Tee Corinne's career as an artist began in 1965 after she received her B.A. at the University of South Florida (Tampa) that same year. In 1968 she earned her M.F.A. at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she studied drawing with Calvin Albert and photography with John Civardi. The subject matter on which she primarily focuses her camera is fourfold: the alcoholic family (as in Family: Growing Up in an Alcoholic Family [North Vancouver, B.C.: Gallerie, 1990]), sexual molestation, lesbian identity, and erotica. Corinne has gained national attention as one of the first feminist artists to explore those issues. She has, throughout her career, been primarily dedicated to three tasks--creating images of lesbians for lesbians, documenting lesbian artists, and fostering the work of other lesbian artists. She has been exhibiting her works nationally since 1965 and publishing in the women's movement press since 1974.
Corinne was born to Marjorie Isabelle Meares and Thomas Barnes Cutchin on 3 November 1943 in St. Petersburg, Florida, and spent her childhood there as well as in Islamorada. She grew up using her innate artistic talent to create healing images for herself while convalescing from childhood tuberculosis and physical child abuse. By the time she had graduated from high school, she had won a school art award and a national journalism prize. Corinne then traveled to New York City where she studied drawing, printmaking, and photography at the Pratt Institute.
After a brief, unhappy marriage, Corinne divorced and moved to San Francisco. Corinne, who describes herself as "a feminist and woman interested in reclaiming sexual power," was a leader in feminism and women's art several years before lesbian sex magazines appeared. Sexually explicit images were not yet available to women in the 1970s. The art Corinne later created developed from her experiences working with the San Francisco Sex Education Switchboard. It was in such organizations that women of the time learned to talk about sexuality and explore and create images of their own bodies. Corinne began to draw and do photography for the project and has since become a pioneer in the field.
The Influence of Sex Education and a Relationship
Corinne readily acknowledges the influence of Betty Dodson's book Liberating Masturbation (New York: Dobson, 1974) and the author's slide shows of lovemaking and genital imagery presented at women's workshops during the 1970s. Corinne's Cunt Coloring Book (San Francisco: Pearlchild Productions, 1975) developed out of her own work with the Sex Education Switchboard, was encouraged by Dodson, and quickly became instrumental in the reclamation of women's bodies. The workshop, Feminism, Sexuality and Lesbianism, was another profound experience for Corinne as she used her early drawings of female genitalia and cofacilitated with lesbian leader Sally Gearhart. In the spring of 1975, Corinne created photographs for Loving Women, the first lesbian sex manual. Nine women photographed themselves and each other for this book and those works, in turn, led to Corinne's current work with solarized photographic images.
From 1975 to 1977, Corinne's relationship with the photographer Honey Lee Cottrell informed her art. In her book The Sex Lives of Daffodils: Growing Up As an Artist Who Also Writes, Corinne states that while the two women were together she and Cottrell "explored color photography [and] the vibrancy of [their] relationship [was] reflected in the images." Corinne's images at the time changed from black-and-white pieces to color slides of women's genitals, photographs and slides of her partner, and close-up images of flowers and other erotica. Few lesbians, with the exception of Marilyn Gayle and Barbary Katherine in What Lesbians Do (Eugene, Oregon: Godiva, 1975), were publishing lesbian art or literature at the time. After her partnership with Cottrell dissolved, Corinne began graduate study at the Institute for Advanced Study in Human Sexuality in San Francisco where notable faculty members included Phyllis Lyon (cofounder of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization) and Wardell Pomeroy, who had interviewed the sexologist Alfred Kinsey. She also briefly studied at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana. Both experiences allowed her to research representations of lesbian erotica and encouraged her to continue her work.
Lesbian Art Exhibitions Begin
With the publication of a cover for A Woman's Touch (1979, 1982) and the 16 color plates in I Am My Lover (Burlingame, California: Down There Press, 1978), it was immediately apparent that Corinne's use of sexual imagery was revolutionary. The close-up images of female genitalia were simultaneously confrontational and empowering. In the more symbolic work, Yantras of Womanlove (Tallahassee, Florida: Naiad Press, 1982), solarized photographs of lovemaking and labia made visual the mystery of sexual feeling. Some of the works included in that publication also became part of the groundbreaking exhibition at the University of California, Berkeley, In a Different Light: Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice.
Living in Brooklyn from 1979 to 1981, Corinne showed works at the Womanart Gallery in Manhattan, but was excluded from an exhibition of lesbian art because of the "sexual nature" of her work. One of her images was, however, included in an exhibition of artists who had been published in a portfolio of the Advocate held at the Hibbs Gallery. Corinne and Dr. James Saslow (Queens College) delivered innovative lectures on homosexuality in erotic art during the exhibition. In 1980 Corinne was invited to participate in GALAS (the Great American Lesbian Art Show) held at the Women's Building in Los Angeles. At this exhibition, ten lesbians were honored for their work and willingness to share their sexual orientation with the public.
A Focus on Photography and Research
During 1979 and 1980 Corinne, Carol Newhouse, and lesbian photographer Joan E. Biren traveled cross-country teaching in the Feminist Photography Ovulars, founded by Ruth and Jean Mountaingrove. The group's name was purposefully chosen over "seminar," the meaning of which derives from seminate or semen. This was, clearly, meant to be a woman's community in which feminist photographers camped in woodland settings, created their own images, and discussed their work. From 1981 to 1984 Corinne created works for The Blatant Image: A Magazine of Feminist Photography, which she had planned with the Mountaingroves and Caroline Overman since the autumn of 1980. It was designed to be accessible to all women, strongly feminist in nature, and its images were created to confront the viewer.
It was also at this time that Corinne began to conduct research on the American photographer Bernice Abbott at her home in Blanchard, Maine. Since Abbott did not want to discuss being a lesbian, Corinne could not explore her work honestly until after the older woman died in December of 1991. Corinne finally presented a paper on Abbott's photographs of other lesbians at the national conference of the College Art Association in 1996. Corinne's own research efforts on lesbian artists have led her to openly lament the absence of biographies, the inadequacies of the few that do exist, and the fragility of means for preserving our histories and artworks. In addition, her national reputation as a researcher on the lesbian aesthetic, lesbian photographers, and the lesbian artists of 1920s Paris have afforded her the opportunity to present other research in papers at the College Art Association (1991 and 1994-96) and the Women's Caucus for Art (1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1994), among others. Corinne cofounded the Lesbian/Bisexual Caucus of the Women's Caucus for Art in 1993 and the Gay and Lesbian Caucus, an affiliated society of the College Art Association, in 1989. She also served as cochair with Edward Sullivan of the latter from 1990 to 1992.
Out of concern for documenting the lives of lesbian artists and preserving their works, Corinne began to photograph lesbian authors when she attended conferences. She is also a founder of SO CLAP! (The Southern Oregon Country Lesbian Archival Project), which interviews and solicits materials from lesbians in the region. Those materials are then combined with published sources and deposited in lesbian and gay archives around the country. In addition, finding galleries unreceptive to lesbian-themed work and desiring to make both lesbian and female sexuality visible, Corinne has always decided to self-publish and used small women's presses to create a wide audience for her own work. She sends copies of her artist's books to the library of the Museum of Modern Art, the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Gay and Lesbian Art Archives at Oberlin College, and the Gay and Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Public Library.
- Corinne, Tee A. The Sex Lives of Daffodils: Growing Up As an Artist Who Also Writes. Wolf Creek, Oregon: Pearlchild Press, 1994.
- ------. Wild Lesbian Roses: Essays on Art, Rural Living and Creativity. Unpublished papers delivered at conferences and full versions of published, edited articles. Photocopy, 1996.