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.

Her classic self-portrait below reminds me of a statement Judy 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















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