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Kelly Filreis: Drawing as Myth

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, March 3, 2021. 12:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Working Group in Literary & Visual Culture 2020
Meeting Description: 

In 1978, feminist writer and activist Kate Millet described the American artist Cameron (born Marjorie Cameron, 1922-1995) as “a painter of curious images of women on fire.” Rendering such figures with wispy linework and delicate washes of paint, she amassed a small collection of works, not only of woman, but also mythical creatures, portraits of her friends and family, and abstract renderings of astrological events. Together, these works illuminate her lifetime pursuit of the occult, particularly through astrology and sexual magic. To be “on fire” might not only describe the linework which comprises their forms, but also the all-encompassing nature of her occult beliefs. Cameron’s artworks, while understudied, offer an expansive interpretive method that complicates the relationship between the personal and the public, the minor and the canonical, and the spiritual and the secular.

Drawing from her dissertation research, Kelly Filreis' (PhD candidate, Dept. of Art & Art History) presentation examines the roles of agency and magic in a selection of illustrations that Cameron made to accompany a book of poetry titled Songs for the Witch Woman by her deceased husband, the notorious rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons. I will consider how this mystical “collaboration” was a way for Cameron to explore not only her grief but also her evolving identity as an artist. I situate the series alongside representations of witches and supernatural women in film, most significantly in Curtis Harrington’s 1961 Night Tide (in which Cameron plays a small role as a “Water Witch”), as well as histories of Western esotericism, in order to consider how such enduring tropes position the “witch” as an outcast or outsider, a threat to (hetero)normative social order.

With respondent Maria Cichosz (PhD, Humanities & Sciences Dean's Fellow).

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