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Nancy Spero; feminist artist addressed political violence; dead at 83

October 26, 2009
Nancy Spero with her husband, painter Leon Golub, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995. She depicted war’s horrors in pictures using gouache, ink, and collage on paper.
Nancy Spero with her husband, painter Leon Golub, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995. She depicted war’s horrors in pictures using gouache, ink, and collage on paper. (Sara Krulwich/ NY Times)

NEW YORK – Nancy Spero, an American artist and feminist whose tough, exquisite figurative art addressed the realities of political violence, died Sunday in Manhattan. She was 83 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was respiratory complications of an infection, her son Philip said.

Born in Cleveland in 1926, Ms. Spero studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and there met her husband, the painter Leon Golub, to whom she was married for 53 years, until his death in 2004.

The couple moved to Paris in 1959, where Ms. Spero steeped herself in European existentialism and produced a series of oil paintings she had begun in Chicago on the themes of night, motherhood, and eroticism. When they settled in New York City, which became their permanent home, in 1964, the Vietnam War and the social changes it was creating in America profoundly affected Ms. Spero.

To come to grips with those realities, Ms. Spero, who always viewed art as inseparable from life, developed a distinctive kind of political work. Polemical but symbolic, it combined drawing and painting with craft-based techniques like collage and printmaking seldom associated with traditional Western notions of high art and mastery.

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