Art history is rife with female imagery, almost all of it painted by men. The masculine idealization of women, often referred to as the “Male Gaze,” has been a staple of art historical debate for decades now, with no resolution in sight. After all, the fact that a male artist, Titian, painted the “Venus of Urbino,” or the very macho Picasso painted abstractions of his lover Dora Maar neither adds nor subtracts from the paintings’ aesthetic qualities as masterpieces. But though the “Male Gaze” may incorporate the highest qualities of art, it does call into question the definition of womanhood. With rare exception (Artemesia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Marie Laurencin among the notable few), women’s definition of themselves is nearly absent from the history of art. It is only recently that artwork by women has been taken seriously by the art establishment, and indeed is still woefully underrepresented in major collections and galleries.
J. Cacciola Gallery’s exhibition, Women Painting Women: Shelley Adler, Edwige Fouvry, and Kim Frohsin is part of the contemporary push to serve as a corrective to that imbalance, in this case through figurative imagery. The works by Fouvry, Frohsin and Adler present us with three distinct views of female experience, but the exhibition is not an implicitly political one; it is first and foremost an aesthetic one, presenting the work of three brilliant contemporary practitioners of art’s most traditional medium, painting.
Canadian Shelley Adler’s women in her series “Body Language” present us with confidence of a different sort; the confidence to interact with others, to take one’s place among human society. Most of the women in this series look directly at us, and even those that don’t nonetheless present themselves as part of our immediate experience, as if they are still aware of us, still part of the conversation.
Adler achieves this immediacy and intimacy of interaction through a simplification of form reduced to its most important fundamentals: shape, volume and color. Through these basics, Adler endows her subjects with a thoroughness of being, their personalities made perfectly clear in their poses, their choice of clothing, the look in their eyes. Adler’s women are more than merely comfortable in the world, they engage it, meet all comers on equal terms.