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

Click here to read more Exhibition Reviews

2 Responses

  1. I am tickled to have the exhibit, Diverse,The Contemporary Female Gaze, reviewed on Woven Tale
    Press site. It is valuable to the exhibiting artists to have Martin Mugar’s review their art works within
    the contemporary history of art. As the artist who developed the exhibit’s concept, found the other
    artists to join me in the exhibit and submitted its proposal to Flood Gallery, I am grateful for the
    Flood Gallery exhibit to have an online presence in the middle of Covid-19.
    Martin’s review is a credit to the hard work of writing. His comments contribute to an understanding
    of how these three artists’ works interact together. When he focuses on addressing the individual
    artists’ work, his writing is insightful. It is then informed by his extensive knowledge of western art and
    philosophy as well as his experience as a painter.
    But I disagree with Martin’s insertion into the review of an adversarial juxtaposition of the female
    artist versus the male artist. It is a contentious attempt to reframe the exhibit’s narrative as a
    political statement in opposition to male dominant perspective of the 20th century. The phrase
    “contemporary female gaze” seemed to have evoke a response from Martin rooted in his prior
    responses to “feminist” writings. However, the exhibit’s proposal clearly stated its goal as to
    investigate the diverse expressions of the female gaze in contemporary female artists.
    As such the male gaze is not pertinent to this exhibit’s statement of purpose. This exhibit functions
    in the current 21 century environment in which the art world, both male and female, acknowledge
    the authenticity and validity of the female artist’s independent identity and voice.
    In all fairness, the term “female gaze” was coined by feminist writers. But what the term identifies
    has always been experienced by women, their own gaze. Its reality was not created by feminism,
    but identified. And I, for one, have benefited from their writings.
    Martin makes an important observation that these three female artists have not spurned western
    art’s history and visual languages that were developed by male artists. But the last paragraph
    creates the impression that by doing so their individual female gaze is usurped into the dominance
    of the male gaze. He slyly seems to infer that their female gaze is subordinated by “a repatriation”
    of their art works to “a male history of visual thinking”. Should that be Martin’s intention, I would
    strongly disagree with it.
    Are the past visual languages and strategies only owned by men? So much so, that a woman artist
    subjugates her creative self by engaging in them? That premise I reject. And it is a premise that is
    roundly proven false by the works in this exhibit.
    As stated by Martin’s review, these three female artists have a reverence for both the materials
    used and the historicity of the western art. But their respect and love for the past visual languages
    does not infer an equal respect for the male gaze defining the female presence and for male artist’s
    historical exclusivity. If Martin intended this inference, I reject it.
    Instead this exhibit demonstrates Melisa Cadel’s, Angela Cunningham’s and Anne Bessac’s
    mastery of western visual strategies without subjugating the authenticity of their female voice. It is
    why I like Martin’s final statement, “They reach back into the past to see how the languages can be
    used as platforms for contemporary narratives”.

  2. Maybe I am suggesting a post-feminist stance in a postmodern world. A transcendent positioning.A going beyond .Not that one should no longer produce art from a feminine gaze as this show indicates the power and richness of that stance but there is a proliferation of sexualities these days.Maybe by overcoming the dualities we strangely take a step back.

Leave a Reply