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Townsend Atelier hosts its first extended show, featuring more than 30 works, many of remarkable character, through September 27. Chattanoogans may experience “Women Painting Women: (R) evolution 2013” that presents women subjects by women artists, drawn from an international field of submissions and juried by Ellen Simak, formerly of the Hunter Museum.
The emphasis here on figural work includes many portraits, many of which are paintings, but viewers may well be delighted by the range and depth of presentation shown. More remarkably, this show presents the Chattanooga outpost of a larger network of similar groupings across the eastern U.S. and also including Glasgow, Scotland.
A growing social association of women artists in connection with a number of galleries has now developed into this relatively synchronous wave of images of women by women. Other locations include Nashville, Charleston, Alexandria (VA), New York and New Jersey. The September issue of American Art Collector details how all this came about.
Ironically, there are many anonymous faces involved here: the faces of men. There was a show of images of women presented solely by male artists that provoked the formation of a blog/website in the spring of 2009 by Sadie J. Valeri and soon joined by Alia El-Berman and Diane Feissel. Currently, more than 260 women artists have been featured there.
To be sure, throughout art history, men have dominated the representation of women, from deities and Madonnas to the ecstatic and sometimes lurid exploitation of the female nude, leading to the aesthetic theory of “the male gaze.”
Modern art of the twentieth century saw the emergence of significant women artists. And now, there are so many more people engaged and committed to art in all media that balanced perspectives emerge. The division of art by gender may imply intention, but intention remains bound by aesthetic limits. The viewer cannot know the artist’s intention, and the artist cannot dictate the viewer’s reaction. Nonetheless, wonderful speculations concerning such issues spur both appreciation and inspiration of artistic endeavors.
Consider the “banner” painting of this Chattanooga show, “The Warming” by Mary Chiara Monte (acrylic on canvas). Ellen Simak finds “a note of mystery and danger in her painting of a woman standing on the edge of a burning field.” Simak may be correct in her dramatic view of this image, but the magpie and the topography show the Southwest, where farmers routinely burn their fields. As much as the Southwest is known for heat, it is also known for cold. The point here involves the indescribability of the warming fire. That divergent meanings may in inhabit this image lends substance to the image itself, because it yields more to its own contemplation.
Another example of this dynamic may be found in Amanda Hext’s “Self Portrait 2” (oil on wood). The sense of darkness, of angst, may be ameliorated by nuance details of this painting. The artist’s eyes match the background, and details of her pose may suggest that something more occurs—but this work, too, invites deeper contemplation.
Many of the paintings here exhibit significant nuance. Francien Krieg’s “Personal Heroes” (oil on linen) shows an old woman nude in her bath, but the “realism” of this portrayal has been conjoined with a deliberate geometry of both parallel and asymmetrical brushwork into an expressionist portrait, wonderful in the convergence.
Locals will no doubt appreciate the participation here of resident artists. Cindy Procious’s “Plastic Paradigm III” (oil on linen) has a photorealist quality. Mia Bergeron’s “Diane” (oil on canvas) highlights an important stylistic trend in this show, shown also by Jane Mason’s “Jaime” (oil on canvas), involving more-or-less radical movement from realist to impressionist to expressionist to abstract movement within the work.