Paintings and sculptures of beautiful female subjects are not anything new to your average art aficionado. Last Friday evening, many gathered at the “First Friday” opening at Artists’ House Gallery in downtown Philadelphia to see the Year of the Woman exhibit: art created and envisioned by women artists about women-only subjects.Julie Bell’s Scheherazade is one of the first paintings one encounters when entering the gallery. Though intimately scaled at under 20″, the painting holds true to the legend of its Persian protagonist as it grabs the viewer instantly and insists upon further introspection. Bell uses her magnificent prowess as a world-famous illustrator (her resumé includes corporate clients like Nike, Ford, Toyota, Sony Online) to seductively render her legendary female subject with reddish highlights on her hair, cheeks, and skin tones on her shoulders. Is it possible to envision a better modernized example of “the gaze” than this painting? Previously on artdoesmatter, I discussed the work of Philadelphia painter Katherine Fraser to make the association of a predominately male audience “gazing back” at the objectified female form in her artwork. However, Bell and the other women painters represented in this exhibit turn post-modern theory onward and past this notion, making one think, “What is this female contemplating here?” The famous story of Scheherazade in her most devious yet highly successful ploy to turn King Shahryar into her paramour and eventual queen is so aptly reflected in Bell’s rendering of her subject here; the facial expression and feeling of calm reflection is what one sees in this female subject – not just the obviously beautiful woman. Gracing the walls of the second gallery area is the rather boldly-sized canvas of Katherine Fraser’s Revelation, an extremely haunting painting that portrays a decidedly-scared and lonely youngish female staring back out at the viewer. Fraser spent her childhood growing up in Maine; the backdrop of this piece may well be a Maine-wooded wintertime forest for a self-portrait-inspired reflection. The darkened cobalt blue found in the sky, her sweatshirt and pants is reflected in the snow and adds to the haunting quality; her female subject is visibly fearful and nervous; the shape of her hat accentuates her youth and uncertainty. What brought her into these woods alone, and will this female subject find the solace she needs out there in order to return back to a presumably future daylight of hope? Fraser paints her subjects consistently with such a air of grace, in what could be referred to as a haunting introspection of self. There’s an alternate photographic aspect to this painting that “freeze-frames” this moment in time; the viewer may think he or she is seeing this female’s portrait through a camera lens with an added cyan or blue filter. This adds even more intrigue and a nighttime air of mystery to fascinate us further.
Julie Bell and Katherine Fraser are two of twenty artists exhibiting this month at Artists’ House, April 3rd through April 28th, located at 57 N. 2nd Street in downtown Philadelphia, PA.
(Images courtesy of Artists’ House Gallery, Philadelphia.)