Dorothy Iannone: You Who Read Me With Passion Must Forever Be My Friends is an invitation into a world filled with eroticism, candor, and swelling tenderness. Iannone immediately invokes a relationship with the reader as we are beckoned into her life much like a new friend.
The book as an object pops—it is patently alluring but is not to be mistaken for an open-and-skim-through coffee-table book. To fully realize its idiosyncrasies and moving portrayals of the quotidian, Iannone asks us to read and consider, to break into laughter, and to give in to moments of surprise.
Iannone has been called a complicated feminist, sex goddess, art’s original bad girl, lioness, and matriarch. Now eighty-years-old, she began making erotically charged art in the 1960s when her work was met with censorship and was subsequently ignored. During a time of protest and collaborative action tied to second-wave feminism, Iannone stayed in her bedroom and studio to seek liberation. Her work pushes boundaries of the domestic and the erotic—therefore challenging what it meant to be an empowered, sexually liberated woman during that time.
Now fifty years from when she began as an artist, Iannone is only beginning to receive the attention her work warrants—this book being one of the platforms for reaching a wider audience. An American self-taught artist, she began by painting alongside her former husband James Upham, whom she married in 1958 and lived with in New York for nine years. In 1967, she took a trip to Iceland where she met Dieter Roth, who soon became her lover and muse. The first section of the book, which Iannone refers to as An Icelandic Saga,traces her journey with Roth. The work continues by chronicling Iannone’s personal search for “ecstatic unity,” which she explores by embracing paradoxes that arise in relationships. Throughout the book, Iannone is a friend and a partner, but mostly she is a lover. She explores what it means to be devoted to someone, all the while asking if amidst this devotion there is room for self-empowerment. In a section of the book named Berlin Beauties, Iannone quotes Bob Dylan: “To dance beneath a diamond sky with one arm waving free” And proclaims: “To give oneself and yet to remain free.”
Maybe it’s just my twenty-three year-old self who is constantly confronted with the same question, or maybe, as Iannone suggests, it is a question for everyone (and more pointedly to us as women): can we commit ourselves to someone else and still remain empowered, independent beings?
Our uncertainties are quelled as soon as they arise. Her display of power resides in an act of surrender, in the obliteration of boundaries, and in the inextricable nature of opposites. In “Flora and Fauna,” Iannone writes, “Is not the opposite of all I say also true? I am dangerous.”