Costa Mesa + Santa Monica, California (1972-1994)

L1130216By 1972, maintaining the large property in Arcadia, with its many out buildings, was becoming a burden. Her son, Robert, had decided to move to New York. When a realtor made a good offer, Dorothy and Joe said, “yes.”  Dorothy wanted to get away from the searing summer heat in the San Gabriel Valley—and wanted a newer house where everything worked. They selected a four-bedroom tract house in Costa Mesa, near the ocean in Orange County. One of the bedrooms became Dorothy’s sewing room, the large living room and adjacent patio became the studio (of course), and the two-car garage served as art storage, frame shop and an additional painting room.

During this period, Dorothy continued her brightly colored Arcadia acrylic explorations.  Her biggest discovery was linking three or more canvases together in order to make one larger overall composition. These smaller canvases could be easily handled by her and transported. Since her primary painting area was a picnic table on the patio, these individual canvases were much easier to move outdoors and back inside. Some of these assembled polyptychs of differently sized canvases extended for eight or ten feet, an exciting new format for her.


“Autumn Trees,” acrylic on canvas, late 70s

She executed quite a few private commissions at this time. Several interior designers would bring clients to the studio to view Dorothy’s existing work which frequently resulted in an order for a commission. She enjoyed the challenge of specific size requirements and color ranges. Many of these commissioned works, with trees and landscape as their subject matter, were in high key oranges or yellows. She loved orchard trees in bloom with their cloud-like forms in white or pink.  The individual gestural brush strokes became smaller in relationship to the overall format of the canvas yielding a more sparkling, pointalist surface. A thicket of varied brushwork, the forms pushing in different directions, with a myriad of color variation transformed into a clearly defined landscape at a distance. Dorothy continued to pay a great deal of attention to a highly worked surface and a balance of warm and cool variations of color.

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“Birds of Paradise,” crayon and litho crayon on paper, 1978

Many abstracted floral studies were inspired by her backyard, and executed mostly in litho crayon on watercolor paper, accented, at times, with watercolor or crayon. These floral abstractions, with their sinuous lines, refer back to the black and white ink drawings she had made as book illustrations as well as to some of the aspects of her early woodblock prints.

In the winter of 1980, Joe passed away and Dorothy began receiving treatment for breast cancer. A move to a more centrally located apartment was necessary. She found a comfortable two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, near her cousin, and on a bus line. One of the bedrooms became her studio. But with the limited space cam a decrease in both the size and ambition of her work. Although she moved a number of unfinished polyptychs from Costa Mesa to Santa Monica, for the most part, she stopped working on large scale works and preferred to paint small paintings. Near a large window, she could paint the nearby trees with patterns of light coming through from the backyards beyond. These small paintings, mostly 8 x 10inches, are charming and intimate.  They reiterate many of her previous compositions: mountains, spring trees, cloudy skies.  The paint handling remains confident.

-0Stna2uQYGGIEQHj45wofk8SuESwwAX27BmF0h4KtgIn Santa Monica, she joined the local branch of the American Association of University Women. Many of the better galleries had migrated to Santa Monica and she would make the rounds, seeing shows and chatting with dealers. She visited Santa Monica’s thrift shops, spending considerable time adapting her purchases and then accessorizing them with crocheted barrettes or scarves. She spent a very long time remaking one gold brocade jacket, and creating the accompanying hat and masque for a costume ball given by one of her organizations.

Over time, it became clear that Dorothy was having increasing difficulty with her memory. She moved to an assisted living facility in Santa Monica, attending live concerts in the evenings, and art classes by day. She took emeritus college courses and visited many varied art shows and installations including Christo’s umbrella installation.

By 1994, she required more supervision and moved to an Alzheimer’s unit in Brooklyn where she lived, near her son, Bob, and family, for six years. She drew in a notebook from time to time. The flowers and forms were very simple, but the lollipop flowers that she repeatedly drew with pencil, ink and watercolors bear an intriguing resemblance to the stylized flowers she had drawn in the 1930s in New York.

Dorothy Browdy Kushner died in Brooklyn in 2000. costa_edited-1