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Jann Haworth might be uncomfortable with critics using the term "domestic" to describe her art, yet gender is undoubtedly a key force in her aesthetic.
In a coffeehouse in downtown Salt Lake City, the artist recalls the moment when she first realized how to make her way " 'round the boys' club." After all, she said, "I knew I couldn't go through it."
One day in 1962, Haworth was in London "riding the No. 33 bus past Harrods" when she spotted in the window a sleeveless, ruffle-collared pink dress made of artificial silk.
"It was arch-feminine," she says now with a laugh over a cup of cappuccino. The dress was made of something Haworth, an excellent seamstress, knew more about than any male artist of her acquaintance: fabric. And in spying it, Haworth saw her artistic life unroll before her like yardage off an enormous colorful bolt of cloth.
Right then, she says, "I just knew what I was going to do next and next and next and next."
Soft sculpture: Next was an entirely new genre of art work termed "soft sculpture," three-dimensional pieces composed not of bronze or steel but of thread, cotton, wool, fur, and even vinyl.
Haworth, who had been raised in Hollywood, was inspired by the pop-culture icons of her youth. She sewed cloth doughnuts covered with fur, teacups of cotton and life-size stuffed figures of Mae West, Shirley Temple and W.C. Fields.
Most significant, she flew in the face of traditional images of femininity by choosing as her signature piece an old woman slumped in a rocking chair, knees covered with an afghan - a figure that would recur in her work throughout her life.
It wasn't long before Haworth's innovations attracted the attention of the London art scene. In 1963, at 20, she had her first show at the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Arts, and was represented alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Gilbert and George, Ed Ruscha and Peter Blake by the legendary art dealer Robert Fraser.
The future looked clear and bright for the woman whom critic Christopher Finch has called, pun intended, "The Mom of Pop."
Shift: In a mostly chronological recounting of her career, Haworth is reluctant to say much about what happened next and next and next. In 1963, the same year as her ICA show, she married artist Peter Blake (now Sir Peter, as he was knighted in 2002). During their time together - they divorced acrimoniously in 1979 - she and Blake collaborated in art and life, parenting two children and relocating to the English countryside, where they formed The Brotherhood of Ruralists, dedicating themselves to artists' "traditional skills."
The breaking point seems to have come after their collaboration on the design of The Beatles' album cover for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." While they shared a Grammy, Blake soon emerged as the higher-profile artist. Many art critics remain unaware of Haworth's contribution, as if, in a way, she were somehow invisible.
A critical understanding: Sid Sachs, director of exhibitions at Philadelphia's University of the Arts' Rosenwald Wolf Gallery, explains Haworth's relative 45-year "disappearance" from the international art in a number of ways.
Haworth was eclipsed, as were other women artists of her time, but she was eclipsed in particular ways. Sachs cites three key reasons for Haworth's period of public obscurity. First, there was the fact that Haworth's London champion, Fraser, had died.
Then there was the couple's move to the countryside during their "ruralist" period. While Haworth focused on raising children and founding and running a school, she was geographically removed from the locus of the art world.
Last, Haworth moved to Sundance in 1979 with her new husband, writer Richard Severy. As Sachs damningly summarizes the move: "Jann goes to Utah, to the mountains," and that, he suggests, was the nail in the proverbial coffin.
In Utah: Turns out, living in Utah, far from the world's artistic centers, has been fruitful for Haworth. Settled in a beautiful house with extraordinary views, she continues to produce interesting and groundbreaking art. "I've never really stopped," she says. "It's just that having children puts you on a different track."
In an interview, this is the point where she holds her palms upward and looks from one to the other. "On one hand is the artwork, and the other is the child," she says. "And what are you going to do?" She puts her hands over her eyes in half-mock horror. "When you're 60, are you going to look back and say, 'Oh my God, I've made this wonderful piece of art'?" She lets the question hang in the air.
Meanwhile, there's no question about the potency of Haworth's latest work. A recent resurgence of interest in the Pop Art movement has led to a resurgence of interest in Haworth's art. She has exhibited at London's Tate Gallery and at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, and she's slated to have a solo show in Paris in October.
First up, though, is Haworth's exhibit in her adopted home, which opens in the fourth-floor gallery of the Salt Lake City Main Library on Saturday. "Pop Plastiques," a 20-piece exhibit, features a confluence of her artistic history as well as a foray, post-Pop movement and post-children, into new materials. She still incorporates fabric and mixed media, but also includes pop-culture materials, such as graphic novels, storyboards and comic books, in her art. Most pieces are two-dimensional objects that represent the three-dimensional world, the artist says.
Alongside pieces with cheeky titles, such as "Minnie [Mouse] After Her Divorce and Before She Knew She Was Pregnant," sits "Art Woman Unmasked @ 92." The artwork is a representation of Haworth's signature figure, revisited, an image of a woman she's had no reason or desire to abandon.
At the library
* "POP PLASTIQUES" will be exhibited in the fourth-floor gallery of the Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City, from Saturday to July 26. Jann Haworth will be the library's artist-in- residence June 16-20, and will hold workshops on June 17, 19 and 21 for 9- to 15-year-old artists. For information, call 801-524-8200.