Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Doris Totten Chase: Experimental Artist in Motion

Doris Chase
April 1923-December 2008
Doris Totten Chase was an American artist whose career spanned 55 years of innovation and experimentation, using a wide array of media that included painting, sculpture, printmaking, video, film, and computer-generated prints. Chase produced and directed over 70 films.

Doris Chase was a member of the Northwest School, an art movement established in the Seattle area that was the first time there was national recognition of artists in the Pacific Northwest beyond traditional Native American art forms. 
Chase studied architecture at the University of Washington, but dropped out of college to marry Elmo Chase, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. After the birth of her first child, Chase became seriously ill, a victim of postpartum depression (not recognized as such at the time) and it became clear that her issue stemmed from"doing everything except what I wanted to do, which was to paint." She began to work again, studied oil painting and took a class with Northwest artist Mark Tobey. In 1948, one of her paintings was accepted into the Northwest Annual Exhibition.
Several years later, pregnant with their second child, her husband contracted polio and became almost completely paralyzed while they were in the process of building a house. (Chase was the architect). To support the family, Doris Chase taught painting and design at Edison Technical School and was accepted into Women Painters of Washington in 1951, where Chase remained a member until the mid-1960s. 
Doris Chase
ca 1964
Ink and watercolor on paper
18 x 12.5 inches

Doris Chase's early work was primarily paintings of Northwest landscapes and figures, often musicians in blocks of color built up in some cases with sand to achieve a heavy, coarse, texture. She claimed her inspiration was the structured designs of Northwest Coast Native American basketry and carving. Her first solo exhibition at the Otto Seligman Gallery in 1956 was a success with reviews in the Seattle Times declaring her "a serious and talented young painter." Other shows and exhibits followed in New York and Tokyo. In addition, she was accepted into the Huntington Hartford Foundation's artist's colony for a month's opportunity to create in Pacific Palisades, California in the years 1965, '66, and '69. 

Doris Chase
To See, To Feel, To Love
ca 1966
Oak and paint
19 x 5.5 x 3 inches
Her work evolved from wash drawings into a series of cement painting meant to be installed outdoors and inscribed with faces and included words such as "joy" and "love." Chase also experimented with shaped canvases and painting on wood, some inset with hinged sections which, when opened, revealed an additional painted area.
Chase's sculptures grew. Pieces became large and kinetic. Many of her forms invited views to interact and rearrange modules that had the black-stained look that resembled the Northwest Coast Native American Art she had seen at the Alaska-Yukon_Pacific Exposition of 1919 that were on the University of Washington campus during her student days.
In 1968, dancer Mary Staton used a set of Chase's large wooden circles within a choreographed dance. Dancers wheeled across the stage of the Seattle Opera house, spread-eagled like spokes inside enormous wooden wheels. 
Doris Chase
Dancers in Hoops
Choreographed piece by Mary Staton
In collaboration with Boeing, Chase produced Circles, a computer film based on spinning hoops and King Screen made a film of the dance/sculpture collaboration. Chase requested and received footage edited out of the King Screen film and created her own film, Circles II with help from professionals Bob Brown and Frank Olvey. 
Doris Chase
Jonathan and Circles
ca 1977
Video Still

Color separations showed the dancers and sculpture as color forms, time lapse made trails of light that followed the wake of the dancers' arms and legs. The film was recognized at the 1973 American Film Festival in New York where it was compared to Matisse's Dance painting. While Circles II was in production, Doris Chase built prototypes of large, colorful kinetic sculptures for children designed for kids to help them with equilibrium and body awareness.

Doris Chase
Changing Form
ca 1971
Kerry Park, Seattle, Washington
Photo by David Wilma
Sculpture has stereotypically been considered a "man's" work. Throughout history, there have been few women working in the discipline because of the weight of the materials or the upper body strength needed to lift, chip, polish, and generally work on heavy, large-scale pieces. In the 1960s, Chase proved that women could successfully create in the medium and one of her early steel sculptures, the 15 foot tall Changing Form was commissioned for Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill, which became one of Seattle's most endearing and regarded public sculptures.

In the early 1970s, at the front of the avant-garde movement, Chase began working in video using computer imaging, inspired by Nam June Paik, the Korean artist who is said to be the founder of video art. During 1973-74, she participated in the Experimental Television Center's Residency program and began to integrate her sculptures with interactive dancers, using special effects to create dream-like pieces. Check them out here:  https://www.whatcommuseum.org/5-women-artists-doris-totten-chase

As a video artist, and under the the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency, Chase lectured and showed her work in India, Europe, Australia, South America, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Using her favorite pale blue light as her medium, the dancers were integrated into a fluid, sensual choreography that explored movement in the context of abstract architecture. Long divorced, Chase's professional relationship became intimate with composer George Keinsinger, music composer of twelve of her videos.

In the 1980s, Chase achieved a breakthrough into mainstream television with a series of 30 minute videos entitled the By Herself series in which she introduced the subject matter of older women in society to a wide audience. One video, entitled Glass Curtain (1983), explored actress Jennie Ventriss' anguish over her mother's deterioration due to Alzheimer's disease. Table for One (1985) starring actress Gerladine Page in a voice over monologue of a woman uneasy about dining alone, and Dear Papa (1986), starring Anne Jackson and her daughter Roberta Wallach followed by A Dancer (1987) were powerful voices for women during that time. Dear Papa won First Prize at the 1986 Women's International Film Festival in Paris.
Parke Godwin's novel, A Truce with Time (1988, Bantam Books) is a fictionalized version of Chase's life during her time in New York. While he was writing the book, Chase made her own film about their relationship called Still Frame, produced at the American Film Institute. Art Historian Patricia Failing wrote a book about Chase entitled Doris Chase, Artist in Motion: From Painting and Sculpture to Video Art (1991, University of Washington Press). In 1989, Chase returned to Seattle, dividing her time between East and West working in video in New York and sculpture in Seattle. Ever experimenting, she began works in glass, sometimes in combination with steel.

Doris Chase
Late Autumn
ca 1997
14.75 x 20 x 2 inches
Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, Washington
In 1993, Doris Chase produced a documentary about her home, the Chelsea Hotel which was originally conceived as New York's first major cooperative apartment building, owned by a consortium of wealthy families in 1883. The building became an apartment in 1905. Her video honored the building's 110th anniversary and those who called it home. 

Doris Chase
Moon Gates
ca 1999
17 x 9 feet
In 1999, Chase's four piece bronze sculpture, Moon Gates, was installed at Seattle Center in Washington. Her complete works of video and film was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. 

 In 1999, her four-piece bronze sculpture Moon Gates, 17 feet high, was installed at Seattle Center. New York's MoMA acquired her complete video and film works. The Seattle Art Museum has only one Chase work in its collection: a 1950s oil painting. Chase's work won honors and awards at 21 film and video festivals. Her work has a permanent place in the archives of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It is collected by major museums and art centers in several countries.

Doris Totten Chase died in December of 2008 from a series of strokes and the effect of Alzheimer's disease. "She died in her own apartment with a good smile and a good attitude right up to the last," said her son Randy Chase. "She was always able to make the best of what she had...I always told her, 'hey, you did a great job,' and she did."

Archives West: Orbis Cascade Alliance, http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv59030, retrieved December 4, 2018
Artistltrust, https://artisttrust.org/index.php/award-winners/artist-profile/doris_chase, retrieved November 28, 2018
Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art, http://www.abmeyerwood.com/Artist-Detail.cfm?ArtistsID=599&ppage=48
Northwest Women Artists 1880-2010, retrieved November 28, 2018

Whatcom Museum, Colton Redfeldt, https://www.whatcommuseum.org/virtual_exhibit/universal_exhibit/vex21/46AD0911-67EB-4FDC-AE25-880933573895.htm, retrieved, December 4, 2018

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