Tag Archives: gender

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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Female Gaze Friday: Nina Chanel Abney

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 the work of painter Nina Chanel Abney:

Nina Chanel Abney, King of Sorrow, 2010, acrylic on canvas

Nina Chanel Abney, King of Sorrow, 2010, acrylic on canvas

Nina Chanel Abney, The Boardroom, acrylic on canvas, diptych, 77"x153.5" (overall)

Nina Chanel Abney, The Boardroom, acrylic on canvas, diptych, 77″x153.5″ (overall)

Nina Chanel Abney, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas

Nina Chanel Abney, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas

Figures in Abney’s paintings are often ambiguous in terms of gender and race. While they at first appear to be male with emphasized mustaches and jock straps that leave little to the imagination, you’ll notice that many have highlighted breasts or other feminine features.

Her works often feature colorful, distorted celebrities in surprising situations (or political figures who are treated as celebrities). Of her subject matter Abney says, “I’m fascinated by how celebrity news has become not more interesting, but more important than politics. I like to infuse that with race issues.” There are strong narratives throughout her paintings, but they’re disjointed. It’s usually difficult to understand what exactly is going on.

Abney’s figurative work is personally very inspiring. The way she creates abstracted stories that make the viewer think harder about what they’re seeing appeals to me, and the themes of gender, race, and celebrity are highly relevant to the world today.

You can take a look at more of Abney’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 Meghan Howland.

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Female Gaze Friday: Amy Sherald

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’s works are The Rabbit in the Hat, Pony Boy, and High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain’t No Cotton Pickin’ Negroes by painter Amy Sherald:

Amy Sherald, The Rabbit in the Hat, 2009, oil on canvas, 54"x43"

Amy Sherald, The Rabbit in the Hat, 2009, oil on canvas, 54″x43″

Amy Sherald, Pony Boy, 2008, oil on canvas, 54"x43"

Amy Sherald, Pony Boy, 2008, oil on canvas, 54″x43″

Amy Sherald, High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain't No Cotton Pickin' Negroes, 2011, oil on canvas, 59"x69"

Amy Sherald, High Yella Masterpiece: We Ain’t No Cotton Pickin’ Negroes, 2011, oil on canvas, 59″x69″

Amy Sherald’s paints portraits of black men and women in which she removes all color from their skin. In Sherald’s words,  her work “began as an exploration to exclude the idea of color as race from my paintings by removing “color” but still portraying racialised bodies as objects to be viewed through portraiture”. Her figures started out with fairytale-like details which constructed an alternate version of black history. From there, her work evolved to place black figures in environments like circuses, which more directly called out themes of blackness and racialisation.

Sherald’s work focuses on self-identity and constructed identities. She draws from her own experiences as one of the few black children in her private schools and how her identity was formed by those experiences.

I saw one of Sherald’s paintings at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and was struck by the sparing use of color and the flatness of certain portions of her paintings. If you ever have the chance to see her work, go! Her paintings are even more striking in person.

You can see more of Amy Sherald’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: Sasha Panyuta’s Bryan.

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Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Women Are Not Seeking Your Validation”

Women Are Not Seeking Your Validation

Check out this Hyperallergic post on artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s project, Stop Telling Women to Smile. Fazlalizadeh’s posters mimic public PSAs and attempt to educate the public on how it feels to be a woman in a public space. Her project addresses the idea that women’s bodies and behaviors are a public commodity, and the idea that it’s ok for men to tell a woman to smile.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project

This is Fazlalizadeh’s project after a few days:

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project after a few days

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project after a few days

Part of Fazlalizadeh’s work is exhibiting the reaction she receives to her pieces. It’s interesting but, unfortunately, unsurprising that they range from telling her to “Relax!”, to sharing unsolicited advice “A cocky woman who blows a guy off isn’t that attractive, no matter how good you look”, to just plain old aggression “ARGUE BOUT THIS DICK– STFU! BE4 I RIP IT DOWN”.

Read the Hyperallergic post here and see more responses to Fazlalizadeh’s posters here.

What do you think about Fazlalizadeh’s work? How is the commentary part of the art?

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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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Welcoming the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art

I’m a little late to the game on this; yet however belated I may be it’s too exciting not to post! The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA), the first museum dedicated to the hirstory and art of transgender people, recently introduced itself in an open letter. The museum’s mission is stated as such:

“The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art (MOTHA) is dedicated to moving the history and art of transgender people to the center of public life. The preeminent institution of its kind, the museum insists on an expansive and unstable definition of transgender, one that is able to encompass all transgender and gender–non-conformed art and artists. MOTHA is committed to developing a robust exhibition and programming schedule that will enrich the transgender mythos both by exhibiting works by living artists and by honoring the hiroes and transcestors who have come before. Pending the construction of MOTHA, the museum will function as a series of autonomous off-site experiences around the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the world.”

A diagram from MOTHA displaying the amount of transgender people currently, formerly, or projected to be incarcerated. The number of transgender people identifying as artists as compared to representation of transgender artists in museums.

A diagram from MOTHA displaying the amount of transgender people currently, formerly, or projected to be incarcerated. The number of transgender people identifying as artists as compared to representation of transgender artists in museums.

MOTHA is filling a desperately needed role. According to MOTHA’s open letter, the majority of transgender people identify as artists; however they lack representation in public art institutions. This is unfortunate as there are a number of transgender artists making innovative and high quality work (Take a look at one of their upcoming artists, Nicki Green. An artist statement and several examples of her work can be found here).

It’s heartening to see the museum’s changeability– they point out its “expansive and unstable definition of transgender” in the mission statement. MOTHA is poised to reflect the current artistic landscape, evolve with concepts of gender, and adapt to new modes of thinking in art museums. It will be exciting to see how they implement exhibits and programming and how their museum interacts with both transgender and cisgender communities.

But don’t just take it from me! Read about everything from MOTHA’s mission, programming, facility and more in the open letter. And learn more about the museum and upcoming events here.

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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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Victorian Ceramics: How the Craft was Feminized and Subsequently Devalued

Decoration and domestic crafts have long been looked down upon as a feminine art form, less important than supposedly masculine fine art. The practice of devaluing women’s work is highly evident in the Victorian era, in which female artists were undervalued and overly criticized in comparison to their male peers. By observing the treatment and reception of women in the ceramics industry one can understand that Victorian ideas of separate spheres and gendered economics contributed to the feminization and subsequent devaluation of crafts.

Vase by Hannah Barlow

Vase by Hannah Barlow

The Arts and Crafts movement had potential to be politically radical, an impressive advancement for women’s rights. It was born out of the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and, according to Clarissa Campbell Orr, was viewed by Victorian critics Ruskin and Morris as “part of the cure for the ugliness and dehumanization wrought by industrialisation”.[1] However, while the movement was arguably successful in lessening urban squalor and assisting the rural poor, it was less effective in its claims to help women. While the movement largely depended upon women’s labor it simultaneously clung to the kyriarchal idea that wealthy, white men should dominate the workforce. A strange balance was created, one in which women were able to work in ceramics, yet found their work to be unpaid and deemphasized. Employers’ treatment of women became one of the main contributing factors to the crafts’ lessened status.[2] Continue reading

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Gender Imbalances in Art Museums

Sorry for the unintended hiatus readers! This quarter has been a busy one (I’ll post some of my paintings as well as a paper shortly). However! I’ve recently entered a long period of free time (Fitting a semester of study abroad into my university’s quarter system is not ideal) and posts should be up on a more frequent basis.

For now, I’d like to suggest reading Museum 2.0’s article on the gender imbalance in art museums. This is an incredible blog and a fascinating subject, so definitely check it out!

Quick summary of the article: women usually make up the majority of art museum staff. Is this a problem?

In my opinion, no. Well, it is a problem, but not for the reasons you may suspect. While there are some who view women-dominated industries to be just as problematic as ones dominated by men, they’re not. For one, there are no systematic barriers in place deterring men from working in women-dominated fields (With the exception of working with young children–which is also a result of patriarchy). A helpful comparison is to think of the field of computer science, which is mainly made up of men. This is due to a number of reasons: women are raised to believe they are worse at math, women are discouraged from choosing fields that are considered too “hard” for them, women are driven away from the field because of a women-unfriendly environment, and so on.

So women are deterred from computer science because they are neither wanted nor welcome (Often, not always! My mother is actually a software engineering professor and she is very successful in her field. It’s not impossible, simply more difficult). Is this the same reasoning behind men not working in art museums?

No. No no no no no.

Art museums require a high level of education yet often offer low levels of pay. The types of people drawn to an art museum are overwhelmingly women (Overwhelmingly middle class white women in fact, due to an ability to participate in the unpaid internships required for the field) likely due in part to women being raised to value our time and our work less. It’s why women are more likely to volunteer, work for free, or contribute more work to a joint household (aka, work for free). Additionally, many women are subtly encouraged to become art historians or work in museums rather than create their own work. Not because women’s artwork is worse, but because of sexist ideas that are long-lasting and difficult to end.

Not necessarily! We also get to work there!

Men are deterred from art museums not because they are neither wanted nor welcome, but because it is one of the fields they do not want to work in. The pay isn’t great, the recognition isn’t great, and men are generally not rerouted in this direction from fields they may have more interest in. In fact, many of the major positions in museums (Director, curators, the higher ups in the departments) are taken by men. Even in fields dominated by women, men still hold power.

So actually yes, in my opinion, the gender imbalance in museums is a problem, but not a problem that can be solved by the women in museum staff. Rather it is the result of a patriarchal society that often values women’s work less and we can solve it by… ending sexism.  Which is easier said than done! And is also a task that women working in museums, who, according to the article, are very careful not to exclude men, should be responsible for. I’d also argue that the people demanding gender equality in art museums because of too many women are the art world’s version of the upset college dudes demanding the first thing feminism fix be ladies night at the bar. And hey, no one likes that dude. That dude is very tiresome.

But don’t just take it from me! My experience with gender imbalances in the art field is drawn from art school, internships at a gallery and museum (The Corcoran is largely run by women! It was definitely an eye opening experience. Additionally, of approximately fifteen interns only one was male), and from what I’ve learned in class and online. Obviously my perspective is limited by my youth. Click over to the article and learn more from someone with far more experience and stories to tell!

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