Soft Curses, 2019

A curse is a spell that lingers. It’s a means for a ritual. A tool for a conjuring. Capable of hope. The supposition of power.

What does female power look like, and how do we learn it? I’ve wrestled with this question the last few years. I’ve looked at (and copied) images of women in fashion magazines. I’ve studied (and played with) that easy cliché that aligns women with flowers: soft, delicate, and prone to wilting. Temporary pleasures.

In this new body of work, I’ve shifted to thinking about what female power can do. It’s been a dark year for women (like most years, really), and yet women keep showing up, telling their stories, making art, making me hopeful. These paintings are imbued with that hope, and my intention is for that hope to be a form of power—an energy that makes its way into the world and assists with much needed change.

In “Hope in the Dark,” Rebecca Solnit refers to hope as being “an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable.”[1] Hope as a leap of faith. To call it an embrace has a bodily warmth to it—the unknown held against the body as an act of conjuring. In painting, the unknown, for me, is present in moments of abstraction or visual confusion. As an artist, and as a viewer, I always want something familiar and recognizable to bring me into a painting, however it’s abstraction that holds my attention longest. I want languid brushstrokes, blurs, swipes of impasto, hard lines next to soft shapes, and strange moments where the drip of one color eats away at another, revealing the layers below. These non-representational moments deny a literal read and channel the unknown.

In an essay about the work of Amy Sillman, Helen Molesworth writes, “For me feminism is a critique of power and mastery, and most of all it’s a warning about how the combination of mastery and power has historically led to violence. One result of this questioning of power is that unknowability emerges as a kind of virtue.”[2] To unpack this in reverse order: unknowability is what you get when you turn away from expectations of mastery in art, and therefore unknowability has its own power. It’s not a power based in violence or control. It’s a strength based in trust, or hope. For Molesworth, unknowability isn’t abstraction, rather it’s a relinquishing of the desire for perfection, and yet for me they make sense together when abstraction allows for a relinquishing of specific expectation.

The paintings in this series begin with the premise of hope and the simple shape of a horizontal ring of flowers, or sometimes just the ring itself. The ring has a feminine quality, and I think of it as a location for ritual or a space for transformation. I don’t know exactly what the ritual will bring, or what will arise from the transformation, but I hope that it is something good.

[1] Solnit, Rebecca, Hope in the Dark (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), xiv.

[2] Molesworth, Helen, Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two (New York: Pressel, 2013), 52.

All Sacred Objects Are Dangerous, 2018

I’m interested in still life—the simple combination of foreground, background, and object—as a way of exploring how image making transforms a subject into an object. The history of painting is flooded with images of women who have been distilled down to an object of reverence, something to be coveted and consumed. More recently, pop culture delivers a deluge of images of women off balance, cut up, twisted, and prone. Femininity is prescribed through images, and consistently presents itself as contradictions: strong yet broken, upright yet cut down. Advertising uses flowers as a stand in for femininity, so much so that the simple combination of a woman’s face and a single rose is the basis for most perfume ads. There’s humor in this simplification, yet any form of extreme distillation has an inherent violence. In my recent work, I play with this idea of flowers representing the female body, and by incorporating moments of rupture and fantasy, I seek to consider a counter-femininity that is powerful, self-possessed, and disregarding of the viewer’s satisfaction.

The Fairest, 2018

The history of painting is, like any history, a story of people granted voice by their culture. As a woman painter, I’m troubled by the question of how I would have fit into the history of my medium, and the reality that most likely, I wouldn’t. In these recent paintings, I’ve explored my desire to see myself in paintings’ history by incorporating reflective surfaces that reflect my image as I make them. They’re not true mirrors—my image is abstracted and faint—but the complicated act of finding myself within them mimics my struggle to find my female forbearers.

Over the last few years, a major theme in my work has been how women appear in popular media, and how the ideas of female beauty that they present serve to disempower women. I often combine abstraction—as well as blurring, dripping, cropping, and obfuscation—with direct references to these images in order to explore my complicated relationship to the images themselves. It’s complicated because I experience pleasure when looking at them, but they fill me with trepidation. My work is often mainly figurative with moments of abstraction, but with this new series of paintings I sought to flip that hierarchy and let the abstraction and obfuscation be primary. I wanted to convey my feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness regarding how women are disbelieved and discredited in our culture, while considering my own complicity.

It’s a dark and disturbing time for women, and for so many groups of people who have been left out of history’s stories and continue to be ignored, disempowered, abused, and erased. I see these paintings as witnesses for myself, for my anger, and for my desire to make paintings that have a voice in the contemporary discourse. But at the same time, I hope that they can be, in their way, mirrors that invite the viewer to be seen in whatever way they wish.

The Love Object, 2017

The Love Object is a series of paintings that combine imagery from fashion advertising with disruptive elements in order to consider ideas of femininity and female power. I’m interested in fashion—and particularly the fashion advertising that appears in women’s magazines—as a place of fantasy that both proposes and prescribes ideas of female power. As a consumer of these images, I seek to explore my own desire to both inhabit and critique the standards these images create.

I’m interested in women’s magazines and the images therein because they serve as one of the only resources for women to learn what female power looks like, and yet so often this power is coupled with disempowerment. The strong woman appears off balance; the sensuously parted lips share a face with fearful eyes; the romantic kiss contains a hint of sadness. These images teach a careful game of control and moderation.

The vast majority of paintings in art history assume the gaze and desire of a male viewer. Contemporary fashion images, however, assume a female viewer and invite her to imagine a product-based metamorphosis wherein her own body might inspire adoration from another’s gaze. With this in mind, I select images from fashion advertisements that propose the possibility of transformation: a lipstick that promises more kissable lips, a diamond ring that might summon augmented power, a bottle of sweet perfume that might attract a lover. I see in the act of painting a vampiric element, wherein I the painter take ownership of—and in a way become—that which I paint. In a way, these paintings become self-portraits of my own acquisition of new bodies and newfound adoration. They confirm my complicity with the proffered transaction, allowing me the identity of both viewer and viewed.

Parallel to my search for fashion imagery, I seek images from art history that present a feeling of femininity. In particular, I’m drawn to the paintings of nineteenth century painter Henri Fantin Latour, who gained prominence for his beautiful paintings of floral still lifes. With their softness and frontal presentation, these still lifes remind me of odalisques in that they invite consumption. I borrow elements from these still lifes—a vase, a flower, or a full composition—and incorporate them into my fashion paintings in order to create disruption within the composition. These historical references—as well as more formal disruptions such are blurring, drips, and occasional impasto—serve to express my ambivalence regarding the fashion images I use.

‘Objectification’ is a word often used to describe the process of transforming a body into something that can be owned. I see a danger in re-presenting the images I find in fashion magazines, because these images already go so far in objectifying their models, and to re-present these images through painting can potentially reify the violence of the original presentation. However, by incorporating the genre of still life—which focuses on the presentation of objects—I seek to obviate the consumability of these images while resituating them in a space of new potential power.