Agency of Gaze - America Martin and Billy Schenck
The idealization of the female figure is an established trend in the arts, and is tied closely to the cult of youth and beauty. Much has been written in prose, poetry and literature in regards to the mystery of the female form. In Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Faust famously remarks upon seeing Helen of Troy: “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships.” The specifics of the idealized female form have continuously evolved, often tied to socio-cultural factors. Yet the idea of beauty as an attribute of value and worth has remained a constant. Artists Billy Schenck and America Martin each address this conversation around beauty, self-agency, and value through their individual processes, as well as the nuances of gaze.
In the work of America Martin, such as Three Women, Snake and Mouse, the female figures appear solid, bold, and in command of the space that they occupy. The figures are beautiful, but not because of their idealization. Martin instead opts to focus on details such as the figures’ hands and facial expressions as markers of individuality, emphasizing the features in bold strokes. There is little sexualization of nudity in Martin’s work, but rather a complete openness as to the natural state of the human body in space in balance with nature.
Contemporary pop Western artist Billy Schenck recognizes the male gaze, addressing it as one of the subjects in his work. The artist’s own self awareness comes through the wry humor of his captions as well as absurdist yet lyrical juxtapositions in the compositions. Spunky heroines, grandiose sunsets, desert vistas, and dusty cowboys are elevated by a recognition of ingrained notions of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. In He’s Kidding Right, what appears to be a leading romantic moment between a lusty cowboy and a young woman is interrupted by the woman’s thought bubble, giving evidence to her inner thoughts. The juxtaposition between word and image is both profoundly funny, and devastatingly realist.
To understand how the conversation has shifted, it is also necessary to see the space that the female form has traditionally occupied, as a subject for projection on both a broader societal spectrum, as well as a narrower, personal scope. The female nude as a subject in the nineteenth century was often veiled in the guise of “Venus”, even though the figures were often little removed from the models that posed for them. In utilizing the concept of the mythical Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, as a vehicle for portraying the naked female form, artists reinforced traditionalist values of modesty and demureness (which tied in closely to public acceptance of these works). We only have to look at the dialogue around the public reaction to evidence of sexuality and self-agency, such as in the celebrity iCloud leaks, to see that there is still much discomfort surrounding these topics.
Please join us for Bill'y upcoming solo exhibition at JoAnne Artman Gallery NYC - “Saddle Up” New Works by Billy Schenck Fall/Winter 2017 (November 14 - December 16) Artist’s Reception: Thursday, November 16th, 2017 from 6pm-8pm Please RSVP: 949.510.5481 by November 10th, 2017