Lee Lozano’s turbulent tool paintings and drawings can be understood as critiques of both sexual and art world decorum at a moment when the feminist movement had yet to coalesce and actively question either. She began using these objects so closely identified with male power and productivity in 1963. With the tool paintings and drawings, Lozano’s intense relationship with language, perhaps the most continuous thread in her oeuvre, is invisible but still acutely felt. While these tool works bear no writing, the viewer is always aware that a ‘tool’ is both an implement used to build the world, and a slang name for a penis. Perhaps more meaningfully, the word ‘tool’ describes a dupe whose low self-esteem or limited knowledge invites others to take advantage. The tool paintings and drawings might be viewed also as a form of late 20th century self-portraiture. The imagery allowed Lozano to advance an important tradition in the face of the challenges of photography and conceptualism, while exploring her own womanhood and her individuality as an artist at a moment when gender roles were being radically redefined.
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