Saturday, February 28, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves: Focus on Judith Carducci

A few months ago I began researching women artists whose self-portraits intrigued me. Some created single expressions and some faithfully committed to an ambitious series. 

In the interests of internet brevity, and because there was so much material, I grouped the portraits into categories and released the self-portrait blogs as installments over the past few months… each with a theme. The blog has focused on classic self-portraits, self-as muse, serious and fun self-portraits, youthful doppelgangers and art historical homages. For the most part, each artist was featured in only one category.

Then, there are artists, such as Judith Carducci, who defy categorization.

Judy has served as chair of the Cecilia Beaux Forum, since its beginnings as a committee formed in 2005 by the board of the Portrait Society of America. Board Chairman, Edward Jonas has long understood the gender issues that have historically marginalized women artists and felt that an organized program of mutual support and encouragement through the forum would strengthen individual artist’s work and careers. The Cecilia Beaux Forum was granted a board position that Judy has fulfilled with distinction. She serves with a generous and welcoming spirit and carries a vision for all artists in the discipline of representational fine art and a fully realized egalitarian future.

The Ruth Bader Ginsburg of Fine Art Portraiture,  Judy’s classic self-portrait below reminds me of a statement she wrote recently for the Portrait Society Conference Insider. Judith Carducci said, “who I am and what I’m like, have a big influence on what I do”…in other words, “artist, know thyself”.  Judy takes time to get to know her models, and between model sessions, workshops or commission dates, Judy’s best subject is often the one looking right back at her in the mirror.
Judith Carducci, Self-Portrait

Her classic self-portrait seems to challenge the artist to know her better self, be proud of it and paint accordingly.

Working exclusively from life, Judy Carducci does as many still lives and plein air works as she does portraits. And often the various genres meet.

Many of Judy’s still-lives are narratives; stages set with inanimate objects. Fun and ironic arrangements of tools, cupcakes, Ding Dongs and teddy bears have intriguing names like Labor Dispute, Aristocrats and Plebeians and Deadly Doll

Judith Carducci, Squash, Honey and Me
She has also painted several still-lives that include self-portraits.  A strategically placed mirror makes Squash, Honey and Me, above, a self-portrait.
And Judy’s reflection brings the Akron Society of Artists sink, below, with its precariously askew Lava soap, to glowing life.

Judith Carducci, Studio Sink

In Role Reversal, Judy elevated the status of the artists’ mannequin…she even lent her visor to this newly ordained, “artist.”
Judith Carducci, Role Reversal

Judy says that, “the mannequin is an antique owned by Lynda Rimke and is made of different woods with subtle different colors that captivated me.  I just had to paint it…but how?  It just seemed like the perfect joke to have the mannequin paint the artist for a change. ”

The Widow

Art can get us through dark times too; creation can be cathartic and mark endings as well as new beginnings.

Judy’s self-portrait, “The Widow” was painted immediately after the death of her beloved husband, Dewey. The powerful composition stresses emptiness and isolation, and Judy’s poignantly rendered face and hands, glowing in the darkness, speak volumes about mourning and loss. And yet, to me it also shows hope; the intrepid force of her artistic spirit in the darkness.

Judith Carducci, The Widow

A number of years ago, this painting spoke volumes to the director of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. Judy had entered “The Widow” in the inaugural Call for Entry for the prestigious Outwin Boochever competition.

At the time, the Outwin Boochever was a “painting only” competition. This policy has since changed, and the show now encompasses all media, including photography, sculpture and video, but in 2006 this wasn’t the case.

Judy is a pastel painter.  Between the exquisitely vibrant color, the brushes she uses and the wet medium that figures so prominently in “the Widow”…her pastels are paintings in every sense of the word.

The director of the competition was so enamored by “The Widow”, he took the trouble to call Judy at home to tell her that this was the type of work that the competition was looking for, and were it not for one detail, it would proudly hang with the others at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery show. He explained to her about their “painting only” policy and why they could not accept her pastel painting.

I’m picturing Judy’s face and hearing her voice as she explained to him about the long, venerable artistic legacy of pastel painting. How the soft-pastel medium (it’s not chalk…chalk is for sidewalks and blackboards) is recognized as one of the traditional painting mediums along with oil paints, egg tempera and watercolor. Pastel paintings use color and value theory and are paintings in every way…they should be included in painting competitions.

The director was impressed with her knowledge and argument, but Judy says he was unconvinced, and told her "The jury will be looking for a painting" but that "in two years they might be accepting work in [my] medium." This proved to be true because they did change their policy eventually.

Her painting, “The Widow” has since hung at the Butler Institute of American Art alongside Cecilia Beaux, Marie Cassatt and Alice Ruggles Sohier, as part of the Inspiring Figures show in 2011. It was also exhibited in a show of pastels from their permanent pastel collection and will be exhibited at her solo show at the Butler, which Opens March 8th!

The Vanitas

Also to be appearing at her Butler solo exhibition, will be her fascinating, complex and symbolic, Vanitas III Self-portrait at 80, L’Envoi.

In art history, a vanitas is traditionally a still-life showing the “vanity” of earthly achievements and pleasures, while also reminding the viewer of their mortality. They were popular in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th Centuries; inspiring the viewer to repent before inevitable death and reckoning. Some elements that commonly appear in vanitas paintings are books, maps and musical instruments to symbolize the arts and sciences. Jewels, gold and goblets are reminiscent of wealth and earthly pleasures. And of course, the skull; the classic indication that you may be looking at a vanitas… symbolizes mortality.

In addition to inspiration from her own life, Judy’s Vanitas III is inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem about the artist’s joyful reward; “L’Envoi to The Seven Seas” Ask her, and she’ll recite this poem for you from memory…or read it on her website!

Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Self-portrait at 80, L’Envoi, cabinet in an open position

Historically, a vanitas was a classic still-life, and rarely included a portrait. 
Judy’s Vanitas III, however, features her glowing, magical, imagined self-portrait…wielding her “brush of comet’s hair.”
Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Hope

Still life and landscape elements show aspects of her world that have powerfully shaped her as an artist.

Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Morning Meadow—Monhegan Island, Maine

Her first easel is depicted; it was the footstool at her father’s chair. Extensive travel to France, Italy and Monhegan Island in Maine, meaningful books, and of course, her successes and contributions to the Portrait Society of America make up the comprehensive narrative in this 13 piece tour de force.
Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Awards and Portrait Society

Vanitas III is housed in a custom-designed working frame cabinet. Even in a closed position, godesses, slaves and satyrs hint at the wonders inside.  These grisailles are of casts from which she learned to draw as a child at her teacher’s atelier.
Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Self-portrait at 80, L’Envoi,
cabinet in a closed position

There is so much more to discover in this intricate piece, which, along with a gallery full of her luxurious pastel paintings, will be shown at Judy Carducci’s eagerly-awaited solo exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art.
We had a blast with Judith Carducci at the Opening Reception on March 8th,

click here to see photos!
Show continues through May 3, 2015

524 Wick Avenue
Youngstown, Ohio

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves: Focus on Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso

One of the many missions of the Portrait Society of America’s Cecilia Beaux Forum is to spotlight contemporary women artists who are painting figuratively.

Another mission of CBF is to shed a retroactive spotlight on women artists in history whose powerful work often sits in museum storage.

Gabriela Dellosso’s ongoing self-portrait project…where she paints herself as female artists from history…could not have been more tailor-made to achieve these goals if the Portrait Society had commissioned her to do so.

In 2006, before she started this self-portrait project, Gabriela had a solo show, An Artist’s Journey, at The Butler Institute of American Art.  Director, Lou Zona praised and admired her work…

“…they are, in a sense, haunting works which recall the power of Surrealism, to transport us to other realms, times and places. In the end, art that endures […] transcends time and place. Dellosso’s work effectively does this and does so with a learned flair.”

Gabriela pays meticulous homage to the artists whom she poses as for her self-portraits. Her favorite historical woman painter, that started the project is the artist, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, here is Self-Portrait Homage to Adelaide Labille Guiard.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-Portrait Homage to Adelaide Labille Guiard

“Adelaide Labille Guiard is the reason I started doing the homages to women painters. I was working on the body of work for my solo exhibition at Eleanor Ettinger for the fall of 2008, when I first saw Adelaide Labille Guiard’s magnificent painting “Self Portrait with Two Pupils.”

Adelaide Labille Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils

Gabriela Dellosso, Homage to Adelaide labille Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils

Above is one of Gabrielas first of her large homage paintings and honors her inspiration, Adelaide Labille Guiard. Gabriela says,

I was surprised, that I had never even heard of Labille-Guiard.  As I stood there in awe of the painting, I became a little angry at my ignorance of the subject of this great work of art.  I started doing research and learned a lot about this painting and why it was painted and I was deeply moved by it. In her lifetime Adelaide was dedicated to promoting women in the arts. It was amazing what she accomplished in the chaotic times of the French Revolution. I decided then and there that I would start a series, dedicated to historical women painters.  I also decided to use my image as a vehicle to re-create these women.  The first three homage self-portraits I did, were shown at my solo exhibition at Eleanor Ettinger; to my delight, they immediately sold—collectors responded to them. I felt I was doing something of importance.   Now, the homages have become an important part of my body of work.  What started as an experiment, altering my image to describe another woman, is evolving itself into more complicated paintings, that include more elements than just a self-portrait.”

The homage painting below, depicting Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun also beautifully exemplifies Gabriela’s homages. She merges her own likeness with Elisabeths and creates an iconic homage piece that “resurrects the importance of who these women are.” She happily admits she loves painting them.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun

Below is one of the many paintings of Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun which inspired this tribute. Gabriela recently started a blog, Palettes and Pearls, which highlights and discusses many of the paintings that inspire her work.

Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, Self-portrait

Gabriela extensively researches the subject of historical women painters. In her blog, Palettes and Pearls she writes about a supposed rivalry between Elisabeth and Adelaide. Both were admitted to the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture on the same day, May 31, 1783.  Art critics (like celebrity gossip rags) delight in fanning the flames of a female cat-fight…even if there was none.

Gabriela smiles a bit as her self-portrait series extends to the Netherlands, with her homage to Judith Leyster, below.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Judith Leyster

She takes you to the world of the American Impressionists with her glowing portrait of Lilla Cabot Perry. This painting embodies the words of Gary T. Erbe’s who curated her Butler show.

“Her world is a mysterious journey into the deepest depths of the soul of humanity. She is an intellectual artist who shows a great sensitivity and respect for life. ”

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Lilla Cabot Perry

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Frida Kahlo

Thanks to Salma Hayek, Hollywood, the juicy details of her life…and of course her paintings—raw as open wounds—Frida Kahlo is now a household word. Gabriela self-portrays Frida with an elegance and sympathy that Frida does not grant her own self-portraits.

Gabriela’s works pay homage to artists and all their accomplishments, artistic and otherwise. Varo’s Moon acknowledges the inventions and scientific interests of artist, Remedios Varo.

“Remedios Varo, was a para-surrealist, her art dealt with scientific inventions, time and all that was surreal. I was captivated by her paintings Celestial Pablum and Starcatcher, which this self-portrait pays homage to.” 

In recent years, Remedios Varos work has been gaining publicity…and the art dollars that often follow. Gabriela explains that, “In the year 2000 The National Museum of Women in the Arts had a retrospective exhibition of Varo’s work, displaying more than 50 of her enigmatic works.  One of her paintings Still Life Reviving had been auctioned at Southeby’s in 1994, for $574,000, but in a more recent Southeby’s auction (2014) Remedios Varo’s painting, Hacia La Torre fetched a whopping  $4.31 million!

I hope that Gabriela Dellosso continues this self-portrait project for many years to come. Searching through history for women artists whose legacies might otherwise be lost or hidden in permanent museum storage is a truly noble pursuit, and using their likeness’ as inspiration for a self-portrait series is brilliant way to bring these trail-blazing artists into the 21st Century.

Gabriela will be having a solo exhibition at
The Harmon-MeekGallery in Naples Florida from March 29-April 10, 2015.

And in January, 2016 she is scheduled for a second solo show at the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, Ohio. Follow for details.
I shall close this blog post with a classic self-portrait by Gabriela Dellosso. It is entitled, Self-portrait Painting and Poetry and honors her own image as an artist.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Painting and Poetry

Written by Judy Takács
Chair New Media Relations
Cecilia Beaux Forum
Portrait Society of America

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves: Focus on Alexandra Tyng

The fifth in a series where we explore the female self-portrait in contemporary realism.  

In compiling the growing list of paintings and writings about self-portraits, I found that some artists had so much work, from such a fascinating perspective that they needed a whole blog to themselves to fully explore the complexities of what they are accomplishing in paint. 

Last time I blogged about the use of the “Youthful Doppelganger” to explore self-portrait themes that are specific to the artist’s youth. Alexandra Tyng does just that when she paints her intense visual memories from her childhood. They are essentially self-portraits of Alex as a child at different ages.

Alexandra Tyng, The Unseen Aspect

Her painting, The Unseen Aspect centers around a vivid and significant experience Alex had when she was about 6. In August 2013, Alex had a solo show in Rockland, Maine which featured this painting, along with many others on the theme of her childhood.

“I was at my grandparents’ house at the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My mother told me to go upstairs, but I stopped as I saw the entire second floor enveloped in a sheet of flame. I knew it was in my mind and not actually happening, but it scared me so much I refused to go up the stairs. My mother said ‘Nonsense! There is no fire up there.’ To which I said, ‘The house is going to burn down!’ and I refused to go up those stairs, which were in the old part of the house. I had to use the other stairs from then on.”

Years later, after the house was sold, and both of Alex’ grandparents had passed away, her mother got the news that the house had burned down.

The Unseen Aspect is about Alex’s first experience of precognition. Alex says that when she heard the news about the house, she realized she already knew it and was expecting it to happen. “At the time I felt that I had somehow caused the house to burn down.” This self-imposed guilt was especially painful because Alex knew that her mother, an architect, had designed the addition to the house.

Alex describes the symbolism depicted by the girl digging in the sand at the edge of the water. Water being a collective unconscious, the edge where water meets land is the edge of consciousness, and then, the act of digging up something brings it into consciousness. Her youthful doppelgänger finds a mysterious glowing object…(the dangerous gift of precognition)…and shows it to her mother.
Alex says, “I also find the gap of understanding between parent and child very interesting. A mother, however close, cannot understand everything about her daughter. I’m thinking about my own daughter here, too.”

She also talks about the impending storm and the erosion of the land. “To me they imply that nothing is solid or dependable, and something ominous is about to happen. There are footprints in the sand walking from the right to the left. Right is usually associated with the rational and concrete, Left; with the irrational and unknown.”

“The footprints go between the mother and daughter to the boat, but no one is in the boat. I am using the boat to represent a journey over water, and this can take many forms but in this painting it is about the journey to the underworld, or death. It refers to my mother not wanting to know about the future death of her own mother.” 

The symbol of the boat also alludes to Alex’s own journey; she began the painting just after her own mother died.
Alexandra Tyng, New World
The same boat appears again in her painting, New World, depicting a mother and baby, drifting at sea, seemingly alone and unprotected, but also content and safe.

After her mother died, Alex says,  “I thought a lot about how she navigated some of the hardships she went through. In this painting I imagined how life must have been like for her as a single mother in the 1950s. She’s adrift, not steering, and there is no indication of which way she is headed. Maybe she doesn’t know. She has left a comfortable existence behind her and is venturing into new, uncharted territory. The apple is a reference to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and to the apple seeds that were brought to New England by Anne Hutchinson—her ancestor, whom she admired for her independent thinking and feminist viewpoints—who was expelled in the 1600s from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.”

Alex was also inspired by literature about Colonial times and related it to her life situation as a child.

Alexandra Tyng, The Letter A
The Letter A is a portrait of myself at age five. We lived on a narrow street in the city where the kids used to draw in the street because hardly any cars came through. In the painting I'm annoyed at being interrupted while I'm totally absorbed in drawing. The world in my drawings is based partially on my imagination and partially on what is going on around me. The Letter A is my attempt to describe how it felt to be this age: moving away from self-centeredness, towards awareness of the world around me, and of myself and seeing my parents as autonomous human beings.”

“The Letter A refers to the theme of the novel The Scarlet Letter. The story resonated with me when I read it in high school because I saw my parents as the two main adult characters and I identified with their daughter, Pearl. Pearl perceives the truth of her parents’ unusual relationship, but she has no understanding or patience for the conventions that [keep her parents apart].”

Through her childish wisdom and refusal to conform, Pearl becomes a catalyst for positive change. In the painting I put the letter “A” in many places, including the triangular arrangement of the child and parents and in the letters and drawings on the street, and in the bodice of the mother’s dress. There’s a big A that points towards the father who is standing up the street from the mother and child. I exaggerated the perspective on purpose to emphasize the child and de-emphasize the father, kind of a visual way of showing the child’s subjective viewpoint.”

Alexandra Tyng, Legacy

Alex also depicts herself as a young adult, observing her father in the throes of creativity, but with the added perspective of being a creative adult herself.

In her painting, Legacy, Alex explores the difference between the life of an artist and the legacy he or she passes on.

Legacy shows my father in a tower, working on a watercolor. His children look in but they cannot get to him, and the glass is misty so their view of him is slightly obscured. Each of his children sees him through a different window, or different perspective. He is busy creating, making the most of his life, absorbed in the moment, while the children have their own lives to live. Legacy can refer to your creative legacy, or to material things you pass on to the next generation. While working on this painting I was thinking about myself painting in my studio and my relationship to my own children.” 

Employing the “Youthful Doppelganger” as model and muse…gives the artist an interesting dual perspective; omniscient adult observer of their own remembered and imagined childhood.  The artist is at once inside and outside the model; possessing distance and perspective, along with intimate knowledge. The artist is both actor and director in the drama she is inspired by.

Be looking for future installments, as the Cecilia Beaux Forum blog explores the many possibilities and applications of the Female Self-Portrait theme. Little did I know what a fascinating can of worms we opened when we started looking at how women artists portray themselves.

Written by Judy Takács
Chair New Media Relations
Cecilia Beaux Forum
Portrait Society of America