Colette Street Works - 70's
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 Street work I ( a text by Ouspensky written on the pavements of SoHo ) NYC 1970The Heart - Prince St., 1972 The Ear - Spring St 1972 'L'incident a la Place Innunciata'. Florence, Italy 1974 (with Dakota Jackson 24 x 30 '' )

Colette's urge to integrate art and life first appeared in 1970 with her Street Works, a series of images painted and ritual acts performed in the streets of lower Manhattan and major cities in the United States and Europe. These were designed to circumvent the commercial aspects of the gallery system as well as to bring her art into direct contact with passers-by. Colette explained:

"I dress up for them in whatever costumes may feel appropriate at the time, and usually execute them at dawn not only to avoid traffic or police harassment but also because of the associations attached to those particular hours of the day - the hours when most people are just about waking from their dreams or, in other words, those hours when everything that is real appears to be unreal..."

Personas - New Museum. Essay by Ned Rifkin. 1981

To Colette, the streets of SoHo are a unity felt in much the same way as a painter (which she is) feel the whole of a canvas. She has been working on here SoHo street pieces, which, though executed at different times, are part of one large work, since May, 1972, when she began painting on the sidewalks of West Broadway between Houston and Prince Streets.

Though that particular piece was interrupted by the police, she has returned to fill in other sections, notably the intersections of W. Broadway and Prince (L'oeuil) (sic) and W. Broadway and Spring (Un Coeur). The pieces themselves are generally pattern of broken lines, dots, symbols, and words, which are elements that are used throughout her paintings and environments. The particular words, however, are spontaneous expression (particularly true of L'oeuil) inspired by the feedback of the situation of the site, and of strangers viewing her at work; Colette is interested in the performance aspect of the street works, but considers them a natural outgrowth of her other work. 

Arts Magazine, February 1973
by Ellen Lubell

'I wanted to explore other mediums than paintings', she says. 'It was too easy. So for the next ten years, I made it harder for myself.' She painted - lips on 57th Street, on the gallery beat; she tried to make a film, in which her street paintings were the code of a 'person who was lost, from outer space, who was sending messages to the other beings out there, hoping they would find her'. Odds and ends of the film still survive; conceived as autobiography, it ended in fragments. Meanwhile, Colette discovered space. 'The streets,' she says, 'were like a piece of paper'.

Harpers and Queens, London, 1981
by Michael Pye 

When Colette isn't experimenting with some new material or idea in her Wall Street studio, she may be extending her art onto the city streets. In order to avoid police harassment, Colette begins work at 5 AM. Attired in a floppy hat, overalls, and dramatic makeup, she rapidly uses buckets of creamy paint, leaving behind elongated "lips" or a gigantic "ear" formed by her private language of dots and dashes.

Viva Magazine, 1974
Rose Hartman

"Colette's street pieces began around 1970 when she decided to make her mark of code on the sidewalks of Soho, enigmatic messages to be read from above. She performed these ritualistic actions in a harlequin costume and had them photographed and documented on film. These mysterious traces were soon followed by anatomical drawings: Colette painted large schematic diagrams in broken outlines of lips, ears, eyes, noses, or hearts on the surface of the street."


The Coloratura of Colette, Arts Magazine 1978
Peter Selz