Over the course of an artistic career that lasted more than sixty years, Isabel Bishop attempted to capture the modern woman and the pace of the American city through her work. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bishop spent much of her childhood in Detroit. She came to New York at the age of sixteen and enrolled in the School of Applied Design for Women in New York, planning to train for a career in commercial art. In 1920 she began her studies at the Art Student’s League with Kenneth Hayes Miller and later with Guy Pène du Bois. At this time, she abandoned commercial art and focused on figure compositions drawn from real life scenes in the city. In these works, the figures are quickly drawn, the lines and contours suggesting a particular stance, gesture, or mood. These ordinary people are placed in loosely indicated settings, suggested rather than described by a direct, quick brushstroke that evokes the every day activity and animated rhythms of the modern city. Bishop’s work is also distinguished by her principal subject: women. In the 1930s and 1940s, Bishop drew, painted, and etched a series of works that captured the female face in unexpected moments: flashing perfect teeth while applying lipstick, tightening a cheek to touch up a blemish, or opening a mouth wide to bite a hot dog.
In 1934 Bishop leased a studio on Union Square where she worked for the remainder of her career. Sometimes grouped with her teachers Kenneth Hayes Miller and Reginald Marsh as the Fourteenth Street School, at other times associated with artists Edward Hopper and Raphael and Moses Soyer, Bishop remains one of America’s most distinctive artists and a visual poet of urban working women.