Skip to content

Maira Kalman Finds Truth in the Mess

The New Yorker:

The artist’s new book and exhibit, “Women Holding Things,” explore all that women carry.

Maira Kalman Irritated woman holding a giant cabbage
Irritated woman holding a giant cabbage.

It was the early days of the pandemic and the artist and writer Maira Kalman had taken refuge in Saugerties, New York, with her son and daughter-in-law. She was at the farmers’ market in Kingston when inspiration struck. “I saw this woman holding a giant cabbage, and I was, like: that’s it. I’m done. I know what I’m doing now,” the artist recalls. “The woman wasn’t exactly thrilled that I wanted to photograph her, but I asked politely and respectfully, and she agreed.”

When Kalman looked at her archives, she noticed that she had a large collection of photographs of women holding things. “I started thinking about the responsibilities that women hold, the nature of being a woman, and what it means to contain the complexity of life,” she said. The idea prompted her to start painting. “When you paint, things reveal themselves. You see what’s on your mind and what’s important. I relate to the paper in an emotional way. I want there to be surprises; I want there to be mistakes, and I want there to be problems. It’s more interesting to me that way. There’s truth in the mess.”

The project that germinated from that encounter in the market, “Women Holding Things,” gathers dozens of new images and some previously unpublished ones. The paintings have been collected in a new book, which will come out next month, and will also be on display at Mary Ryan Gallery, from October 6th to November 12th.

Maira Kalman Girl Holding Violin
Girl holding violin.
Maira Kalman Women holding a grudge
Women holding a grudge.
Maira Kalman Pesach holding Maira
Pesach holding Maira.
Maira Kalman Woman holding a pink ukulele under a giant cherry tree
Woman holding a pink ukulele under a giant cherry tree.
Maira Kalman A chair can hold a hat
A chair can hold a hat.
Maira Kalman Woman holding up
Woman holding up.
Maira Kalman Women holding malicious opinions while I play the piano
Women holding / malicious opinions / while I play the piano.
Maira Kalman Ayana V. Jackson holding my gaze
Ayana V. Jackson holding my gaze.