Body Politics

Ok, Update from the last post, that painting is done. 24 x 30 inches, oil on linen, and you can see it first at Dark Love V: Forbidden Love at the Vanderelli Room, 218 McDowell St, Columbus, Ohio 43215 (map). Show opening is happening during Franklinton Friday, which is this Friday (February 9th).

Here’s a detail of the painting, I’ll post the whole thing after the show opening, because that’s how I do.

I’m working on a new painting, in a similar method to the last one. Process goes like this: I arrange time with a model to draw them on the surface, which won’t take longer than 3 hours. I travel to their space, and give them options on what to wear. What is important to me is that they are as comfortable as possible. So far the models (all two of them) have chosen to be completely nude, and they’ve both been women, but for this ‘series’ those aren’t requirements.

I’ve been chewing on what makes my work different from most other nudes or figurative work. I’ve been doing this a long time, and back when I started I felt it was part of a feminist act, a kind of reaction to the male gaze. We don’t question what we are shown in media, film, and what our cultural mores are with regards what we deem as appropriate and proper. In art nude women are much more commonplace than nude men, and they are rarely the protagonists IE the subject you to relate with. There’s been a lot going on in the art world with the #metoo #timesup movement calling out contemporary well known artists for their sexist behavior, and trying to decide whether to remove art and artists who have a questionable sexist/pedophiliac history or art that is merely just sexist in nature. I try to figure out where to I stand in all of this. We can’t erase the past and i don’t think we should ignore it… I do however think we should use this to dig deeper into the history of art as history cherrypicks darlings that are popular today and ignores art and artists who aren’t as well known because of their place in history, especially if they were women. As someone who does paint nudes… I feel it’s important for me to question why. Am I being hypocritical when I paint a nude lady? Am I contributing to perpetuating the male gaze and inadvertently objectifying women? I think, it could be seen that way, but that’s not why I gravitate towards this subject.

By the way, I don’t have definitive answers here, more like evolving theories that could change along with my mind, so… don’t expect me to talk in absolutes.

When I paint anybody, I don’t come to it from a place of desire or possession. I’m an expressive painter, my goal is to imbue feeling, have the work radiate presence like it’s almost alive, like a religious icon or bit of music or poetry that hits just right. I don’t seek to own the subject, to strip away what they are merely to make them candy for your eyes. I seek to document a moment that is both right there in front of me with the personality of the person who sits, and also a feeling that I have had personally that I also relate to (which has me question are these really portraits… and then I think it doesn’t matter and words sometimes are failures). So… my approach I feel isn’t the same as someone who may have a sexual interest in the subject or who sees the subject as ‘other’ or ‘superior to’ socially. With my work and my approach to the subject there’s a lot of empathy. It’s why talking to the model and putting them at ease is so important. I want to know what they’re feeling and what they are hoping to get out of the experience, and I want them to be relaxed and in a good mood. With all the years I’ve been a painter the people who want me to paint them typically say the same thing. They want to be empowered, and they see my honest but sensual portrayal as an affirmation. One I’m more than happy to give because being a positive force in the universe is a goal of mine, as cheesy as that might sound.

I think we are currently on an conservative arc again, where expressions of sexuality are becoming ever more polarizing and are being pushed to censorship. I try not to worry about it, because that’s just how life is, the pendulum of what is ok and what isn’t swings around and maybe in 10 years we as a culture will be moving back to accepting love and pleasure as a good thing and censoring acts of violence or something. Nature of the universe is change right?

It’s important to when the day is done to set aside questions and doubt and just do what the voice inside you guides you to do (as long as you do no harm). So yah… this is what I’m doing, and it’s what I’m good at. I don’t know where this road is going to take me or how it’ll end, so best to just do it and find out.

Anyway. If you come to the show, be sure to say hi if you see me. Get back to work and I’ll see you in the future.



2 thoughts on “Body Politics

  1. Hi Sara- this post got me thinking about the “male gaze.”
    Would you suppose that if a male’s focal attention shifted to the eyes, not staring,
    but gazing, as an introduction to facial social engagement, at this point he is not objectifying?
    I view eye contact as acknowledgement we’re human, we share a lot in common.
    I ask because I gaze at strangers with a wonderment of what their personality might be,
    what they’re thinking at the moment.
    A voyeuristic observation but without the attendant sexual stimulation.
    Isn’t the objectifying of the male gaze usually sexual in motivation?

  2. The ‘Male Gaze’ as a theory isn’t so much about the eyes or what the eyes focus on even. It’s a view of the world from the POV of the viewer. For example, most tv and advertisements are geared towards the male viewer, what they think they want to see. Like… TV shows that feature a family will often have a hot younger wife no matter what physical state the dad/father figure is. Advertisements that don’t need to be gendered become gendered, like laundry adverts feature women doing the laundry even though men also wash their clothes. Beer ads featuring hot women in bikinis even though women also drink beer, etc. Essentially it’s how a patriarchal world view shapes how we communicate with one another. Like how we assume when we talk to people online anonymously that they are men unless we know they are otherwise, and how we value who those words are coming from. Women who are older or not attractive get criticized more and their words valued less than men irregardless of age or attractiveness (although attractive men or men in positions of power are given more of a say).

    To quote Wikipedia:
    “In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting the world and women in the visual arts and literature from a masculine and heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. The male gaze has three perspectives: that of the person behind the camera, that of the characters within the representation, and that of the spectator.

    The term male gaze was coined in 1975 by the feminist film critic Laura Mulvey; it has been contrasted with the idea of the female gaze. The male gaze is comparable to scopophilia, with females in the passive role of the observed”

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