Tag Archives: portraiture

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: 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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Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America

I just ran across an incredibly interesting project, Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America. It’s a collection of short films and photographic portraits of queer Americans today.

Cat & Brittany (2009) Read their story here.

The project aim is to paint (Photograph?) a collective portrait of what it now means to be queer in America; the artists, photographer Molly Landreth and videographer Amelia Tovey, sharing with us a group of people living their everyday lives. With this project the artists hope to change certain negative perceptions of the queer community as well as offer queer Americans the opportunity to speak for themselves. The portraits include those living in cities and countrysides, who are old and young, gay, bi, pan, trans and cis. They include people from a variety of backgrounds with greatly differing sexual and gender identities. They’re creating a diverse portrayal of queer America and expanding our knowledge of the queer community in general. 

Travis at Gay Skate (2005). Read Travis's story here.

The site is releasing portraits and films, including this trailer of a film they’re working on, throughout the year.  Continue reading

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Women in Art: Clarity Haynes

"Her There From Here" (2008)

I am concerned with psychological and emotional states and the tensions within them: rage and tenderness, confrontation and concealment, empathy and autonomy. I am fascinated by the history of portraiture in painting and by the ways in which changing conventions reflect ideas about gender.  -Haynes

Clarity Haynes is a contemporary American artist working in a realistic style, utilizing soft chalk pastel to create life-like depictions of women, and in her most well-known project, women’s torsos.

Breast Portrait Installation (2011)

Entitled the Breast Portrait Project, Haynes focuses exclusively upon women’s bodies and particularly upon their torsos and breasts. Usually artistic depictions of bodies without faces seem objectifying, appear to drain the personality and the perceived value of a person from the image. Haynes’ work is different in that it doesn’t objectify, it celebrates! These bodies have personality, they differ in unique and intriguing ways. In fact, Haynes is referencing and questioning our society’s conflation of faces with identities. In Haynes’ own words,

The face is our commonly recognized self – our “mask” of identity. Focusing exclusively on the torso shines a light on a part of the individual that is usually hidden. Each torso bears traces of unique personal experience: tattoos, childbirth, aging, stretchmarks and surgical interventions.

I’ve seen some discussion on whether Haynes’ work still objectifies women’s bodies, as her portraits don’t include faces. This is a brilliant response to the discussion. I personally feel that this is a healthy attitude to take, where we don’t behave as though we’re blind to others’ bodies, but that we’re conscious of them. We respect them. And that we don’t negatively judge them for differing from societal norms. Faces will distract from bodies in works of art as people viewing a painting, drawing, or photograph often disproportionately focus on faces rather than the overall figure. I think that choosing to exclude faces from these portraits is a reflection of the artist’s carefully considered choices, and I applaud the thought she’s put into her explanation. I also think that her photographs of women with their portraits fully addresses any remaining concerns of objectification. Continue reading

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