The 1950s Housewife Who Became the Grandmother of New York’s Underground Art Scene
A pioneer of the “Mail Art” movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and sometimes referred to as the “Grandma Moses of the Underground” because she began her art career at the age of 42, May Wilson is known for her photomontages and surrealist assemblages that explore issues of gender and identity through an early feminist lens. After raising a family in suburban Baltimore, Wilson later moved to New York in 1966 where she fell in with a group of avant-garde artists, including Ray Johnson. Turning away from colorful beach scenes, portraits, and landscapes, Wilson began creating what she called “ridiculous portraits”— pictures of the artist’s distorted face stuck onto reproductions of paintings and photographs of idealized women, such as classical nudes and images of the Madonna —and mailing them to friends. Other works include assemblages of found objects, including dolls wrapped or tied in cloth or layers of gaffer tape like mummified children.
American, 1905-1986, Baltimore, MD, United States, based in New York, NY, United States