Kloosterboer on Visions of Venus
In celebration of the Visions of Venus exhibition that was held at the Zhou B Art Center, in Chicago, Illinois, from April 20th through June 8th of 2018, I’m highlighting a selection of ten artworks.
Throughout history, Venus has stood as the great archetype of love, beauty, enticement, seduction, sexuality, eroticism, fertility, desire and prosperity. As the goddess of love, she was seen as having blessed the unions of mortals by taming and assimilating the male essence and blending it with the female. As a fertility symbol, she was revered as the mother of the Roman people. As a “changer of hearts,” she was seen as a transformative force that encouraged her followers to cherish their sexuality and celebrate it in the context of love, marriage and family. In yet another incarnation, she was seen as the motivator of women on behalf of the military and the state. In all of her aspirations and intents, she is still perceived today as the embodiment of all things feminine and the complementary opposite of her male cognate, Mars. Venus, whether in a contemporary or classical incarnation, represents the female way of being, seeing and creating.
The accompanying issue of PoetsArtists Magazine to this exhibition features work of artists and writers in the depiction of the eternal feminine, both as a subject (Venus’s Visions) and as an object (Visions of Venus). Whether the idea is drawn from classical mythology or the ether of cyberspace, all artists present their finest depiction based on this timeless construct.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt is the co-curator of The Bennett Collection, a collection of contemporary figurative realist paintings of women that she co-created with her collaborator and spouse, Steven Alan Bennett. She is a student of classical mythology and well-known presence among collectors of figurative realist paintings.
Jason E. McPhillips is a multidiscipline artist based in Chicago, whose initial interest in filmmaking led him to painting and sculpting a variety of subject matter while honoring the venerated methods of the Renaissance. Focused on artistic anatomy, nature, and inspired by the Symbolist art movement, McPhillips creates enigmatic imagery based on the convergence of myth, perception, and scientific theory.
McPhillips seeks to capture intense luminosity in his oil paintings by exploiting the light-gathering effects of his medium. His compositions are firmly grounded in the timeless theories of perspective, in which placement, space, and balance are key to achieve his ultimate goal, which he describes as, “creating a vessel for beauty and light to reside in.”
Especially created for Visions of Venus, McPhillips’ painting, entitled The Anadyomene (The Rising), was inspired by Aphrodite rising from the sea foam as described by Greek mythology. In this piece he explores the unfathomable biology of life on earth, imagining a primordial time before life existed, when there was only the great matrix, the waters of the earth, the mother and the source. Representing water as a metaphor for the subconscious and the sun as pure energy, McPhillips portrays Anadyomene as the source of life itself in all of her breathtaking power and radiance.
Doug Webb is an American hyperrealist painter based in Calabasas, California, who at heart considers himself a classical romantic surrealist. Webb is internationally known for his paintings depicting unexpected oversized objects within land and cityscapes. Always infused with meaningful symbolic metaphors, his subject matter is a hybrid of Magritte-like surrealism and well-defined hyperrealism always skillfully expressed in minute detail.
Webb works in acrylics on Belgian linen, using traditional slow methods — such as glazing — to build up vivid colors and luminosity without subjugating the myriad of exquisite visual details within his compositions. With the use of composite imagery and shifts of scale between everyday scenes, situations, and common objects, Webb weaves a tapestry blending threads of satire, irony, conflict, and hope.
Webb’s painting, entitled Break Every Chain, was inspired by the Women’s March held in January of last year. In this painting, his wife Robyn personifies Venus as a champion and defender of human rights. Standing in front of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., this contemporary Venus — clad in a workman shirt and proudly wearing a pussy hat — angrily tugs at the shackles that restrain her, personifying the struggle for respect and equal rights all women, everywhere, face. The bright sunshine and intense blue skies suggest crisp fresh air and seem to beckon a new era of positive changes.
Carrie Pearce is an imaginary realist based in Peoria, Illinois, who describes herself as the “Story Painter of Half-truths.” By means of improvisation and embellishment, Pearce seeks to create imagery that is fanciful and quirky in order to convey a narrative, which she believes both living things as well as inanimate matter carry like a ghost. Casting aside political correctness, Pearce seeks to entertain the viewer by suggesting real or imaginary events. Her subject matter covers figures, wildlife, and still lifes.
Pearce often bases her work on antique photographs from the 1900s, starting with a grisaille or brunaille underpainting. She allows herself to be guided by intuitive streams of consciousness that help her to modulate the paint process through addition and subtraction.
Inspired by the celebrated American cartoonist, illustrator, artist, and writer Rose Cecil O’Neill (1874 –1944), Pearce’s whimsical painting, entitled Dreamgirl, correlates Venus as the mother of Cupid with O’Neill as the mother of the world-famous Kewpie Doll. Enigmatic and captivating, Dreamgirl represents the fantasy and imagination of perfection, as well as a girl’s hopes and desires. While Pearce believes everyone would want to be a Venus, she knows the definition is highly personal for each of us. To Pearce, O’Neill is a true hero for what she accomplished for women in the arts.
Daggi Wallace is a German contemporary realist artist now based near Los Angeles, California. Her portraits and figure paintings are based on multilayered narratives that examine the universal human condition as well as interpersonal connections, especially focusing on sociopolitical topics related to women and children.
Working primarily in pastels and charcoal, Wallace frequently adds other mediums and materials — such as ink, watercolor, metal leaf, acrylic, collage, wire, yarn, and rocks — to create unconventional looks and innovative surfaces. She states, “I love the direct application of pastel, the pure pigments and versatility of this medium, getting my hands dirty, nothing between me and the painting. It’s the perfect bridge between drawing and painting.”
Wallace’s piece, entitled Goddess, was inspired by a spontaneous outburst of emotion by her model, capturing her sheer joy and a sense of elated freedom, personifying independence and strength as an avantgarde black Venus. By portraying a black woman as Venus, Wallace also pays homage to Saartje Baartman, a Khoikhoi native to southwestern Africa, who was exhibited in freak shows in 19th century Europe as the “Hottentot Venus.”
Donna Bates is an American artist based in Los Angeles, California, whose background in music, commercial illustration, and 3D animation naturally evolved into her urban, edgy realistic paintings of strong independent female figures she describes as “Bad Ass Chicks.”
Bates, a self-taught painter, uses photography and computer software to refine and enhance the compositions she sets up with her models, who frequently become part of the creative process through spontaneous collaboration that often leads to what Bates calls “happy accidents.” During the painting process, Bates continuously focuses on improving the visual impact of the narrative by experimenting, paying particular attention to color arrangements and material structures.
Bates’ flamboyant painting, entitled Goddess of the Now, features a curvaceous nude captured in striking blues, violets, and purples. Wearing an elegant headdress, chic sunglasses, and red gloves she stands in front of a bright brick wall embellished with graffiti. Bates intentionally portrays a woman of color as The Goddess in order to break the outdated concept of this mythical creature as traditionally being white, stating, “After all, this is the 21st century. I feel it is time to mix it up a bit and pay homage to all our Goddesses!” Bates masterfully captures a hip, stylish, glamorous Goddess who obviously enjoys being the Bad-Ass Queen of Love and Desire.
Kelly Birkenruth is an American contemporary realist artist based in the Northeast of the United States, who paints figures, portraits, and still lifes using classical painting techniques in the tradition of the Old Masters. Her paintings, which transcend mere representation in order to capture the true essence of her subject matter, distinctly show her masterful handling of light which gives her work an ethereal quality that pulls the viewer in.
Birkenruth’s process starts with a compositional sketch which is then transferred onto the support. Initial washes establish values, which are then modulated by a combination of direct painting and glazing. Aiming to create paintings with a timeless quality, Birkenruth places emphasis on rendering the subject while respecting the principles of drawing, edges, value, and color.
Birkenruth’s tender painting, entitled Venus contemplating her Adolescence, shows a girl on the cusp of womanhood gazing at herself in the mirror. Her body language exudes the strength and determination needed to leave her childhood behind as she embarks on the next chapter in her life. Familiar childhood treasures symbolize the comfort and security she will need in order to be able to commence this journey through unchartered waters. Beautiful chiaroscuros draw shadows across the girl’s wistful gaze, suggesting she knows she is facing many future unknowns.
Daniel Maidman is a Canadian artist, art critic, and writer based in Brooklyn, New York, best known for his delicate drawings of nudes — both male and female — done in graphite and other dry media. The subject matter in his wider body of work varies from the figure and portraiture, to still lives and landscapes, to investigations of machinery, architecture, and microflora.
Maidman uses an extensive spectrum of techniques that range from high rendering to almost total abstraction using a wide variety of mediums, including oils, watercolors, and inks. He unapologetically refuses to be confined to just one style or medium, instead courageously choosing the artistic freedom to explore all creative possibilities.
Maidman’s whimsical oil painting, entitled 1952, is an allegorical depiction of Venus returning to her place of birth, the turbulent seas. Maidman states, “Venus is the goddess of desire, and desire is sustained by the escape of the thing desired. Venus remains desirable so long as she keeps slipping from our grasp.” This luminous grisaille captures a glimpse of a gleaming, curvaceous nude joyfully prancing towards the ocean surf into which she will shortly vanish, forever out of reach, leaving the viewer with a fiery yearning for the unobtainable.
Mike Brewer is an American artist, based in Virginia, whose subject matter covers portraiture, figure paintings, and landscapes. His process is distinctly based on classical oil painting methods through which he achieves elegantly balanced compositions where the subject matter is often prominently centered. Brewer states, “There is enough ugliness in the world. Paintings should be about beauty.”
Brewer’s paintings display sophisticated color palettes in which subtle, often muted colors are regularly paired with strong, vivid hues. Thoughtful brushstrokes create visually engaging content, merging edges, shapes, and background together in graceful harmony.
Brewer’s eye-catching painting, entitled Venus Visits the Homestead Resort, shows a young woman posing as Venus at the indoor pool of the Omni Homestead Resort, capturing a combination of the artist’s two favorite subjects; the natural beauty of the female nude and the beauty of man-made environments. The sinuous nude represents Venus as the epitome of grace, mystery, and splendor. The desire to touch and possess this perfect woman will inevitably remain unfulfilled as Venus is an illusion, only to be admired from afar. Likewise, the man-made beauty in classical architecture found in public spaces can be appreciated but never possessed.
Tina Spratt is an English figurative artist, based in the UK, who specializes in painting the female figure. Focused on capturing the authenticity of her subject matter, her seminude figures are habitually placed in private surroundings that exude subtle romanticism, unassuming intimacy, and a sense of ambiguity. Spratt aims to depict the superficial qualities of textures — such as skin, hair, and fabric — as well as the deeper underlying structures of her subject matter.
Spratt works in both oils and pastels using traditional methods of realism, always starting with a loose underpainting which is the foundation for subsequent layers of more precise color and values, finally adding fine details and glazes to complete the painting.
Spratt’s delightful piece, simply entitled Venus, shows a sleeping figure, the embodiment of graceful, serene femininity in which she masterfully captures the beauty, honesty, and integrity of a fleeting moment. There’s a strong sense of vulnerability that gracefully juxtaposes the youthful strength of the slumbering woman, echoed in her unperturbed pose as well as the striking color palette.
Tyler Streeter is an American figure and portrait artist based in San Francisco, California, using oils and charcoal to capture human emotions. As to the reason why Streeter frequently portrays boxers, he states, “The image of a fighter is a perfect visual metaphor for many of the things that all people experience in life… hardship, struggle, pain, joy, triumph, tragedy, and redemption.”
Streeter’s admirable artwork is based on classical methods and accurate drawing, but he avoids excessive rendering preferring to leave clearly visible marks and painterly brushstrokes as integral elements of the finished look.
Streeter’s elegant portrait of a female boxer, entitled Combattente, is an icon of strength, inspired by the important women in his life — he was raised by a single mother and had two aunts and a grandmother he was very close to, and now has a wife and two young daughters sharing his life. Through them, Streeter has witnessed the amazing strength and perseverance women have. By including gloves and other boxing paraphernalia in his portraits, he seeks to convey the metaphor that life is something we all must fight through. The striking chiaroscuro of Combattente underlines its symbolism and visual sense of dynamism perfectly.
Aleah Chapin — Alessandro Tomassetti — Alexandra Manukyan — Anna Wypych — Carmen Chami — Carrie Pearce — Christopher Cart — Daggi Wallace — Daire Lynch — Daniela Kovačić — Daniel Maidman — David Molesky — Debra Balchen — Debra Livingston — Dianne Gall — Donna Bates — Doug Webb — Elizabeth Claire Ospina — Elliott Stokes — Erin Anderson — Graham Bruce Richards — Hannah Moghbel — Injung Oh — James Daniel — Jan Nelson — Janet Cook — Jason McPhillips — Jennifer Hartzler — Jessica Benjamin — Jodi Gerbi — Joe Nicastri — John Hun — Julie Bell — Julyan Davis — Kelly Birkenruth — Kirsten Stingle — Kyrin Hobson — Leslie Thiel — Linda Tracey Brandon — Marco Gallotta — Mike Brewer — Pegah Samale — Regina Jacobson — Rick Price — Robert Stanley — Sarah Stieber — Scott O’Neil — Steven DaLuz — Suzanne Anan — Tina Spratt — Tyler Streeter — Victoria Selbach — Wesley Wofford