Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Praise of Women - Eleven Portraits

For Women's History Month:

Lately, I've had a real yen to "just paint" and have had a reprieve between projects. I bought a bunch of small canvases and started a somewhat improvisational process. If you know me, you know I have a thing for women's faces [just look at my collection!]. It got me thinking as I started sketching...

What does it mean, really, to be a woman. To be a positive influence on the world. What might great women - from Cleopatra to Elizabeth I to Florence Nightingale to my Grandma to Gloria Steinam to Hillary Clinton to Lady Gaga have in common?

I decided to create a group of portraits to depict eleven aspects of women. These portraits are not a complete definition of womanhood, but a positive portrayal in paint.

So what are the best things about women? We're tenacious, we're intelligent, we multi-task...

There are the obvious biological components, physical attributes, genetics. Half of the earth's population - or more - are female.

Okay, so beyond being female and having an assortment of specific organs and other goodies.

But spare me two things:
Let's not even discuss beauty - for several reasons. One, it's fleeting, and these days what many call beauty could very well be a concoction dreamed up by a magazine editor or a plastic surgeon.
For another - every society has a different version of how physical beauty is manifest - a face, a figure, the length of your neck or your tiny feet.
Different times called for different needs. To be considered beautiful a generation ago meant straight hair and an upturned nose...the generation before loved curves...many generations before, the ability to lead a team of oxen behind a plow or survive influenza or childbirth was a big plus.

So let's take physical beauty off the table.

I'd also like to dismiss "hotness" as evidence of womanhood. Sex appeal for the sake of being an object of lust or gratuitous sexuality is quite frankly, subjective. And, not in the realm of my sort of definition or thought process. And some of the worst aspects of womanhood can be related to sexuality - as a tool, a weapon - or exploitation - or as victims. Sexuality is a double-edged sword.

A lot of negative things can be said about some women recently. Rush Limbaugh calling a law student a slut, whore, prostitute just because she wants birth control covered by her insurance? Laws that force women to have ultrasounds and listen to heartbeats prior to an abortion?

Perhaps there are false, scheming, money-hungry, sluts. Negative things can be said about men. Or anyone.

There is so much more to being a woman. I'm keeping this light. Positive. What I am trying to create is an ideal picture - and it's my ideal of womanhood. I am sure I've left out attributes.

I am also not looking to re-create a mother, a daughter or a friend or lover by creating this grouping.

Once you get to a certain age, you realize that within a society, people fit into "types." No one is exactly one way or another. It's not complete, but these ideas came from several weeks of painting these eleven portraits. Different faces, expressions, ages. Eleven aspects of womanhood. Of course, the combination of all eleven aspects - in one portrait, so to speak, would create a "perfect" woman.

This collection of eleven small [11x14" each] paintings on canvas creates the combination.

The portraits themselves are random faces - no one in particular, and none are the same. This was an improvisational process.

They started out as line drawings on canvas, then I focused on the faces, using the same color scheme for all of them [you can't tell by the photos]. They were all redheads with green eyes [no particular reason]. As I kept painting, I started making slight changes to colors. I pulled in; keeping the portraits an 8" square and created a translucent background - keeping the original sketch lines painted. The titles are hand-painted. There is a bit of gold-leafing and tiny mosaic tiles "frame" each portrait. Then I created small tiles of gel and translucent and metallic colors; and from junk mail. They're all in gold metal frames. The pics below show them before the tiles were added; the pic above is the completed group. Not a great shot, I admit, but the glass reflects light [and me with a camera].

Here are the eleven - as I see it -
1. Genuine: She is open, a loving friend, partner, parent, daughter, she is loyal, you can count on her, she is sharing and honest.

2. Wistful: She is hopeful, spiritual, sentimental, is positive and forward thinking, respectful of people, animals and the environment. 

3. Expressive: She is humorous and witty, ready to try anything, adventurous, spontaneous, eloquent in her own way and always enthusiastic.

4. Strong: A confident demeanor, independent in thought and deed, vigilant, enterprising and ready to take on any dare.

5. Alluring: She is quietly sensual, in private she is enticing an vulnerable, exciting with a fascinating personality.

6. Sincere: Helpful and kind to others, truly caring about people and causes; altruistic and sweet.

7. Feminine: She is attractive and charming to all, both mysterious and sensitive, she is naturally curious about the world.

8. Knowing: She is thoughtful and serene, wise and perceptive listener, discriminating and intelligent.
9. Nurturing: A giving partner and empathetic friend, attentive to those she loves, she is protective as well as compassionate.

10. Natural: She does not artifice to glow, she is demure, tolerant and calm with subtle touch and grace.
11. Creative: she has a lively and disciplined imagination that works for her, she is inventive, nimble and playful and clever.

This is a preview - the entire collection and individual pics will be posted on my site soon. Please email me if you are interested in seeing details.

I hope my little paintings reflect the best in womanhood. I'm looking forward to your feedback!

This is a bit of a departure from my mosaic portraits, but painting is fundamental to all of those. The collection is currently at my home studio - they will be hanging in my studio/gallery in Richmond, VA later this week!

To see the rest of my work, please visit