- The Color of Being/El Color del Ser: Dorothy Hood, 1918–2000 by Susie Kalil
This handsome and well-illustrated volume is a timely study of the life and work of one of Houston’s most controversial and creative artists by a long-time observer of the city’s art scene. Dorothy Hood was born in Bryan in 1918 and moved with her family to Houston three months later. Her childhood memories included sailing with her father on a friend’s yacht, flying with him in a two-seater plane that he co-owned, and listening through her screened bedroom window on quiet summer evenings to the hyenas laughing and crying at the nearby Houston zoo. That all changed at about age eleven when her parents divorced.
After a sickly few years, she grew into a statuesque young woman. “Nature was friend, hormones my ally,” she explained (12). Her high school teacher submitted a portfolio of her drawings to the Rhode Island School of Design, winning her a four-year scholarship. She soon left Providence for New York City, modeling to make money while attending the Art Students League. Probably after seeing Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, she and two friends drove her old roadster to Mexico City, following the creative trail of other American artists such as Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, and Edward Weston. Like them, she was attracted to the charged atmosphere around artists Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda, and others in post-revolutionary Mexico. Orozco took her under his wing, Neruda wrote a poem about her, she had a successful exhibition at the Galerie de Arte Maria Asúnsolo in 1943, and she went “um, bohemian,” according to a friend (Texas Monthly, September 2016). She met and married José María Velasco Maidana, the composer, conductor, and son of a Bolivian president, and they traveled the world together.
Hood returned to Houston as the social upheavals of the 1960s were beginning in Mexico. By then Maidana’s career was drawing to a close, and Hood became their primary support. She hoped that her abstractions would be well received, but, as Houston Chronicle critic Ann Holmes [End Page 115] explained, Hood “has made significant showings in some of the high temples of American art and has never been much understood at home” (64). She found the small local arts community dominated by men—Jack Boynton, Dick Wray, Richard Stout, and others—and at least a decade behind the times. The isolation, nevertheless, provided the freedom that she needed to develop, and local teaching jobs, along with a stipend from the preeminent Houston dealer Meredith Long, provided a living. She was receptive to Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Sebastian J. “Lefty” Adler’s suggestion that she paint larger canvases. Author Susie Kalil’s documentation of these pivotal moments is possible because Hood was a life-long diarist who kept copies of all her correspondence (now in the archives of the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi).
Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001 A Space Odyssey and the location of NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston encouraged Hood’s fascination with space, and she began to contemplate and paint it. This led to huge paintings (90 by 60 inches, and 70 by 60 inches) of billowing clouds of various shades of blue pierced by jagged bolts of white or pink or red—pure abstractions, fresh and vigorous eruptions of blood red, brown, yellow, orange. Some choose to associate her heaving compositions with the vast Texas sky, and she even titled one Texas: 5:30 a.m. (1976), but her elucidations are as gauzy and mystical as her paintings: “There exists space in the mind’s eye. If this kind of space meets cosmic space, then it is as though the mind’s eye orbits into the realm of stars” (3). She was attempting what artists have...