Marion Pike at the London College of Fashion

Not only does this year mark the 100th birthday of my late grandmother, Marion Pike but also the 130th birthday of Coco Chanel. In celebration, an exhibition entitled, “Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike, Paris  1967 – 1971” curated by Amy De La Haye opened this month in London. The show will be on view at the London College of Fashion in the Fashion Space Gallery from September 5th – November 15th. Later the show will travel to Italy and be exhibited at Palazzo Morando in Milan from December 7, 2013 – March 2, 2014.

A mock up of the exhibition was made by Jack Neville for Simon Jones ahead of the installation to see where the paintings would be placed and what color the walls would be painted. Also leading up to the exhibition were many features in the press (most of which I mentioned in last month’s blog) including in ArtFund and Fibre2Fashion.

My mother Jeffie Pike Durham was also interviewed by Vanity Fair Paris for this amazing and in depth article. Here is a live interview taped of my mother describing her first time ever meeting Coco Chanel:

Visitors to the exhibition were greeted by a film directed by Xenia Capacete Caballero and Daniel Caulfield-Sriklad which was a montage of my grandmother’s paintings morphing into actual artifacts from the show:

It was so great to see all the publications picking up the story on this exhibition including London B&BClash, The Daily Beast, and the most thoughtfully written piece by The New York Times.

Below is one installation shot of the gallery and more photos from the opening event are here .

LondonCollegeOfFashion1a

Growing up I was surrounded by the portraits my grandmother painted of Coco Chanel. They were hanging in my grandmother’s studio in Los Angeles among many others since I was born. I have had birthday parties, sleepovers, and painted with my grandmother all in the shadow of these giant paintings. So it is kind of funny that the current exhibition of Cuckoo (the name she was affectionately called by family and close friends) and Coco’s work is labeled as a revealing of a new history that no biographer or historian ever knew about or investigated. They were a part of my history and anyone who ever came to our house and visited Cuckoo’s studio.

CuckooMarionBabyPortraitCuckoo painting a portrait of me as a toddler 

It is no surprise to me that Coco Chanel instantly liked my grandmother. Everyone Cuckoo met liked her and somehow or another she in turn managed to relate to any person regardless of social standing or profession. I have always said to people that I thought she was ahead of her time in every way. In fact, she was of no time really; a completely free spirit. I know she would have approved of my three years painting in Spain. In fact, she might have even suggested the adventure.

CuckooMarionToddlerStudioCuckoo and me “working” side by side

When I was a young artist just out of college, I was painting stripes for what seemed like to my grandmother, a very long time. Every time we would see or talk to each other, she would say, “Are you still painting those stripes?” I would answer yes and with a laugh she would reply, “Well, at least you are dedicated!” She made no secret of how she felt about abstract work and I don’t know if she ever liked anything I made but she never had a discouraging word. I did quit the stripes and only just revisited the idea for my up-coming show this November and I think it is the best work I have ever made. I sometimes laugh to myself and say out loud, “Well, Cuckoo, I’m still painting stripes!” Maybe that “dedication” paid off.

CuckooMarionAge4Cuckoo, me and my brother John with Chanel-Big Head (upper left)

Cuckoo was the most dedicated worker I have ever witnessed. Her work was her painting and she literally worked every day of her life up until the last. Her natural talent can be matched by very few other painters. So I understand in a way why she admired artists like Rembrandt and copied paintings in the Louvre. I understand why she rejected the prevailing styles of mid-century abstraction and minimalism. Her hand was too good not to express herself the way she did. While she did not seek out commercial success during her lifetime, I learned from her about the sheer love and dedication of what being a painter meant.

CuckooMarionTeenPortraitCuckoo with a portrait of me in progress, Chanel-Big Head, and Chanel in her Atelier (left)

One of my favorite stories about Cuckoo was when she wore a dress coat custom made for her by Coco Chanel to a few fancy events in NYC only to find out afterwards that she wore the garment backwards! The best part of the story is how after a brief moment of embarrassment, she just laughed and laughed.  I always loved a photo she kept in a frame in her studio of her at a black tie event wearing a floor length mink coat, pant leg poking out from underneath. That seemed unremarkable until she explained to me that the coat was borrowed to cover up the fact that she had worn pants to a dress-only event! The smile on her face in the photo was so big and she was having so much fun in spite of having shown up dressed in the completely wrong outfit. I guess she has the photo framed as if to celebrate how much fun life is when you don’t conform to all the rules and instead march to beat of your own drum. Cuckoo was someone ahead of her time because life was always fun for her. There was always someone to meet, somewhere to travel to paint, and something to new to experience. Maybe she was ahead of her time but maybe she was, in fact, the best of her time.

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