All posts tagged abstraction

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 piece is Man in Bed by contemporary painter Sarah Faux:

Sarah Faux, Man in Bed, 2012, oil and spray paint on canvas, 38 x 42

Sarah Faux, Man in Bed, 2012, oil and spray paint on canvas, 38 x 42

Critics have referred to Faux as a New Casualist (a movement marked by the “studied, passive-aggressive incompleteness to much of the most interesting abstract work that painters are making today.”) and compare her works to those of Jean Dubuffet and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Faux’s paintings are a mix of abstraction and representation; her work is generally figurative but undefined.

Faux is one of the artists at Woman Made Gallery’s Slippery Slope exhibit and her work, Man in Bed, is currently exhibited there. You can see more of Faux’s work on her website.

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: Nancy Grossman’s Male Figure.

Alma Thomas is one of the inescapable artists represented in DC art museums; and rightly so! Being an important member of the Washington Color School and the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney (as well as purportedly being the first black woman to graduate from a fine art program in the US) is no small feat. Her work is popular amongst Color School fans as well as those of the encompassing Color Field Movement. Fun fact: Thomas’s work is also popular with the Obamas, as she is one of the few women artists selected by Michelle Obama to decorate their private White House residence.

Alma Thomas at the Whitney (left), Delightful Song by Red Dahlia, 1976 (right)

Alma Thomas at the Whitney (left), Delightful Song by Red Dahlia, 1976 (right)

Upon graduating high school in 1911, Alma Thomas studied education; first becoming a substitute teacher and later a kindergarten teacher. Thomas earned her BS in fine arts in 1924, proceeding to teach at Shaw Junior High School until her retirement in 1960 (Where she ran a number of art projects benefiting the school, for example, founding its first art gallery and a community arts program). Throughout her career as a teacher she continued to study art, earning a masters in art education from Columbia University and studying painting at American University.

The Stormy Sea, 1958.

The Stormy Sea, 1958.

Thomas had always participated in the DC art community, however her work further evolved and became more highly appreciated following her retirement (A period in which many suggest she created her best work). She was a member of the Washington Color School and The Little Paris Studio. The Washington Color School was part of the Color Field movement, and similar to abstract expressionism in its use of certain tools and techniques, although dissimilar in the psychology behind the work. While many of her peers focused upon social realism during this period, Thomas turned her attention to color and abstract composition. Additionally, her work differed stylistically from many Color Field painters in that she used a primed canvas–allowing paint to build up texturally–and she used color intuitively, feeling constricted by the laws of color theory. Read more →

There are some artists I have to love for their work, and then there are artists like Mary Heilmann, who I mainly love for something else. With Heilmann, she has an incredibly magnetic personality. She has this urge to be in the spotlight and has always chosen the most dramatic options available to her. 

Mary Heilmann

 My 2D design class watched an episode of Art21 featuring both Mary Heilmann and Jeff Koons. While we had all heard of Koons’ work none of us had heard of Heilmann. Upon viewing her paintings we didn’t think they were anything special. Us students are impressed by things that are flashy, exciting, maybe a little bit taboo (This always reminds me of something I heard from one of my teachers at the Cranbrook summer camp: “If you can’t paint well, paint red. If you can’t paint red, paint big. And if you can’t paint big, paint shiny”. If anyone knows who my teacher was quoting I would appreciate you letting me know!). And Heilmann’s work? Heilmann’s work was small. It was colorful, but not in a way we found to be special. And her composition and subject choice at first seemed lacking.

However, as we continued on through the episode we started to feel two things. 

  1. Jeff Koons should really stop trying to excuse the fact that he has workers who physically make the pieces he designs. We knew and accepted this from the start, and the defensiveness just make him appear to feel guilty.
  2. Mary Heilmann may be one of the most entertaining Art21 artists we had ever watched. Her amazing personality extended to her work, which became interesting, groundbreaking. It was subversive and surprising in a way that was less overt than Koons’ sculptures. 

"Go Ask Alice" (2006)

Heilmann originally studied ceramics, and we can see the influence of ceramics upon work  throughout her career. While many artists treat a canvas as merely a two dimensional object, flat surfaces with sides only acting as extra, rather than a part of the work, Heilmann treats her canvases as three dimensional pieces. She’s quoted as saying,
First they’re objects and then they’re pictures of something.
We can see this in her use of nontraditional canvas shapes and thus her incorporation of the sides of canvases and the walls into her work. We also see this in her use of other three dimensional objects, such as brightly painted chairs to slide around and view her work in.

The viewer would sit in these chairs and view Heilmann's paintings. They gave the audience the ability to roll around the gallery.

The thing that my class loved so much about Heilmann was her desire to be contrary. To go against what was popular at the time (in this case, nontraditional materials in sculpture, ceramics, etc) and embrace what was considered a bit passe (the seemingly less and less important field of painting). Despite defying some of her ceramics teacher’s requests and often making work that they did not like, Heilmann won awards and made a number of useful connections at this time. These connections are part of the reason she left the field of ceramics and entered the field of painting. As she entered New York in 1968 her goal was still to excel at nontraditional materials and “play with the boys”, the boys being renowned artists such as Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Donald Judd. However, the art world was still very much a boys only club, and Heilmann found it difficult to gain acceptance into this group of sculptors. Heilmann, of course, didn’t give up. She instead defiantly refocused her efforts on a field many sculptors of the 60’s looked down upon, painting. In fact, Heilmann said of this shift,

I wanted to be on the edge. Original. And that meant going against the status quo.

Read more →