Isabel Bishop

Isabel Bishop (March 3, 1902 – February 19, 1988) was an American painter and graphic artist who depicted urban scenes of Union Square, New York, from the 1930s to the 1970s. She is best known for her depiction of American women and as a leading member of the Fourteenth Street School of artists.Wikipedia
Isabel Bishop developed her artistic voice during the Depression, when rigid gender roles and the Separate Sphere ideology were breaking down. She moved to New York at 16 to become a professional artist and made her reputation depicting an emerging sub-genre of the ‘New Woman’—the ‘Career Girl’ in the public sphere, specifically, the ‘Office Girl’ who worked at Union Square. During the Depression, Union Square blended office workers, the unemployed and homeless, social activists and soapbox orators, shoppers, and crowds gathered for political rallies. Bishop maintained a studio in various locations around the Square for fifty years. She watched the melee from her studio window and also mingled in the Square, sketchbook in hand. She, along with 3 male colleagues, including her teacher Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876-1952), became known as the ‘14th Street School’, named for one bordering street. 

 Bishop perceived these young women’s fate differently. She believed in upward social mobility, using imagery of the Office Girl to demonstrate that possibility. In the 1930s, she made a series of works focusing on young women at lunch time. She depicts them attired in “their cheap rayon dresses” (Bishop, in an oral history), who used their lunch hour to create a kind of domestic-sphere intimacy in the modern urban environment. They ignore the viewer, taking a respite from their pressured day and being “bossed around” by men at work.

 Bishop also shows viewers how these young women just entering the workplace start to grow up. Now the Office Girl has been promoted, as seen in Young Woman from 1937. She displays polish, decorum, and grace, dressed in a tailored, smart business suit, boldly and assuredly striding forward into the public sphere. This is a woman with things to say and places to go, well beyond the domestic. She aspires to more, to bigger, to better, an equal in confidence and competence with any man.

 Bishop demonstrated her own competence with her meticulous technique. Like her teacher Miller, she reflected her interest in Renaissance art by working in those traditional methods. She would not only make drawings prior to painting, but also took the extra step of working out her composition with prints. She used the rigorous, time-consuming process of painting with egg tempera, a method that lost prominence with the increased prevalence of oil paints beginning in the 17th century. With these techniques, Bishop worked slowly, often taking a year to finish one work. (Art Times Journal )

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