Tag Archives: Figure Painting

Female Gaze Friday: Dana Schutz

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll be looking at paintings by Dana Schutz:

Dana Schutz, Reclining Nude, 2002, oil on canvas, 48"x66"

Dana Schutz, Reclining Nude, 2002, oil on canvas, 48″x66″

Dana Schutz, Frank in the Desert, 2002, oil on canvas, 183x137cm

Dana Schutz, Frank in the Desert, 2002, oil on canvas, 183x137cm

Dana Schutz, Men's Retreat, oil on canvas, 96"x120"

Dana Schutz, Men’s Retreat, oil on canvas, 96″x120″

Dana Schutz, Face Eater, oil on canvas, 18"x23"

Dana Schutz, Face Eater, oil on canvas, 18″x23″

Dana Schutz is a highly influential contemporary figurative painter. She creates interesting characters and situations; for example, the first two images here (Reclining Nude and Frank in the Desert) depict an imaginary character named Frank. In this scenario, Schutz is the last painter in the world and Frank the last subject. He is trapped on a desert island and painted again and again. The Frank From Observation paintings are interesting, in that he is repeatedly reinvented as a wild man, a fantasy for women, or one of any number of unusual professions. Schutz and Frank react to one another. Even though he is imaginary he is full of personality and understands the situation. Frank may rebel and be sunburnt or even killed in retaliation. The artist doesn’t mourn him though; Frank always comes back to life.

Like the Frank series, Schutz’s Self-Eaters are cyclical. They die and are reborn and they constantly consume themselves. Schutz considered this series to have a looser narrative and these works spin off in a number of directions. Schutz’s work thrives with themes of destruction and dismemberment, especially through her use of bright colors and whimsical humor.

See more of Shutz’s work here and read a great interview with the artist here. Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Paintings by Holly Coulis.

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Female Gaze Friday: Holly Coulis

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll take a look at the paintings of Holly Coulis:

Holly Coulis, Holidays, 2008, oil on canvas, 29"x26"

Holly Coulis, Holidays, 2008, oil on linen, 29″x26″

Holly Coulis, Grouse, 2008, oil on linen, 54"x48"

Holly Coulis, Grouse, 2008, oil on linen, 54″x48″

Holly Coulis, Carnation and Bird, 2013, oil on linen, 40"x32"

Holly Coulis, Carnation and Bird, 2013, oil on linen, 40″x32″

Holly Coulis, Blue Skies, 2008, oil on linen, 36"x30"

Holly Coulis, Blue Skies, 2008, oil on linen, 36″x30″

These paintings are part of Coulis’s Men series. Her images depict an invented cast of average albeit strange men living their lives. Men sit still while birds perch on their shoulders, relax, or enjoy the landscape (sometimes in the nude!) This causes us to create mythologies about who they are.

Because Coulis is a woman, we view her work in the context of a history in which men typically painted women. According to the Cherry and Martin gallery, “As a female artist picturing men, Coulis’ paintings are not political per se; rather they present a shift in the focus from what has come to be an expected relationship.  Coulis uses this investigation to imagine her subject’s inner life, exploring the intersection of masculinity and vulnerability.  In doing so, she engages in a dialogue with such painters as David Hockney, Alice Neel and Sylvia Sleigh, all of whom used portraiture as a way of investigating intimacy, subjecthood and self-identity.”

Coulis’s paintings use bright, bold colors and simple geometric forms. Her work is similar to Alex Katz or David Hockney in depicting still figures and using flattened blocks of color.

See more of Coulis’s work here. Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Paintings by Nina Chanel Abney.

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Melissa Huang: Updated Portfolio

To all of my fellow artists and art enthusiasts: I’ve done some portfolio restructuring and now my artwork is separated into the easy to peruse categories of painting, drawing, sculpture, and printmaking. Check it out here!

Melissa (2012)

Melissa, 2012, oil on canvas, 36″x48″

Peter, 2012, oil on canvas, 36"x48"

Peter, 2012, oil on canvas, 36″x48″

Feel free to contact me (mah5588@rit.edu) if you’re interested in purchasing a piece, commissioning a portrait, or if you’re just plain curious about one of the works. Thanks, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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New Paintings: Fall 2012/Spring 2013 Artwork by Melissa Huang

This past fall at Rochester Institute of Technology and this spring at Florence University of the Arts, I’ve been able to create a number of new paintings which I’d love to share with you! Remember, you can always see my current work on the portfolio page of this site.

These are the two main paintings I created during the fall (each one is 3 x 4 feet). I was exploring themes of childhood and gender expression. These paintings were accompanied by three smaller works, close-up images of hands clutching toys.

Melissa Huang, Drew, 2012, oil on canvas, 48"x36"

Melissa Huang, Drew, 2012, oil on canvas, 48″x36″

Melissa Huang, Jamie, 2012, oil on canvas, 36"x48"

Melissa Huang, Jamie, 2012, oil on canvas, 36″x48″

These two pieces refer back to this work and this work.

And here’s the main painting I created this past spring (While studying in Florence. I’ll freely admit it, the altars and paintings of saints heavily influenced me!):

Melissa Huang, Self-Portrait as a Young Woman, 2013, oil on canvas, 31.5"x 47"

Melissa Huang, Self-Portrait as a Young Woman, 2013, oil on canvas, 31.5″x 47″

I’m trying to move in a new direction with this piece. Here’s the statement for this work:

Many young women feel trapped between two worlds; that of childhood and adulthood, purity and new found sexuality. My work depicts the tension between the innocence of youth and conflicted feelings of womanhood. While at times my paintings tend toward the soft and feminine at others they are aggressively confrontational. It is the contrast between these two states I wish to emphasize. These works explore feelings of new desire, naivety, and the intriguing fear of the unknown.

And here’s an accompanying animation I designed (it’s best if viewed as a loop). The music is created by Drew Tetz (graphic design portfolio here, music here).

So there you have it! I’m excited to return to my final year at RIT and create a ton of new artwork. I’d love to hear any questions or comments!

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Women in Art: Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks has many names. Among them, she is “the patron saint of lesbian artists”, chillingly called the “thief of souls”, and is a self-described “child-martyr”. Brooks is an intriguing artist with an unhappy upbringing, captivating relationships, and an almost heroic path from nothing to everything. At times her life threatens to overshadow her equally striking work (I’m actually going to skip over writing an overview of Brook’s life. It’s incredibly interesting but work detailing her life already exists in spades. Check out the Wikipedia page for a quick look). Her work alone is very compelling and contains a psychology that was innovative and influential for the era.

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

An American figure painter who spent her life an expat in Europe, Brooks is still largely unknown outside of queer/feminist art circles. Brooks enjoyed a public revival during the 1980s as figurative art began to come back in vogue. Her work has a strange pull. The figures are imbued with intriguing psychology, strengthened by Brook’s preferred cool, muted palettes and strong black lines. It’s unsurprising that contemporary queer and feminist artists are attracted to Brooks’ work given its subject matter and technique. Her works depict women—friends and lovers—posed to express their strength, individuality, and—most importantly—a newly visible lesbian identity. This is an atypical portrayal of women at the time. Certainly most artist did not paint women with short hair and masculine suits, and generally their women were more abstract; more decorative and less real.

Let’s start with a quick analysis of Brooks’ style. Her paintings generally feature very dramatic figures against static, emotionally charged backgrounds. The figures stand tall and there is a focus on angularity; the artist emphasizes jutting collar bones and gaunt faces using strategic modeling, mark making, and liberal application of black outlines. Her figures are not happy, but they are resilient. Their faces are visible and engaging in a way that makes it clear we are not just supposed to appreciate a painting of a woman; we are supposed to appreciate a painting of this woman. And these women do not comply with the era’s traditional ideas of femininity nor do they exist simply to decorate.Take, for instance, the portrait of friend and fellow artist, Gluck:

Romaine Brooks, Peter (A Young English Girl), 1923-1924

Romaine Brooks, Peter (A Young English Girl), 1923-1924

This painting is titled, Peter (A Young English Girl). The sitter, Hannah Gluckstein, was a contemporary artist and good friend of Brooks . The two friends painted one another, resulting in this piece and an unfinished piece by Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein worked under the name of Gluck and preferred to be called Peter within her circle of friends). The title of the piece contrasts with Gluck’s androgyny, as sans title the viewer might not guess Gluck’s gender. It asks the viewer to take a closer look and think about the identity of the woman portrayed. Gluck’s androgyny is emphasized by her clothing, wearing a sharp jacket, holding a men’s hat, and sporting a short, boyish haircut. Both Brooks and Gluck were attracted to women and found that the current style of menswear inspired fashion suited them. These suits were a great way for upper class lesbians to identify one another while remaining discreet. The fact that they were wearing masculine clothing was frequently overlooked in light of their wealth and status. Those who were not looking for lesbian sexuality viewed these clothing choices as more of a quirk of wealth and fashion.

Brooks produced work during the modernist period. Because of this, she was often judged unfavorably for her traditional use of composition and her Whistler-inspired palettes (It’s almost impossible to read an article about Brooks that does not compare her to Whistler. It’s certainly a fair comparison although certain critics use it solely to dismiss her work). Many note that Brooks’ work leans towards Symbolism and criticize it as old fashioned. However, Brooks has recently been reexamined in a queer/feminist context that recognizes her works’ innovation in its portrayal of women as psychological and not just decorative subjects. Also noted is her incorporation of personal identity into portraits of others. By working in a traditional style of naturalistic portraiture, she can utilize existing norms to depict a new lesbian identity. According to Elliott and Wallace in a piece on Romaine Brooks and Natalie Barney in the context of the avant-garde, “Upsetting the signifying practices of the dominant social order entails not only finding new forms of writing and painting but the construction of new meanings, identities, and communities” (Elliott, Bridget, and Jo-Ann Wallace. “Fleurs du Mal or Second-Hand Roses?: Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, and the ‘Originality of the Avant-Garde’.” Feminist Review 40 (1992): 24.). One can understand that it is not just the style of work that requires examination and innovation, but the content. Continue reading

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