During the reception for the 2013 exhibition in which I debuted the painting above, South Tawton Ceiling Boss: The Green Man (Simhasana — Lion’s Breath), I caught the eye of a visitor. She repeatedly looked back and forth — first at me, then up at the painting, which I had hung from and parallel to the ceiling.
The viewer approached me and asked, “Is that you?”
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s a self-portrait.”
“But it’s called The Green MAN,” she objected, puzzled.
“Exactly,” I replied with a smile.
When I was in college, there was a fellow art student who liked to make misogynistic comments to his female colleagues. In his case, his main motivation seemed to be a misguided attempt at getting attention, because the more one of his targets objected, the more teasing she received. As a result, though I certainly didn’t care for his offensive banter any more than my fellow female art students, I tried my best to not reveal my irritation, and since we also had a fellow male friend in common, he usually left me alone.
One day after he saw some of my paintings, he intended to complement me by saying,
You paint like a man.
Upon deeper discussion, it became clear that he was responding to certain qualities about my style that he chose to assign to his gender, including bold colors and brushwork, and the way I approached my portrait subject matter. Yet the irony was that my main influence in college was a female artist: Alice Neel.
Since I was ever one to eschew gender-specific roles and mores, I did not forget his comment. Why should anyone assign gender specificity to any certain style of painting? For the first couple of years after I graduated, I ended the initial version of my Artist’s Statement with this colleague’s comment; I felt it was important to make it clear that I was a woman artist.
Fascinated with the story, a curator polled viewers of my work during a 1992 exhibit. When pressed to choose, most thought that I was a male artist until they read my signature.
I hadn’t thought of these experiences until the recent International Woman’s Day and the Day Without a Woman strike on March 8th. So in honor of Women’s History Month, I give you this challenge: how many women artists and those artists who identify as female can you name? No cheating by looking in your art history books or online – just list the ones who come to mind. Post your list by making a comment below, and then I’ll share a compiled list in my next blog post.
In the meantime, while you are listing your artists, if you haven’t seen the film Big Eyes, be sure to check it out this month.
All the best, and Namaste,