Abstract artist Dorothy Hood never played by the rules.
The Bryan, Texas native made a name for herself not only with her massive, mysterious paintings, but with her bohemian lifestyle and circle of glamorous friends. “I was always a risky person,” she once said during an interview for a documentary film. Inspired by both Mexican Surrealism and gritty New York Abstraction, her distinct style highlights bold choices and offers a glimpse into her fascinating life.
Hood studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design, then moved to New York where she modeled and partied with emerging Surrealists. Next, she moved to Mexico on a whim — she drove down for a two-week vacation, but ended up staying for over two decades. There she met preeminent artists and writers of the 1940s, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Pablo Neruda, and later married Bolivian composer José María Velasco Maidana. She travelled the world with him, building connections with art dealers and curators, before returning to her home state as a formidable painter.
In Houston, Hood taught in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), where she met Kathrine G. McGovern — namesake of the University of Houston’s College of the Arts — and was represented by Meredith Long & Company. The influential gallery introduced her to high-profile clients throughout the city, including lawyer John O’Quinn who added Hood’s enigmatic painting “The Angel’s Key,” part of her “Monolith” series, to his collection.
At UH’s Capital Campaign Kickoff Dinner earlier this year, where McGovern was recognized for her $20 million gift to the newly christened Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts (KGMCA), she shared details about her lifelong love of art, touching on her studies with Hood. Robert C. Wilson, III, president of the O’Quinn Foundation, was in the crowd that evening and was so moved by McGovern’s personal account that he soon began making plans to gift “The Angel’s Key” the UH.
“John O’Quinn loved the University of Houston and Dorothy Hood’s artwork,” says Wilson. “After hearing about the wonderful connection between Mrs. McGovern and Dorothy Hood, I thought the University would be a great place for the painting to hang. The Trustees of The John M. O’Quinn Foundation are happy to donate this piece to such a worthy organization and school.”
The gift was an incredibly welcome surprise for Mike Guidry, curator of the Public Art of the University of Houston System. Guidry, known for his art acumen and sharp sensibilities, was thrilled to add a Hood to the collection. “Her paintings are beautiful and ethereal. When I first saw them, I was immediately drawn to them,” he says.
His long-term goal is to make UH a public arts destination. It’s already one of the largest and most impressive university collections in the U.S., but it could be better described as a best kept secret than a main attraction. The Public Art team is actively changing that perspective, and adding works like “The Angel’s Key” are essential to elevating the collection and increasing awareness both locally and nationally.
“We continue to refine our Collection,” he says, noting the University’s current art conservation campaign in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Public Art in 2019. “Pieces like this, from such an important Texas artist, enhance and strengthen the Collection.”
“The Angel’s Key” was unveiled on November 29 in the lobby of the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre.