Challenging The Feminine: Gender Tropes in Classical Painting
May 1-10 2015, UNC Asheville Highsmith Intercultural Gallery
Challenging The Feminine: Gender Tropes in Classical Painting is a series of large-scale, figurative oil paintings. This series investigates modern society’s rigid adherence to outdated gender roles while producing new and contemporary depictions of women in art. In art history, women are rarely portrayed as individuals; rather they are used as representational objects. Paintings depicting powerful elder women are scarce; young women are generally depicted as vulnerable sexual objects; and women in general are reduced to singular traits. Tropes and visual elements are mechanisms which characterize gender in art. The appropriation and juxtaposition of classical male and female poses counteracts the canonical tropes used to paint women.
Other than biological sex, body language, symbols, and environment can also imply gender. In order to protest the classification of gender from a 21st century point of view, classical works depicting the standardization of male and female are used as informative precedents. Male figures are featured in the traditional postures of women, while female figures are placed in poses of undeniable power. Archetypal tropes such as the Three Graces, along with conventions such as direct gaze, and standing poses are used to communicate the idea of contemporary femininity in non-classical representation.
The relationship of the Vanitas genre to gender informs the research of symbolism within figurative painting. Much like gender, Vanitas is used to express dualities. Objects are used to inform the viewer of archetypal dualities such as life versus death, man versus nature, and growth versus decay.
My technique and approach to creating artwork has evolved throughout the course of this research project. A mixed media approach including the use of traditional oil painting, water color, and drawing within my art work further contributed to challenging the preconceptions of duality. Through the consolidation of the composition, dynamic poses, and symbolism the viewer may begin to form their own conclusions about the images in Challenging the Feminine.