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Published:January 25th, 2007 11:06 EST
A Closer Look at Juanita Guccione

A Closer Look at Juanita Guccione

By Amanda Carver

Looking for art is, for most of us, a painful, demeaning process that usually serves to enhance our homes while making us feel like utter fools in the process. We crave beauty and seek it out, but only a select few have the knowledge of the art world that will easily guide them through the process. Still, it`s human nature, I suppose, to want to surround ourselves with things we find beautiful, touching, and inspiring.

Certainly, there are a few names that come to mind when one thinks "painter": van Gogh, da Vinci, Picasso, Dali, Warhol, O`Keefe, Klimt, Matisse, and my personal favorite, Monet. See, you knew more than you thought you did.

I suppose that if you could stick to that list, it would be much easier to find and purchase art. However, the price tags that accompany the work of those paintings is, well, limiting to say the least. Picasso`s "Boy with a Pipe" was rumored to have brought in more than $100 million at Sotheby`s auction.

Still, how much is too much when we`re talking about more than just oils and acrylics, paints and chalks? When we see throughthe material composition of the art and look at what it really is...motivation, desire, peace, and salvation.

Art is relative. It always will be. Just ask the mother of a three-year-old that has just finger-painted his first flower. Is that art? You bet it is, says the Mom. Will Sotheby`s be holding an auction for the collection. No, I`m afraid they`ve passed on this one.

So how do we find art? Where do we look for those paintings that complete us?

I say start with the artist. Find someone who amazes you, inspires you, someone you feel a connection with, and see how the world, your world, looks through their eyes.

I submit Juanita Guccione. Born June 20, 1904, she visited every facet of the mysterious and oft times confusing art world before her death on December 18, 1999.

Completing more 800 works, Guccione`s work has been described as Cubist, Realist, Surrealist, Automatist, and Abstract, though her work has always hinted at a unique style that betrays an independence from usual thought and categorization.

Guccione herself strayed far from the norm by living and thinking outside the box, especially for a woman in that era. A fashion model-turned-fashion pirate in the late 1920s, she traveled the globe indulging adventures and misadventures that are reflected in her work.

Guccione lived for several years with the Ouled Nail tribe in eastern Algeria. On one dark night Bedouins attacked a group of Foreign Legionnaires over a dispute regarding dancing girls. Amidst the gunfire, Guccione, who was then known as Juanita Rice, climbed high on a rooftop to sketch the scene, impervious to the danger around her.

Her work has been shown in Manhattan, Paris, Beirut, Bombay, and San Francisco. Recent acquisitions of her work include The Malden Public Library in Massachusetts and the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie has one of her drawings on exhibit as part of the For the People: American Mural Drawings of the 1930s and 1940s from January 12 to March 11, 2007.

Guccione worked in the 1930s for the Works Progress Administration. The WPA built many public buildings, such as the Poughkeepsie, NY, post office, which is noted for its murals portraying historical events.

French writer and poet Anais Nin said of 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."

Guccione failed in her lifetime to win the acclaim she surely deserved. Her reclusiveness in later life, her successive name changes from Nita Rice to Juanita Marbrook to Juanita Guccione, and the difficulty critics had characterizing her work all impacted negatively on her in the market place.

Still, respected French critic Michel Georges Michel wrote in the 1950s, when Abstract Expression was the rage, that she was one of the few American artists who interested him. And Washington Post art critic Michael Welzenbach wrote in 1992, "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."

This integrity and vision led Guccione to a series of work that reflected Jungian ideas of the subconscious mind. Perhaps with the added influence of the Ouled Nail tribe and the loss of a beloved sister, Dorothy, to breast cancer, Guccione developed a stylized, otherworldly race of women whom she painted often. This Amazonian, hieratic breed constitutes a powerful feminist statement and is emblematic of the ascent of twomen during this period. The large oil, "Two Nudes," typifies this style.

Throughout her life Guccione tried many things and mastered most. Accompanying her paintings and drawings, she has left us a lesson. She gives us an example, a blueprint, for how to live... the way we all wish we could. Among all other things, Guccione mastered individuation, the process of adapting, mastering, and finally becoming... an individual.

For more information, please visit:

Djelloul Marbrook at