If you are looking for pretentious, overtly sexy and glamorized depictions of women, this is not the show for you. It is, however, a stunning portrayal of representational painting and drawing by women artists. The exhibit examines women’s relationships to past artistic and societal trends as well as their status in today’s world. Curated by Michael Pearce, Women by Women features 14 female artists of diverse backgrounds.
Largely defined by iconography are the paintings of Teresa Oaxaca (self-portrait, pictured) an eccentric painter based in Washington, D.C. Skulls, playing cards, tea sets, ripe fruit, dolls, women in Victorian and baroque garb, and more dolls set the stage for Oaxaca’s unconventional compositions. Her subjects are seemingly arranged with clear intention, yet the artist explains that the design of her work is from her subconscious and spontaneous. This offers the 20-something Oaxaca an air of intrigue and eccentricity that one may find fascinating. (She regularly wears the attire portrayed in her paintings.) When you see her self-portrait, a three-quarter view of a coquettish Oaxaca in ruffled Victorian attire, it becomes clear that both the artist and her paintings are nothing short of mesmerizing.
The work of Ruth Weisberg, former dean of fine arts at the University of Southern California, demonstrates the most uniqueness in execution. Weisberg stains her large unstretched canvas with ebullient hues, and uses a subtractive process of scratching and rubbing off the paint to reveal the contours of the figures underneath. Interestingly, Pearce himself took a class from Weisberg 20 years ago.
Elsewhere, the paintings by Juliette Aristides demand closer inspection. The figures in Aristides paintings are honest and vulnerable; they expose their human fragility. Yet they demonstrate an unpretentious inner strength that is subtle and quiet. Aristides’ ability both to render the human figure at its most human and to masterfully capture light with her brush creates an inexplicably overwhelming feeling; the kind that makes your heart ache a bit when witnessing something of heightened beauty.
There was surprisingly little reference to the subject of motherhood. Aside from the work of Terry Spehar-Fahey (whose painting depicts a mother and child with endearing wild red hair), artwork detailing this aspect of the female experience paled in comparison to paintings and drawings of a more independent and autobiographical nature.
Although the show is predominantly paintings, there were pastel drawings that demanded attention. An exquisite portrait by figurative sculptor and draftswoman Aihua Zhou contains all of the elements of classical portraiture; it communicates much more than Zhou’s excellent skill, however,. Her subject is regal, strong and confident. The contrast between the soft, delicate pastel strokes on paper and the inner strength of the subject make this piece remarkable.
The key to Women by Women might be the lack of a fictionalized nude, a notion all too familiar in postmodern art. There is nothing explicitly seductive or concerned with physical appearance. The traditional portrayal of the nude from a male perspective is replaced by quiet strength, reverence and elegant beauty, qualities that resonate throughout the exhibit. The work is outstanding in skill and ability, and profound in the portrayal of the human condition from a woman’s perspective.
Women by Women through April 12 at Kwan Fong Gallery on the campus of California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks.