Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Animals In the Work of America Martin

Joanne Artman Gallery
Feb 19, 2017 11:47PM

We have written before about the humanist themes in America’s work. We love her depictions of animals as well as her human subjects, which joyfully highlight some of the integral aspects of her positivist worldview. She portrays rabbits, cats, birds and many other members of the animal kingdom with both humor as well as empathy, often giving them the same priority in her compositions as the human figure. America’s thoughtful, insightful and delightful scenarios both play with as well as elevate elements of traditional portraiture.  

Animals have long been given humanized in literature and the visual arts based on their perceived qualities and traits. Works of art featuring both human as well as animal subjects often play with a juxtaposition of the inherent characteristics of the human subjects and their animal counterparts. Quite often the two resemble each other in some way. In America’s paintings, animals of cultural, historical as well as personal significance are shown, imbuing the work with meaning as well as leaving it open to our own interpretations. 

In Martin’s Woman and Cat, much like da Vinci’s Lady With Ermine, a figure is shown with her pet, a familiar subject. However while the animal – an ermine, in da Vinci’s composition serves as a way to identify the figure (the first two syllables of her name match the Greek word for weasel), as well as a symbol of her purity, in America’s work the animal shown serves a much less tactical purpose. While both paintings contain elements of the classic portrait, the warm colors as well as the casual boredom of the cat give us the feel of contemporary domesticity in America’s work – here the animal is in complete ease with the human figure, and both are given discerning expressions and equal attention. Much like the monkeys in Kahlo’s Self Portrait, the cat is a personal symbol, at once both a part of as well as removed from the figure it is shown with, operating under its own agency. In contrast, the symbolically laden serpent in America’s Blue Snake and Brown Leaves, blends naturally into the figure and background, becoming an integral part of both the composition as well as the overriding story.

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine, 1489-90

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1943  

The classical nude merges with the vivaciousness and abundance of life of its animal counterparts in America’s compositions, incorporating both personal as well as cultural motifs. Stillness and action, the human and the animal, repose and awakening. Through these juxtapositions America brings the works to life, producing compelling and dynamic visual narratives.

JoAnne Artman Gallery, Presents: THIS IS AMERICA II: New Works by AMERICA MARTIN February 15, 2017 – April 15, 2017 Artist Reception: Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 from 6-8pm 

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Joanne Artman Gallery