The Feminine Gaze

The Feminine Gaze

Three Artists and Their Mediums

By Martin Mugar, WTP Guest Writer

Diverse, The Contemporary Female Gaze. November 15, 2020 February, 2021; Flood Gallery; Black Mountain, NC.

Despite attempts to contemporize the show with its title Diverse, The Contemporary Female Gaze, on exhibit thru February at the Flood Gallery Fine Art Center in Black Mountain, NC, the real message is in the medium chosen by each artist.

The French poet Paul Valery believed ceramics to be the highest form of art, as there is always a risk of the piece blowing up in the kiln. This risk haunts Melisa Cadell’s own ceramics; on the one hand, Cadell’s realism lends her work a mesmerizing fortitude, on the other, her medium undercuts the figure with its innate fragility of clay.

Melisa Cadell, Living In Her Mind. Ceramic, underglaze, watercolor, steel, wood, 26.5” x 7.5” x 7”

At the same time, if not our bodies, our ego can seem empowered by the wreath of bloodied hands, a reference perhaps to the native American head-dress; in “Living in Her Mind” feathers imbue the wearer with the power of the bird. Or is it a “scalp” of past conquests? People get bloodied in Cadell’s work; there is a man presumably killed by a victorious woman. No matter how adversarial the images seem in the end, the bald-headed woman surrounded by her conquests seems to speak to our vulnerability.

Melisa Cadell, Facing Her History. Ceramic, encaustic, wool, wire, 17.5” x 16.5” x 7.55”

Another artist featured, Angela Cunningham, has learned marvelously the techniques of verisimilitude. Through her medium of choice, oils, she translates the uniqueness of personality without becoming mannered—she allows for a seamless connection of body and face. Cunningham clearly pays homage to the realism of the Renaissance, devoting as much attention to the folds of a background drape as to the color of flesh. It seems a healthy melding of harder-edged Northern Renaissance with the more voluptuous of the Italian. Although a case could be made for the 19th-Century French realism of Ingres or Courbet.

Angela Cunningham, Yellow Rose. Oil paint, 18” x 22”

Anne Bessac makes that leap beyond verisimilitude to chiaroscuro, charcoal her chosen medium. Employing black and white both as abstraction/flatness and the voluminous allows her to achieve an energy that is reminiscent of both Richard Serra’s abstract charcoal drawings and the more figurative of Jim Dines. This juggling of values lends to her work a great deal of visual sophistication. The faces are suppressed in favor of the bodily presence so that the woman’s monumentality engages the earth mothers of prehistoric times. Like those two artists, she “values” the negative space, the incising of marks into the whiteness of the page.

Anne Bessac, Hefty Nudes, Female. Charcoal and pastel, 20” x 26”
Anne Bessac, Female & the Duck. Charcoal and pastel, 20” x 26”

All three artists are savvy in their use of various representations of the female gaze. They bespeak a healthy respect for a past dominated by the male gaze defining the female presence. It is liberating in that respect, a repatriation of a male history of visual thinking. Although the works in this show are a vehicle for the contemporary political agon of feminism, they show a reverence for both the material used and the historicity of the visual languages. They reach back into the past to see how those languages can be used as platforms for contemporary narratives.

The above work can be seen at the Flood Gallery, Black Mountain, NC “Diverse, The Contemporary Female Gaze,” November 15, 2020-Feb, 2021

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