On Wednesday November 11, at 7pm, Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park presents the opening reception for the work of Maria Penn. Penn’s colorful work is influenced by Cubism, but shows as well her a lifelong affinity for Aztec, Mayan and Native American symbolism.
Now in her 70s, Penn has led a storied life. A Native American, she was put into the foster care system as young girl and suffered a Dickensian childhood of horror and abuse. Her love of art–inspired by seeing a booklet of Paul Gaughin’s artwork when she was 6–carried her through; she spent any money she could earn on art supplies. Once an adult, she moved to New Your City and dove into the Greenwich Village art scene. A true beauty, she caught the eye of actor Lionel Stander, who had been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The couple married and worked tirelessly for civil rights. Maria was constantly painting and drawing, and at 21years old, had her first solo show. Maria’s early canvases were of nudes and lovers, influenced by Impressionism.
Penn and her husband settled in Paris for a while, befriending many artists and musicians. While there, jazz great Duke Ellington commissioned Maria to paint his portrait. Penn, now a mother, moved with her family to London, England when Lionel was called to work there. While Stander remained blacklisted until 1965, he rebuilt his career in England and Italy, eventually returning to the US in the role of Max, the butler/chauffeur in the 80s series “Hart to Hart” for which he won a Golden Globe.
After reading an article about an artist colony on the Island of Rhodes which centered around the Cubist painter Willy Hempel, Penn moved to Greece to study with him and later married the artist. Under his tutelage, she discovered the masters of Cubism and began to incorporate the Aztec, Mayan and Native American symbolism which had always affected her. While in Greece, Maria had a period of painting on glass and had many exhibitions in Europe, especially Germany where her artwork caught the eye of collectors.
Through her daughter’s connections, Penn was commissioned to create the album cover artwork (front and back) for the Siouxsie and The Banshees album Hyaena.
In the late 1980’s Penn moved to the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. While there she temporarily abandoned painting in favor of black and white ink drawings. After close to twenty years as a semi-recluse, she became re-acquainted with her daughter, Ava, who brought Maria to live with her in Los Angeles, where she currently resides and paints.
Penn is a prolific artist whose work is bold, intricate and timeless. This exhibition of her work, long overdue, will put her pieces in front of a new audience which should appreciate her use of shapes, colors and forms.
Maria Penn at Stories Books and Cafe runs through December 31.