The Vibrant World of Janet Cooling

Explore the dynamic and vividly hued world of Janet Cooling, a pioneering figurative painter known for integrating lesbian and feminist themes into her work during the 1970s and '80s.

Published on
June 18, 2024
Lot 24 | Janet Cooling, Blue in the White of the Eye (1987)

Lot 24 | Janet Cooling, Blue in the White of the Eye (1987)


Dive into the vibrant and kinetic universe of Janet Cooling, a trailblazing artist in figurative painting. She is celebrated for boldly integrating lesbian and feminist narratives into her artwork, a revolutionary approach that marked her contributions in the 1970s and '80s. Her erotic drawings of entwined nude women in sublime landscapes challenged traditional representations of the female form and sexuality, breaking away from academic conventions. By the early 1980s, her large-scale paintings featured apocalyptic imagery and stark black backgrounds, reflecting the intensity of New York City's vibrant nightlife and cultural scene. Her work gained early recognition and support from notable figures and was showcased in significant exhibitions like "Extended Sensibilities: Homosexual Presence in Contemporary Art" at the New Museum. As a passionate educator and advocate for feminist and LGBTQ+ visibility in art, Cooling influenced generations of artists, leaving a lasting legacy as a courageous and transformative figure in contemporary art. Through her distinctive style, Cooling paints a picture of stories that reflect the complexities and beauty of the human experience.

Lot 25 | Janet Cooling, Untitled, 1980

Lot 25 | Janet Cooling, Untitled, 1980


Cooling's untitled work (Lot 25) from 1980 depicts a serene yet vibrant scene, revealing her mastery of color and form. Nude figures are entangled on a lush, green grass bed by a deep blue lake, embodying a sense of pleasure and a connection with nature. The dark, stormy sky contrasts sharply with the calm, reflective water, hinting at the tranquility of her work. Cooling’s use of bright, contrasting colors and the meticulous detailing of the landscape elements emphasize her unique style that blends surrealism with a keen observation of the natural world. Cooling's artwork encapsulates her ability to convey profound stories through simple yet powerful imagery, making it a testament to her enduring influence in contemporary art.

Lot 23 | Janet Cooling, Untitled (Joanna with Fan), 1978

Lot 23 | Janet Cooling, Untitled (Joanna with Fan), 1978


Cooling showcases her distinctive style by portraying a nude figure against a vibrant, star-studded night sky in her Untitled (Joanna with Fan) (Lot 23) painting on paper. The figure, seen from behind, holds a colorful fan that adds a whimsy and mystery to the composition. The serene and contemplative stance of the subject portrays themes of identity and self-awareness. The luminous backdrop, with its gradient hues transitioning from deep blue to a warm sunset orange, highlights Cooling's use of color to evoke emotion and atmosphere. Subtle elements at the bottom, such as depicting a Nataraja, the Hindu god Shiva, and architectural silhouettes, suggest a blend of cultural references. Cooling often merges personal and universal symbols, creating an intimate and expansive visual dialogue. The model of this work is Joanna Frueh, a well-known writer, performance artist, scholar, and teacher whose work expanded into photo, video, and audio pieces. The elements of this work also reflect Frueh's interest in the erotic, spiritual, body, and soul.

Lot 28 | Janet Cooling, Untitled, 2016

Lot 28 | Janet Cooling, Untitled, 2016


Cooling's untitled piece (Lot 28) from 2016 is part of a later body of work that exemplifies her use of color and abstraction, transforming a landscape into a kaleidoscope of geometric shapes and bold hues. The composition is divided into dynamic segments of reds, greens, yellows, and purples, converging towards the horizon under a dramatic sky. Using vivid, contrasting colors creates a sense of movement and depth, evoking the energy and rhythm of nature that Cooling often depicted. Cooling's blending of abstract forms with bright, almost surreal color palettes reflects her innovative approach to contemporary art.

Lot 26 | Janet Cooling, Untitled (Woman in Water), 1980

Lot 26 | Janet Cooling, Untitled (Woman in Water), 1980


This selection is directly from The Estate of Janet Cooling Capsule, which will be sold to benefit ArtBridge. ArtBridge is an organization actively transforming NYC’s 300+ miles of construction fencing into large-scale art exhibitions. Their installations don’t merely beautify — they uplift local communities, often by partnering artists with community stakeholders to create neighborhood-specific public artworks. In a city that never stops rebuilding, ArtBridge converts building sites and disused urban spaces into cultural assets, giving artists an unprecedented platform to show their work, informed by the communities they serve.

Lot 15 | Janet Cooling, Untitled, 1984

Lot 15 | Janet Cooling, Untitled, 1984


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