The life of a talented artist and an arts muse.
"Ruth Kligman, Muse and Artist, Dies at 80"
March 6th, 2010
The New York Times
Ruth Kligman, an abstract painter who for decades seemed to know everyone and be everywhere in the art world and who was the lone survivor of the 1956 car crash that killed Jackson Pollock, her lover at the time, died Monday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. She was 80 and lived in Manhattan.
Her death was announced by the artist Jonathan Cramer, a friend.
Ms. Kligman was riding in the front seat of the Oldsmobile 88 convertible the August night near the Springs, N.Y., when Pollock, after a day of drinking, ran the car off the road and flipped it, killing Edith Metzger, a young friend of Ms. Kligman’s, and himself. Ms. Kligman was thrown clear of the car and seriously injured.
“Edith started screaming, ‘Stop the car, let me out!’ ” Ms. Kligman wrote about that night in “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock,” her 1974 book about their tumultuous relationship, which had started only a few months earlier when she met Pollock at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. “He put his foot all the way to the floor,” she wrote of the crash. “He was speeding wildly.”
Though it was to be the event that wrote Ms. Kligman irrevocably into the history of postwar art, she turned up frequently in its pages for many years afterward, less for her own work than for her role as a muse, lover, friend and subject of an impressive number of American artists.
Irving Penn and Robert Mapplethorpe made portraits of her; Willem de Kooning, with whom she was romantically involved, titled a 1957 painting “Ruth’s Zowie,” supposedly after she made that exclamation upon seeing it; Andy Warhol mentions her in his diaries several times, and she wrote that they “had a terrific crush on each other” for many years; she was friendly with Jasper Johns, to whom she once proposed, and with Franz Kline, whose former studio on 14th Street became her home and the studio where she continued to paint almost to the end of her life.
Born in Newark on Jan. 25, 1930, Ms. Kligman said she had wanted to live the artist’s life since reading a biography of Beethoven at 7. She moved to New York when she was young and began to paint seriously in 1958, studying at the Art Students League, the New School for Social Research and New York University.
She was 26 and working as an assistant at a small gallery when she met Pollock, who was 44, estranged from his wife, Lee Krasner, and losing his battle with alcoholism. Ms. Kligman wrote that he looked “tired out, sad,” and that “his body seemed as though it couldn’t stand up on its own.”
Ms. Kligman, by contrast, as described by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan in “de Kooning: An American Master,” their 2004 biography, “had about her the air of the earthy, voluptuous movie stars of the era, such as Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren.” (She was portrayed by Jennifer Connelly in “Pollock,” the 2000 movie about his life; Ms. Kligman filed suit against the film’s makers, contending that they had violated her copyright in using parts of her memoir.)
After Pollock’s death, she began a relationship with de Kooning that lasted several years. She traveled with him to Cuba, Italy and France, fending off art-world accusations that de Kooning had taken up with her, as Mr. Stevens and Ms. Swan recounted, in part because he was “still competing with Pollock, even now, after Jackson’s death.”
Ms. Kligman said that de Kooning had called her “his sponge” because she asked him so many questions and soaked up so much about the New York School of painting, though her own work, which she exhibited throughout her life, drew from her Abstract Expressionist mentors only in the beginning.
She was married for seven years to a Spanish painter, Carlos Sansegundo, and lived briefly in Ibiza and later, off and on, in Santa Fe, N.M., though her life remained centered on the New York art world. She had no children: information about immediate survivors was not available.
“ ‘Art is my life,’ is my motto, ” Ms. Kligman wrote, and in an interview she once said that she knew better than many how hard such a life was. She recalled running into Kline at the Cedar bar and telling him that she had just finished what she thought was her best painting. He bought her a drink and told her, of the world: “They think it’s easy. They don’t know it’s like jumping off a 12-story building every day.”