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Female Gaze Friday: Joan Semmel

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 look at a series of erotic paintings by feminist artist Joan Semmel:

Joan Semmel, Intimacy-Autonomy, 1974, oil on canvas, 50" x 98"

Joan Semmel, Intimacy-Autonomy, 1974, oil on canvas, 50″ x 98″

Joan Semmel, Erotic Yellow, 1971-1973, oil on canvas, 72" x 72"

Joan Semmel, Erotic Yellow, 1971-1973, oil on canvas, 72″ x 72″

Joan Semmel, Untitled, 1971, oil on canvas, 70" x 80"

Joan Semmel, Untitled, 1971, oil on canvas, 70″ x 80″

Joan Semmel, Flip-Flop, 1971, oil on canvas

Joan Semmel, Flip-Flop, 1971, oil on canvas

Feminist artist Joan Semmel created the first of the Erotic Series in the early 1970s. Her highly sexualized images depict men and women as equals, transforming their bodies into sensual landscapes. This series often focused on a lounging nude seen from the model’s point of view, effectively drawing the viewer into the image, while later paintings would take a more voyeuristic point of view.

As a first-wave feminist, Semmel worked to free the female nude from a patriarchal history. She said of her work, “My intention has been to subvert the tradition of the passive female nude”. Semmel does this well, addressing cultural obsessions with women’s youth and beauty through imagery including mannequins and self portraiture. Her nudes are equals, and are clearly far more than objects of the male gaze.

Semmel’s work is incredibly inspiring for a number of reasons, including her skillful use of color and composition, as well as her unique depiction of the male nude.

You can see more of Semmel’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: Sculptors Village by photographer Chiara Goia.

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