Gallery Wendi Norris opens 'Uncovering Alice Rahon', the artist's first solo gallery show in over 45 years

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Gallery Wendi Norris opens 'Uncovering Alice Rahon', the artist's first solo gallery show in over 45 years
Alice Rahon, Rendez-vous des rivières (Encounter of Two Rivers) (1942).

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Gallery Wendi Norris presents Uncovering Alice Rahon, the artist’s first solo gallery exhibition in over forty-five years. With seventeen works on display, Uncovering Alice Rahon reveals Rahon’s mastery of oil and sand painting, assemblage, and sculpture. Her art has not been shown in San Francisco since 1953, when the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMOMA) presented a Rahon solo show. Almost seventy years later, Uncovering Alice Rahon underscores Rahon’s contemporary relevance and deepens Gallery Wendi Norris’ commitment to advancing the work of this remarkable artist, who was brought into the gallery’s program three years ago.

The exhibition is on view from October 1 through November 5, 2022, in a historic landmark building at 436 Jackson Street, in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood.

As with Rahon’s peers Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, and Remedios Varo, scholarly inquiry and institutional support for Alice Rahon has surged over the last decade. Long overlooked as an artist in her own right, Rahon is likewise gaining international recognition by curators, collectors, and historians through museum exhibitions, magazine articles, and new publications. In concert with a team of scholars led by Rahon expert Tere Arcq, Gallery Wendi Norris will explore and expand this recent devotion through Uncovering Alice Rahon and with the launch of an online art archive,, created to help professionals and enthusiasts learn more about Rahon’s work in the wider context of her life and practice.

“It’s an honor to showcase the work of Alice Rahon, and I’m thrilled for her to begin receiving the institutional and scholarly attention she deserves,” said Wendi Norris, founder of the eponymously named gallery in San Francisco. “We have worked for several years to put together this extraordinary group of paintings, and the launch of the online art archive promises to increase understanding and interest in Rahon while serving as a vital resource for collectors, scholars, and enthusiasts over time.”

Uncovering Alice Rahon features seminal, rarely-seen works from the artist’s oeuvre. Included is El tucán y el arco iris or Homenaje a Wolfgang Paalen (The Toucan and the Rainbow or Tribute to Wolfgang Paalen) (1967), a luminous canvas with heartbreaking references to Rahon’s first husband, the artist Wolfgang Paalen, and the toucan they kept briefly as a pet. Visitors will also experience La cuadra (1942-1950), a brilliant example of Rahon’s unique pictography, with visible influences from cave painting and her friend and fellow artist Paul Klee. Rendez-vous des rivières (Encounter of Two Rivers) (1942), a sculptural composition alluding to the union of man and nature and of the real with the marvelous, will also be on view.

Rahon’s work has recently been acquired from Gallery Wendi Norris for the permanent collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Rahon is a featured artist in the 59th International Exhibition of La Biennale de Venezia, The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani. She was also included in Surrealism Beyond Borders at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Tate Modern, London (2021-2022). In 2021, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles acquired Rahon’s entire archive of letters, photographs, and personal documents, which it is organizing and preserving for students and scholars.

In 2021, New York Review Books / Poets published Shapeshifter, a new translation of the artist’s poetry by renowned scholar Mary Ann Caws. On the opening night of Uncovering Alice Rahon, Gallery Wendi Norris will host a reading of this exquisite volume in collaboration with Caws and Small Press Traffic. Copies of the gallery’s recent monograph on the artist, featuring more than fifty full-color reproductions and original contributions by three Rahon scholars, will also be available during the run of the exhibition.

Rahon’s childhood remains a mystery, but a brief account of her early years reveals an independent and charismatic young woman of prodigious talent. We know that at some point during her twenties she moved to Paris, where she created hats for the Surrealist-influenced fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. While there, she was introduced to Man Ray, for whom she modeled, and became friends with Joan Miró. In 1931 she met the Austrian painter Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959), who brought her into the circle of Surrealists led by André Breton. She and Paalen were married in 1934.

Between 1936 and 1941, she published three volumes of poetry under her married name, Alice Paalen, with accompanying artworks by Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Paalen. In 1939, Frida Kahlo invited her to Mexico. With war on the horizon, she and Paalen made their way to Canada and then down the Pacific coast, studying and collecting indigenous artworks of the American West en route to Mexico City. Becoming a naturalized citizen of Mexico, Rahon remained there for the rest of her life.

In Mexico City, under the tutelage of Paalen and in the company of émigré Surrealists including Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, Rahon took up visual art. One can see the influences of her friends Paul Klee and Miró in her early paintings, but her deepest inspirations arise from the anonymous artists of Altamira and the indigenous artists of the Americas. When asked to which school of art she belonged, she famously responded, “I think I am a cave painter.”

Rahon made a practice of sgraffito, scratching through the surface of her paintings to reveal a lower layer of contrasting color. Utilizing various media (ink, gouache, crayons, sand, volcanic ash, iron wire) and found objects (feathers, leaves, butterfly wings), she created images rooted in landscapes, redolent of timelines, abundant with magic and ritual. The result is an iconography that is at once universal and personal, mysterious and immediate, thick with stories and secrets.

Once she started painting, Rahon was recognized almost immediately as an accomplished artist. Over the course of her lifetime, she created over 750 works of art and exhibited widely in the United States and Mexico, as well as in Paris and Lebanon.

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