instead of abstract expressionism to express her political messages. She graduated from Yale with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1953 and subsequently moved back to New York to study anatomy at the Art Students League. Flack’s first solo exhibition was held at the Roko Gallery in New York in 1959.
While it was considered acceptable to use a photograph as the basis of a painting prior to the birth of Photorealism, it was not considered acceptable for the painting to look like the photograph. In 1965, Flack painted her first portrait based on a photograph, imitating its colors and appearance. Her use and outspokenness about the technique isolated her from the art community and other realists. Unlike many photorealists at the time who used masculine and often unemotional subjects, Flack’s paintings concentrated on highly emotional social and political themes. She is known for her feminine color schemes, which were dominated by pastel colors. Many of her photographs came from documentary news and included numerous public figures. One of her most well known and significant works depicts President Kennedy’s motorcade moments before his assassination. Flack became the first photorealist painter to get into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in 1966.
During the 1970’s, Flack worked on her well-known series of still-life paintings and in 1972, she began to explore the role of women in society. Many of her paintings featured female religious statues and goddesses. Flack began sculpting in the 1980’s. Her first sculpture, which could fit into the palm of a hand, was a cherub clasping a shield over his heart. She then began work on a series of much larger sculptures that embodied female strength. In 1988, Flack was commissioned to create her series of “Civitas,” four twenty-foot high bronze goddesses that guard the entrance to Rock Hill, South Carolina. She was also later commissioned to create Islandia, a nine-foot bronze sculpture for the New York City Technical College in Brooklyn, NY.
Consistent through Flack’s career is her emphasis on symbolism. She tries to make her work “universal,” something that all audiences can relate to and understand.
The University of South Florida in Tampa organized Flack’s first retrospective exhibit in 1981. Her work has since been exhibited at Cooper Union (1986), JB Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky (1990), The Parrish Art Museum in South Hampton (1991), the Wright Art Museum in Los Angeles, CA (1992), the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton (1996), and the Miami University Art Museum in Oxford, Ohio (1997). Flack’s work is also part of the public collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Art in Canberra, Australia.
Flack holds an honorary doctorate and was awarded the St. Gaudens Medal from Cooper Union and the honorary Albert Dome professorship from Bridgeport University. She is also an honorary professor at George Washington University and has previously taught at honorary professor at George Washington University, and is currently a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, The Pratt Institute in New York, New York University, and The School of Visual Arts. Flack has also written two books.