Women in the Art at Plus One Gallery

Plus One Gallery
Feb 1, 2017 5:35PM

Mike Francis, 'Sugar Daddy', 76 x 76 cm Acrylic on canvas 

Why are depictions of woman so popular in art history? “Sex sells” would be my simplest answer, but I feel this might cheapen an artwork to our primal instincts and neglect the reflection of history, ideals and politics that can’t be ignored. History here provides us with a refence of the “ideal woman”, an ever-changing concept.

The three artists that I am going to discuss all have very different styles and represent woman within their art in very different ways. Yet they all deal with the common themes that tends to arise when a female form is depicted in art. These are the passive nature of the subject, the defining of gender and women by men and the creation of fantasy that allows us as the viewer to gaze upon the subject feely and without guilt.

Mike Francis

Mike Francis started his career as a commercial illustrator and has continued to priorities the creation of a narrative in his works; allowing just enough mystery, he invites the view to interpret his imagery and add to it. Mike Francis is excellent at creating a fantasy; his works blur the boundary between the real and the imaginary, to the point where they become indistinguishable. Because of this the viewer fells less like a voyeur and approaches the artwork like a story that they are being told.

His paintings often included a prominent female figure who is the focal point of the image and therefore our gaze. Whilst the women in his paintings are not repeated, the characters are. They could all be the same character, this is in forced by the repetition of very similar male characters (when they are depicted at all).  The subjects do not seem aware of the viewer and often have their back to us, yet they are still powerful and confident. They are not passive or shy, Francis depicts strong female figures.

In many ways, you could argue that Francis objectifies the women in his paintings, they are attractive and allow space for the view to peer at them longingly. And yet I wouldn’t describe them as a pawn, they are the pivotal character in the plot of the paintings, they are not passive but rather defiant (and a little playful). It is Francis’ dry sense of humour that allows this balance within his paintings, like the paintings of Edward Hopper the focus of his works is the creation of an ambience.

Hubert de Lartigue 'Snow White', 89 x 130 cm, Acrylic on Canvas 

Hubert de Lartigue

Hubert de Lartigue moved his focus from advertisement and followed is true passion for pin-ups. Pin-ups are models whose mass-produced pictures see wide appeal as popular culture. Often informally pinned up, they are images that don’t just allow, but invite the male gaze. Just as a pin-up model will directly look at the viewer in order to ‘tease’, the models in de Lartigue’s paintings do the same. They are confident and bold in their femininity; de Lartigue challenges the passive pose of for example Gustave Courbet’s ‘Sleeping Nude Woman’, instead depicting his muses as more active figures within his paintings. 

Hubert de Lartigue explains that is paintings are not just nudes, they are portraits that include details to better understand intimacy and beauty. Therefore, Lartigue’s works move away from just being nudes and are a celebration of women and femininity. This is emphasised by Lartigue’s soft aesthetic, portraying is subjects against bare studio like backgrounds in archetypal feminine colours such as pink and lilac.

John Kacere 'Valerie II' (1989), 101.5 x 142.25 cm, Oil on canvas 

John Kacere

'John Kacere’s paintings of the female midsection clad in lingerie, blown up larger than life, are among the best known and more memorable icons of American photorealism'. The artist’s expertise in depicting flesh and delicate fabrics helped him to create these beautiful works, which, while figurative, could also be seen as still lifes and perhaps even as landscapes.

By focusing in on one section of the woman Kacere does two things; first of he objectifies them and takes away their authorship, but he also decontextualizes them enough that means he depicts the curves and shapes within the composition rather than allowing the viewer to be feel like they are being voyeurs.

I will start with discussing the first point. By taking away the subjects’ ability to assert themselves in the form of eye contact with the audience Kacere reduces the subjects to an object within is works. This is emphasised by the section e chooses to crop into- the bum and vagina.  

Despite criticism from feminists, some of whom have labelled his work sexist, “Woman is the source of all life, the source of regeneration,” he has said, “my work praises that aspect of womanhood.”

Plus One Gallery