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Elise Cavanna Armitage

(1902 - 1963)
Statuesque, with purple hair and a knack for comedy, Elise (as she was known) first came to the public attention as an actress, partner to W. C. Fields. She was a true Renaissance woman. After studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she studied under the great Isadora Duncan and danced abroad. Settling eventually in Los Angeles, Elise entered the new medium of film. As a comedienne and actress, her first movie was Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em in 1926, and later she starred in W. C. Fields’ The Dentist of 1932. She met and married the music impresario Merle Armitage, who was a collector of prints and a modernist book designer. With his added inspiration, she returned to the visual arts, working with noted printmaker Lynton Kistler in 1932. By 1933 she had turned to abstraction and soon became one of the few non-objective artists in Southern California. In that year Elise made her artistic debut with some abstract lithographs shown at Stendahl Galleries in Los Angeles. Their non-objective subject matter may have been influenced by the Hollywood crowd, many of whom were artists, architects and musicians, and German ex-patriates who had fled the stifling policies of Hitler. With local modernist greats Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson, Elise helped found the art collective Functionalists West. She continued expanding the size of her canvases, and became known for her bold palette, slashing brushwork, and pronounced linear elements. Through her intrepid experimentation, Elise Armitage explored beyond the representational into pure color, shapes, and design and established herself as an important non-representational artist of mid-century Southern California.


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