Tamara Rey Patri Biography

Tamara Rey Patri




Tamara Nicol Rey Patri (née Tamara Jean Nicol), painter, printmaker, photographer, and sculptor, was born in San Francisco, California on 22 August 1920 to Nora Keating and Robert Nicol. In the late 1930s, Tamara left college to work for the National Youth Administration Art Project, an arm of the WPA's Federal Arts Project. During World War II, she became a trade unionist and was lauded for her efforts in the December 1945 issue of Retail Unionist

That same year she married Noel Rey, a linotype setter and the manager of the French weekly newspaper Le Courrier Français des Etats-Unis. When Rey died in 1956, she took over the managerial position until the paper closed in 1963. In the 1950s, Tamara studied at the California Labor School, an "Old Left" stronghold where she developed the seeds of her aesthetics, but which was shut down in 1957 during the McCarthy era “Red Scare.

She was awarded a scholarship to the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), a hub for the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she studied painting, printmaking, photography, and sculpture. 

In 1969, Tamara Nicol Rey married Giacomo Patri, a Bauhaus-influenced Italian artist, teacher, and musician. He was the author of White Collar, a book of linoleum block prints of Depressions scenes. Patri taught at the California Labor School before founding the Patri School of Art Fundamentals in San Francisco where he met Tamara when she worked as a model in one of his classes. While he was encouraging of her work, it wasn't until after his passing in 1978 that she began to come into her own, focusing on sculpture. Tamara Patri’s industrial, unadorned work is admired for its stark beauty featuring salvaged wood and scrap iron, among other humble materials, fashioned into tall, angular pieces. According to her son, Georges Rey, "She liked severe forms. It wasn't pretty. My mother prided herself on not being pretty."

Tamara Rey Patri was also a parks and green space activist in San Francisco (planting, for example, a slope of trees in the industrial environs of Wisconsin and 22nd streets in 1967) and was co-founder of History and Architecture Resources and Training, a nonprofit group that develops local history curricula for schoolchildren.

Tamara Rey Patri died at home in San Francisco on February 10, 2001.

Information partially sourced from Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers, and Radicals in Britain and the United States by Sheila Rowbotham.