Janet Sobel: The woman written out of history

Whatever one’s estimation of the relative merits of Sobel’s and Pollock’s work at this moment in the unfolding narrative of modern art, as history would have it, Pollock would prove to be in the far stronger position to advance the technique of drip painting, whether it was his invention or not. Just as Sobel was gaining traction as a creative force in New York – no small feat for a female artist of her or any generation – her circumstances suddenly changed, and in ways that effectively removed her from the world of art completely. In 1946, the same year that she opened a solo show at Guggenheim’s Art of the Century gallery, her husband Max, moved the family from Brooklyn to Plainfield, New Jersey, in order to be nearer to his costume jewelry enterprise. Unable to drive, Sobel quickly found herself cut off from the ebb and flow of the art scene in which she had only just become an important player.

Compounding that geographic disadvantage was the decision taken the following year by her biggest advocate, Peggy Guggenheim, to relocate to Europe, closing behind her the doors of the Art of the Century gallery – Sobel’s principal platform. Adding insult to injury, the onset of an allergy to an ingredient in paint forced Sobel to turn instead to media such as crayons that were less conducive to the drip technique, all but forcing her to abandon the innovation entirely. By 1948, Janet Sobel, who would die in obscurity 20 years later, had effectively vanished from the art world. Though not without a trace. Her enduring genius can still be mapped in the innumerable knots and infinite coils of pigment with which Pollock will proceed to intertwine his more famous canvases — endlessly weaving her spirit into the tangled firmament of art history.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo