Kloosterboer on Painting the Figure Now 2019
The PoetsArtists publication and exhibition project, entitled Painting the Figure Now, seeks to highlight skill-based painting that investigates the many ways contemporary artists see the human figure in all genres, such as portraiture, narrative, nudes, and any and all visualizations focusing on the human form in life, action, play, work, and repose. The human body is an inexhaustible subject within the arts, potentially allowing us to see humanity in fresh, relevant, and innovative ways.
Chief curator for Painting the Figure Now 2019 is Didi Menendez, and guest curators include John Dalton, Victoria Selbach, Barry Blinderman, Jay Menendez, Daniel Maidman, and I. All work will be published in PoetsArtists Magazine, and a selection will be exhibited at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago, Illinois, and/or the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art in Wausau, Wisconsin.
My goal, as guest curator of the PoetsArtists’ Painting the Figure Now 2019, was to select artists who paint the human body by means of exceptional pictorial skills as well as having a distinctly individual look to their work. I invited figure painters Amanda Grieve, Daryl Zang, Natalie Holland, and Laura Tan to submit.
Amanda Grieve’s exquisite painting, entitled The State in Which, symbolizes the status quo of societal ideals of unobtainable perfection that tend to focus exclusively on outward appearance. The irises are used as a metaphor for the ever-diminishing importance of psycho-emotional self-care, and compel the young woman — restrained by satin ribbons representing societal pressures — to be more concerned about her looks than nourishing her interior well-being, strength, wisdom, and resilience.
The minute details of the variety of textures in Grieve’s painting are a feast for the eyes — note the meticulous wood-grain, sheer fabrics, delicate flora, glowing youthful skin, the fading light. The young woman stares directly at the viewer — one perceives an accusatory look, yet also an eagerness for affirmation and a need to be released from her bondage. Her flawless beauty is fading even now, heralded by the scrape on her foot and the inevitable ravages of imminent aging.
Daryl Zang’s striking painting, entitled Anatomy, is a partial self-portrait after a health crisis left the artist feeling powerless and disoriented by the soulless scrutiny of medical treatments. The anonymized headless composition symbolizes feelings of disconnection from her body — a body converted into a nameless anatomical problem to be solved by a medical system that habitually objectifies and overlooks the humanity of the person under their care.
The flat powder blue backdrop enhances and elevates the magnificent curvaceous silhouette of a nude that, despite being headless, appears to exude different emotions. Note the skillful expression of luminous skin, the superb chiaroscuro of the flesh tones, the unapologetic strength of the figure elegantly juxtaposing warm and cool hues. One perceives a defensive gesture as well as an expectant, defiant attitude — a stoic demeanor whose illusive face is turned eagerly towards the light, the future, and towards well-being.
Natalie Holland’s elegant painting, entitled Morning Coffee, forms part of a series of four paintings inspired by the rituals of daily life. A young woman, floating in a luxuriously soothing milk bath, stares up in quiet contemplation — symbolically transitioning between the world of dreams and the quotidian realities ahead. Neither completely naked nor truly dressed, she holds a cup of coffee, the skies above reflected in its motionless dark surface.
This painting’s strength lies in its muted color palette, superbly translated by meticulous brush work that captures smooth transitions between unusual textures — note the delightful translucence of the milky water, an ephemeral bubble floating on its surface, the diaphanous wet fabric clinging to the skin, the small exquisite details in the cuff. Her body relaxed, her wet hair floating freely, her wide blue eyes transfixed — yet emanating an indecipherable juxtaposition in emotions that range from a restful physical state to intense mental acceleration.
Laura Tan’s splendid painting, entitled After Degas, is a self-portrait described as “a ghost of the everyday.” Tan’s body of work consists in large part of an ongoing series of self-portraits, through which she seeks to understand her life, her emotions, herself. Blurring the line between contemporary portraiture and genre pieces — i.e., scenes or events from everyday life — this noteworthy piece stands out for its strength and fierce honesty; a visual autobiography that documents a lifelong exploration into a personal reality.
Tan’s deliberate rejection of the rigid rules of traditional painting adds a quirky playfulness not only to the posture but also to the painting’s stirring surface treatment. The choice to work in a near-monochromatic palette allow the turquoise glasses to stand out, yet the discerning viewer will appreciate the ingenious juxtapositions Tan creates between elaborate skin and waning fabric. Note the loveliness of the hands contrasted against the transparency of the jeans, and revel in this highly recognizable awkward moment of semi-balanced (un)dressing of this pensive woman casually gazing up.
Despite all being female figures, these four paintings could not be more dissimilar — each piece has a patently distinctive character in both visual expression as well as emotion, and each stands out on its own merits. Yet as a group they capture that magical element that I, as curator, was seeking and eagerly hoping for; the beautiful analogy of diversity, how it invites recognition in the realization that there’s strength in scope and contrasting ideals. These paintings are noteworthy for their psychological complexity, sublime tension, and for their portrayal of human isolation — intimate moments suspended in time, skillfully captured by the female gaze.
Written by Lorena Kloosterboer, realist artist & author © Antwerp, Belgium.
Originally published in PoetsArtists Magazine, May 2019.