The gallery in the Shaw Center for the Arts is operated by the LSU College of Art + Design, which recently hosted the exhibit, “Janice Sachse: A Retrospective.” The college also published the $25 hardback catalog of the same title to accompany the show.
Both the show and catalog were firsts in looking at the artist’s life and career. The catalog includes paintings featured in the show and Sachse’s other works exploring a variety of subjects depicted in her modernist approach.
Sachse was 90 when she died in 1998, leaving behind a body of work that reflected the social conditions of Louisiana in the mid-20th century.
She grew up in Baton Rouge and studied art at LSU and Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans. While at the LSU Art Department in 1925, Sachse began working with Conrad Albrizio, who advised her to explore and experiment.
That’s a mantra she followed in her 70-year career, applying different techniques to her surfaces while painting the people and places of Louisiana.
“I first knew my mother was an artist when I was four years old and she made a picture of a sailboat on a linoleum plate with my name on it for me to put in my books,” writes Harry R. Sachse of his mother in the catalog’s introduction. “As the accounts in this book and her paintings show, she moved on to oil painting in a big way — wonderful oil paintings of Louisiana landscapes and very internal portraits, intimate pictures of household scenes.”
Sachse wasn’t just a Louisiana painter — she is regarded as a pioneer of modernism in southern Louisiana. She began frequenting the New Orleans Arts and Crafts Club in the late 1920s, where, catalog biographer and LSU art historian Glauco Adorno writes, she met “several like-minded Louisiana modernist artists such as Alberta Kinsey, Caroline Durieux, Paul Ninas and the Woodward Brothers.”
“Membership in this circle allowed Janice to shape her identity as a modern artist of the South,” Adorno writes.
Sachse married husband Victor when she was 19 and had sons Victor Jr. and Harry.
“The support provided by her husband offered Janice Sachse artistic freedom devoid of commercial pressures that, as art historian Richard Cox pointed out, ‘could often wear down the artist’s spirit,’ ” Adorno continues. “Her goal was neither financial profit nor fame. Janice’s painting was foremost a vehicle of self-expression, and she used it as a means to connect with the world around her.”
The artwork in the catalog reflects that world, the places that made impressions on her, the intimate scenes of everyday life and the people in her life.
“The niche of artistic independence she thus carved out for herself enabled Sachse to maintain constant experiments with formats, media and techniques,” Adorno writes. “Although the majority of her works are painted in oil on canvas, her oeuvre includes monotypes, silk screens, engravings, watercolor, pastels and drawings.”
Sachse also developed a collage method in the 1960s that she applied to her paintings.
“Inspired by New Orleans painter Ida Kohlmeyer, Janice began working on a series of paintings she called ‘Diminutives,’ ” Adorno writes. “In order to express multiple ideas on one canvas, Sachse created a pattern of squares in which she could insert images of her choice.”
The lack of modern art venues in Baton Rouge at the time drove Sachse to seek out representation in New York, where several galleries hung her work beside that of Kurt Schwitters, Emil Nolde, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandisky.
“Janice Sachse stands out as one of the most important mid-century modernist painters from Louisiana,” Adorno writes. “Her innovative approach to modern art — both local and cosmopolitan — adds a uniquely personal vision to the artistic tradition of the state.”
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