For the past two years, New Haven resident Louis Audette has worked to amass a digital database of his wife’s paintings – a half century of work, much of which is on view this month at the John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art.
When Anna Held Audette was diagnosed in 2009 with frontotemporal dementia, (Louis) Audette said, “It became important to get a handle on Anna’s work.”
Aside from a desire to catalog his wife’s work, Audette said he “always felt that she was a significant artist who was underappreciated.”
The two met in 1962 at the Yale University School of Art. Anna had earned an undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1960 and enrolled at New York University before opting instead to study at Yale.
After studying at Yale, Anna got a job teaching drawing and printmaking at Southern Connecticut State University. And while she began to produce what would become a lifetime of work that captured what her website describes as the “ruins of our time,” she remained disappointed, Louis said, that Yale “didn’t really give her, she felt, the recognition … she merited.”
“She really wished that Yale had been more generous” in that way, Louis said.
Cataloging his wife’s work, Louis hopes, will facilitate such belated recognition. Fortunately, he said, Anna was “pretty scrupulous” about photographing her work, which explores the “planned obsolescence” of her subjects.
During her years as a student in New Haven, Anna became curious about the construction of various subjects and took time to visit the Yale School of Medicine, where she’d study and draw cadavers. Her interest in what Louis described as “modern ruins” grew into a fascination with what he called the “breakdown of well-manufactured things.”
Through works that deconstructed ancient and contemporary Egyptian architecture, fighter jets being rendered for scrap metal at Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, decommissioned areas at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral), abandoned industrial spaces in Vermont, and the picked-over remains of forgotten automobiles at a North Haven junkyard, Anna developed a style that combined abstraction and photorealism.
“To her, these were modern ruins,” Louis said of Anna’s subjects.
The digital database Louis has created of his wife’s works identifies 742 pieces, about a third of which are part of the John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art’s retrospective exhibit.
Prior to her 2009 diagnosis, Louis said it had become “fairly clear in 2008 that she didn’t have the engagement (with her work) … that she’d had up to that point.
After the diagnosis, he said, “She went through a period where she did not manifest to me any interest in art.”
And then she became reacquainted with Guilford-based artist Carole Dubiell, who, Louis said, had been an adult student of Anna’s at Southern Connecticut State University.
Dubiell, Louis said, got his wife painting again, and, in 2011, Anna began working once more from source photographs she’d taken years earlier.
The resulting work was a departure from the detailed paintings that make up the majority of her catalog. The new paintings are decidedly “more lyrical,” Louis pointed out, and “much brighter and happier.”
These post-diagnosis works, Louis initially thought, would chart an artistic decline. Instead, he said, Anna’s recent paintings, works that are stripped of formalness – deconstructed, one might say – offer a glimpse of what might very well be the essence of her art.
Of late, Anna’s been painting without source material, creating from what’s in her head.
With a database that now includes digital images of and pertinent information about Anna’s work, Louis has made it his cause to pursue what’s hard to argue is due recognition for his wife’s catalog. The current retrospective exhibit at the John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art, which follows a recent Windsor Art Center show titled The Ruins of Our Time: The Paintings of Anna Held Audette, has enabled Louis “to have a kind of living manifestation of the catalog.”
Anna Held Audette – Modern Ruins, A Retrospective is one view through May 27 at the John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art. Visit elyhouse.org for information.
To learn more about Anna Held Audette, visit annaheldaudette.com.