In 1981, Terry Etherton knew exactly what he wanted his new art gallery to be: a showcase for the burgeoning medium of photography. Photographs were finally coming into their own as fine art. And he decided to show them exclusively.
Then in 1983, he saw the work of Bailey Doogan. She had made small monotypes of a kind he’d never seen before. They were so stunning he voided his rule and invited her in.
“She was the first nonphotographer that we showed,” he recalls. “We’ve had many incredible shows of hers since those early days. I think we had about 12 shows with Peggy over the years.”
Doogan was earning a national reputation, particularly for her challenging paintings of women. Among her art works was a provocative oil painting of a naked woman who replaces the risen Christ of Catholicism, and she made a massive charcoal work that honors an Irish activist murdered by the British during the Troubles. The piece, “The Hard Place (For Mairead Farrell),” is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
As the years went on, she created difficult images of women’s aging bodies, often her own. In 2005, she told me, “I deal with the real body. Our bodies are diaries of our experience. Whatever happens to us is recorded there: wrinkles, scars, the way we stand. That specificity fascinates me. I think it’s beautiful.”
Margaret Mary Bailey Doogan died on July 4 at age 80, leaving behind her daughter, Moira Doogan and her son-in-law of Oregon, a raft of friends — both artists and art lovers — and many fans, myself included. As an art professor at the University of Arizona, she was known on campus as a wonderful teacher and generations of her students will remember her.
Doogan — “Peggy” to her friends — was a hometown favorite. Apart from her national exhibitions, she showed her art all over Tucson: at the Tucson Museum of Art, the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Dinnerware, Etherton Gallery, Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery at Pima Community College West, and Davis Dominguez Gallery.
I wrote about her art for the Weekly for the first time in the early 1990s. I was struck by her oil painting, “Mea Corpa,” in which a glorious nude woman appears to be dispensing Christ-like grace. In 1998, she had a one-person show of startling charcoal figures at the UAMA, so great that I named it “the best of the year.” Twenty-years later, I was still excited by her work. In 2018, the Bernal Gallery featured her with four other prominent Tucson artists and I chose her work to write about — a semi-comical series of Peggy making faces in a mirror. What turned out to be her final show was at Davis Dominguez Gallery with two other women artists in 2020.
Sadly, the gallery was shut down by the pandemic and the exhibition only last a week or so.
When I first met Peggy, we were floored to find that we were both born and raised in Philadelphia, grew up in devout Irish Catholic families, and were taught by nuns from first grade all the way through high school. We even both took Latin. Peggy was happy that I understood the Catholic references in her art and I was happy to meet someone who had the same memories.
In 2005, Peggy scored a giant two-part retrospective at Etherton and the Tucson Museum of Art, with both venues filled with her oil paintings, pastels, charcoals, and mixed media. To honor the occasion, I wrote “A Life Lived,” a long cover story about Peggy’s work and her life, including tales of her raucous Irish relatives and her sexist colleagues in her early days of teaching.
What a storyteller she was. She had plenty to say about everything under the sun. Fifteen years on, I am sharing the piece to let her words ring out once again: https://bit.ly/BaileyDoogan