Feminist Artist May Stevens, Who Voiced Opposition to War and Inequality in Her Work, Has Died at 95
May Stevens, Forming the Fifth International (1985). Courtesy of Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, ©May Stevens./art-world/artist-may-stevens-obituary-1729692
"To the women’s movement I would like to bring, as to art, the subtlest perceptions," Stevens once said.
The 95-year-old activist and artist May Stevens died on Monday in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, Stevens had lived in Santa Fe since 1996.
“Stevens will be remembered for her extraordinary art legacy,” read a statement from the artist’s gallery, New York’s Ryan Lee. “We also remember Stevens as a spirited and opinionated conversationalist, a prolific writer, and a devoted friend to those she held close.”
Known for her monumental paintings, as well as her work in drawing, collage, and printmaking, Stevens was also an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war and a supporter of the feminist and Civil Rights movements.
Stevens studied at the Massachusetts College of Art, the Académie Julian in Paris, and the Art Students League of New York. There, she was one of only a handful of living artists featured last month in “Postwar Women,” an impressive survey of female students who attended the school between 1945 and 1965.
(Stevens was enrolled in 1948.) Four other prominent artists featured in the show also died in 2019: Mary Abbott, Mavis Pusey, Joyce Pensato, and Monir Farmanfarmaian.
Stevens went on to work as an art teacher at a Queens public high school for nine years, and then spent another 35 years teaching at New York’s School of Visual Arts.
She was married to fellow artist and political activist Rudolf Baranik from 1948 until his death in 1998. The couple was the subject of joint exhibitions at MoMA PS1 as part of its “Art Couples” series in 1982, and at New York’s Exit Art in 1994. Their only son, Steven, also an artist, died in 1981.
Stevens often addressed political controversy in her work. Her first major painting series, “Freedom Riders,” from 1963, was inspired by protests against segregated buses in the American South. She also painted a death portrait of Malcolm X after visiting his casket in 1965.