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Art & Life with Merrilyn Duzy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Merrilyn Duzy.

Merrilyn, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Growing up was an adventure and a challenge. We lived in semi-rural Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley. I was born in 1946 to what was already a dysfunctional family. School became my big escape. I knew I was an artist from a very young age. I took care of my younger siblings, thus my little free time was reading and making art. That sense of self and purpose was my saving grace. Those early years of my family’s conflicts and my personal struggles became the source and impetus of my art.

My Visual acuity came early. One Easter, when I was three years old, I was given a basket of brightly dyed Easter eggs, and even now I see them vividly, brilliant blue, green, pink and yellow eggs. I remember the cold, dark green walls of my parents’ bedroom and the warm green pepper tree in our front yard. I remember the first box of Crayola I received: 64 magical colors! A new world opened up. I was enchanted with the dark night skies of mid-century Pacoima, with the canopy of shining stars; inspiring my life-long love of cosmic imagery and the wonder of our universe.

My Catholic upbringing sparked my spiritual self. It was also the stimulus for my erotic art. Around the time of puberty, I discovered religious literature. Images of the saints, in bondage and ecstasy, became entangled with changes in my body and my awakening sexuality. From then on, I was fascinated with the erotic.

With financial challenges and personal turmoil, it took ten years to complete my Bachelors of Fine Art at California State University, Northridge. School remained a safe and sane place. I’m forever grateful to the many good friends whose support and encouragement helped me survive and even thrive.

By the early 1970s, the feminist art movement came onto the social, political and cultural stage. I was working with erotic themes and reading about other women doing likewise, yet none of the current art books on erotic art included any women artists. My conclusion: “I’ll have to publish one myself.” Working with  photographer Lois Constantine, and writer Grace Powell, we began interviewing women who were tapping into their own sexuality, gender roles, and body image. Our book, “The New Art: Female Eroticism,” led to my curating several exhibitions on women’s erotic art. “Erotic Visions” in Westwood, California was the first such exhibit on the west coast.

The National Women’s Caucus for Art was formed in New York in the mid-1970s with regional chapters across the country. I joined the Southern California Chapter in 1976 and became President in 1980. For our National Conference in San Francisco, we created a performance titled, “Women Artists Past & Present.” We set out to showcase the work of women artists, to illustrate not only their art but also to highlight the absence of women artists in art history texts.

Learning about these artists so inspired me that I wanted to capture on canvas what I saw and experienced on stage. Thus my “Women Artists in History” series, paintings of contemporary women artists portrayed in the costumes and settings of their historical counterparts, was born. In 1982 I moved to the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where, in an effort to share this knowledge of women artists as widely as possible, I created my illustrated lecture, “Walking Through History: Women Artists Past & Present,” which I’ve presented from coast to coast and in several other countries.

Returning to California in 1986, I resumed my art studies at the Los Angeles’ Otis Art Institute, earning my Master of Fine Arts in 1988. I continued with portraiture at Otis, but I had a shock when my best portrait, of artist Peggy Mosheim, was stolen off the wall during a graduate exhibit. This so devasted me that I couldn’t bear to do figurative work for several years. Perhaps I should have been flattered that someone admired my work so much they committed a felony and risked going to prison to own it, but I much prefer they bought it.

I turned inward and found a renewal of my spiritual side with “The Creation Series,” including the paintings “Rho Ophiuchus: The Mother of Newborn Stars,” and “Back of Beyond.” The Creation Series led to large landscapes with a touch of eroticism, such as “Night Canyon,” which celebrates the sexual ritual of the sacred marriage between a god and a goddess.

A few years after graduation, I began painting portraits again. Starting with my portrait of Louise Bourgeois, whom I met during the years I worked on my women’s erotic art book. She and many of the artists I met while working on the book remained life-long friends.

During the years that followed, I painted, curated exhibits, lectured on the cosmos, erotica, spirituality and women artists, and taught courses in art, all of which I continue to do. With a special thanks to my husband, Howard Bentkower, I’ve been able to travel extensively throughout the world. I spent my vacations in many countries where he worked. I also  traveled to even more countries, where I exhibited my artwork. Seeing art from diverse cultures, and the experience of traveling to so many places is the best education I could have.

One of the most rewarding relationships of my life was joining eight other San Fernando Valley-based women artists to form a collaboration. We are “Group Nine,” and we have been creating and exhibiting our artworks for more than 25 years. Our long and enduring friendships have added immense and profound experiences such that we each now have a second loving family.

I was described as being “Omni-directional” by my Otis advisor, Scott Grieger. This is true. My many, diverse interests, the people I know, the environment around me, the skies above – all of these are my ongoing subjects and themes for my art.

When asked what I want people to take away from my art, I simply want people to respond or relate to my work from their own personal experiences. When they do, I feel that I have succeeded.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
The pure sensuality of oil paints, the tactile strokes of pastels, the fire, and pigments of encaustics, along with mixed-media, are my painting mediums. I paint human figures, especially portraits of people I know; landscapes, skyscapes, and the cosmos constitute the majority of my subjects.

I love using different mediums and developing concepts when I don’t know how they will turn out. This experimentation can be seen in my cosmic and language series. In these artworks, I start with a broad idea of how we communicate, from the earliest time to the present. How would it be with other intelligent beings in our universe? Would the laws of physics be the same? If so, would they also use symbols and graphic elements as a means of communication? These thoughts led to my on-going explorations with symbols and space. “Cosmic Series #3 (the Book),” will be exhibited in the “Art of the Cosmos,” in Pasadena April 2020, the 30 year anniversary of the Hubble Telescope.

Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities, and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
This is a question that has plagued all creative people. I’m still trying to figure it out. One thing I do know, if you are compelled to create, then by any means necessary, do so.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?

FB – Merrilyn Duzy

La Grande Passione- Merrilyn Duzy by F.Fiorellino – youtube

Museum Contempo, Sheldon, WA

Museum of Encaustic Art, Santa Fe NM

“Art of the Cosmos” exhibit, Pasadena, CA – April 2020“

“Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975” edited by Barbara J. Love

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Photos by Dona Geib (Merrilyn Duzy at Ink & Clay and wearing the cape)
Photo by Patti Akesson (M. Duzy, working with encaustics)
photo by Sam Akesson (Group Nine in studio)
all other images are Merrilyn’s art works photos by Ursula Pastuszka

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition, please let us know here.


  1. Donna Kuehn

    June 27, 2019 at 17:24

    Wow, Merrilyn – I knew some of your history but not nearly enough! Such an enjoyable read!

  2. Joan Mall Baral

    June 28, 2019 at 05:00

    To read of your life and motivations are inspiring, complex, reflective of your era and the role you played in 20th c. imagery. A very well written article, good for you!

  3. Joyce Chamberlain

    June 29, 2019 at 04:43

    Merrilyn – it has been a joy to watch your art unfold since the late ’70s when I met you. I knew you were a pioneer but had no idea how broad that was until reading this article!

  4. Karen Schifman

    June 29, 2019 at 17:54

    Merrilyn, so interesting to learn more about your beginnings and career. I did know something about the erotic art, but not extensively. You are so stunning in those early photos. Such a pleasure to read about you and to know you.

  5. Nancy Costello

    June 29, 2019 at 18:36

    Wonderful to see the article in “VoyageLA” on Merrilyn Duzy and her art. She has been a hidden gem in L.A. for far too long, but not so much anymore. Those who know her, love her, and love her art. I am priveledged to have known Merrilyn my whole life, and know her as the most passionate, and fearless of artists. Creating art from a place in her soul that brims with imagination and inspiration. Her energy is contagious. She is the single candle who lights up the room.

  6. joel case

    June 29, 2019 at 18:47

    Merrilyn, I’ve known and loved you and your art for a (very) long time. This fills in some of the gaps, and leaves me wanting to know more. Autobiography?

  7. Sandie Alger

    June 29, 2019 at 19:00

    This is fabulous, your story, your work and your joy and love of life really does shine through all of it.

    Sandie Alger

  8. Judith Segall

    June 30, 2019 at 02:36

    Thank you for sharing your story, Merrilyn.

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