joan semmel

tumblr_myur0mvD031qdhmvlo1_500Joan Semmel (b.1932) is a painter who has centered her practice around issues of the body, from desire to aging, as well as those of identity and cultural imprinting. She studied at the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute and the Art Student’s League of New York. In the 1960s, Semmel began her painting career in Spain and South America, where she experimented with abstraction. She returned to New York in the early 1970s, where her practice turned towards figurative paintings, many with erotic themes in response to pornography, popular culture, and concerns around representation. Her practice traces the transformation that women’s sexuality has seen in the last century, and emphasizes the possibility for female autonomy through the body.


In the 1970s, Semmel began her exploration of female sexuality with the Erotic Series, large scale depictions of highly sexual positions. Her reclaimed gaze of the female nude heralded a feminist approach to painting and representation in the 1970s. Produced at a pivotal moment in her practice and in the cultural landscape of First-wave Feminism, her Erotic Series depicts couples entwined in various coital positions rendered with expressive gesture, exemplifying her keen understanding of color and composition. In 1973, she makes a definitive formal shift from abstraction by fully embracing figuration. Using her own body as subject, she began depicting her nudeness on canvas, shifting the perspective from that of an observer to a personal point of view. During the mid-to-late-1970s, Semmel turned to photography to capture reflections of her own body onto mirrors as documented by the camera.


In recent times, Semmel has meditated on the aging female physique; recent paintings continue the artist’s exploration of self-portraiture and female identity. These works represent the artist’s body, doubled, fragmented, and in-motion. Dissolving the space between artist and model, viewer and subject, the paintings are notable for their celebration of color and flesh. Soft and milky colors provide background for the luminous skin tones Semmel captures, as figure and ground merge. In many of the works, the artist confronts the viewer with a direct gaze, a departure from iconic earlier works in which the point of view that remained within the canvas itself.


Joan Semmel’s museum exhibitions include: Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC (2014); Me. Myself. Naked at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen, Germany (2013); Joan Semmel: A Lucid Eye at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (2013); Shifting the Gaze at the Jewish Museum (2010); Rebelle at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem, The Netherlands (2009); Solitaire: Lee Lozano, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Joan Semmel at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2008); and the touring exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, MoCA, Los Angeles (2007). Semmel’s paintings are part of the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; Orange County Museum of Art, CA; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; the Jocelyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE; the Jewish Museum, New York; and the Brooklyn Museum, New York. She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award 2013, Anonymous Was a Woman (2008), and National Endowment for the Arts awards (1985 and 1980). She is Professor Emeritus of Painting at Rutgers University.   888888   eeeee fbbd3079 ggg iiiiiii joansemmel1d kneestogether2003joansemmel large oooooooo ppppppp rrrr Screen-shot-2014-03-20-at-5.04.58-PM tumblr_liy9zkwnhs1qax8f4o1_500 tumblr_lq4y6rb01r1qah2gqo1_500

beautiful things

“You could see the signs of female aging as diseased, especially if you had a vested interest in making women too see them your way. Or you could see that a woman is healthy if she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows into her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of ‘serious lesions’ or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life and it shows. When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold.”
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth5.w902.h1200

aleah chapin’ s nudes

Reblogged from here

‘What painting portraits of naked women has taught me’

Artist Aleah Chapin, 28, has caused controversy with her realistic paintings of nude older women. Now, she has a new London show that celebrates the female form at every age. Here, she opens up to Claire Cohen about body image and the perils of social media

Aleah Chapin has a new exhibition at the Flowers Gallery in London Photo: Antonio Parente 2014

Aleah Chapin has seen a lot of naked women. In the past couple of years, she’s studied wrinkles, tattoos, mastectomy scars, pubic hair, lactating breasts and sagging bosoms.

The 28-year-old American artist, who hails from an island off Seattle and now lives in Brooklyn, has been lauded for her realist, larger-than-life depictions of ‘real’ female bodies.

It started with the ‘Aunties Project’, which saw her paint a series of giant nudes, featuring a group of older women – her mother’s friends, who she “grew-up with” and has known all her life.

One won her the prestigious BP Portrait Award in 2012, the last time she was in London. It depicted a woman in her sixties, smiling with her fulsome breasts resting on her stomach.

Critic Brian Sewell called it “repellent…a grotesque medical record”.

Chapin was undeterred. She’s exhibited in the US, the Netherlands and Germany. Now, she’s back in London with a new show at the Flowers Gallery: ‘Maiden, Mother, Child and Crone’.

The paintings are in the same spirit – playful, confident, naked women – but her subjects now span the generations.

“I’m at the age where many of my friends are having children, thinking about having children, or thinking about not having children. So it’s something that’s happening now,” explains Chapin.

“And I’m nearing the age my parents were when they had me, so there’s this interesting layering of generations. I wanted to explore that in my work”.

Her paintings challenge the ageing process: how the years affect our bodies and minds, and how we’re ‘supposed’ to behave at a certain age.

So there’s a giant canvas on which a group of nine grey-haired women play an exaggerated, child-like game, crawling through each other’s legs. There are two pictures depicting a young mother. Another captures a mother and her daughter, standing companionably, side-by-side.

Chapin began painting as a child. But she only adopted the female form as a student in New York.

“I moved from the west coast to the east coast – New York with its big contemporary art world,” she explains. “I wanted to fit in. But then, I was drawn to where I came from.

“So I decided to go back to basics and explore my history and the people I grew up with – all these wacky and amazing women. The female body is an incredible thing to paint.”

(I don’t know about you, but, I’d struggle to delve into my back catalogue of family friends and emerge with a dozen women I could ask to take their clothes off).

It was the sound of their feet, 2014. Aleah Chapin

But, as well as being a personal project, Chapin’s work has also shone a light on the subject of body image.

“Most women have issues and I’m not immune to that,” says Chapin. “We’re told that our bodies are supposed to be a ‘certain height, certain size, certain weight’. But the pictures we see are completely unrealistic; they’re very Photoshopped.

“We all know it when we look at them in magazines and yet, we still compare ourselves.

“That’s why we need images that show all sorts of bodies – so we can accept every size and shape.”

This attitude is why her work resonates. We may not recognise the individuals depicted in paint, but we recognise them as people (and it’s likely why two of Britain’s leading collectors of modern art –including ‘Saatchi of the North’ Frank Cohen – have snapped up work from the new exhibition).

She also says that painting young women was a different experience to the ‘Aunties’.

“We generally care more what we look like – probably too much at times, me included,” she says.

“Young women are still trying to fit in. I think when you get older you care less –that’s not a negative thing at all. You’re just more accepting.

“When you get past a certain age you become invisible – and that’s a whole other problem.

“For me, it’s about finding beauty in every imperfection.”

Jumanji and Gwen, 2014. Aleah Chapin

Some might disagree. I talk to a middle-aged woman, intently studying Chapin’s work on the gallery walls. She’s disappointed by the subject matter.

“It’s sad that we have to go to such extremes to get attention for my generation,” she tells me. “For me, it’s just too much. I find it really hard to look at.”

Chapin’s paintings do dominate a room. Each is twice life-size and, according to Chapin, her works are getting “larger and larger”.

“You get an amazing human connection that way,” she tells me. “They are more in your personal space.”

To the outsider, it looks as though it’s Chapin who’s really been invading personal space. But she assures me that she’s never had to ‘persuade’ any of her subjects to strip-off.

“I don’t want them to go into it not wanting to,” she explains.

“I ask them to close their eyes and take a deep breath. That can really ground them in their bodies and make them feel relaxed. I also let them know that I’m completely comfortable.

“I almost don’t even see nakedness anymore; I’m so used to it.”

Exhibition at the Flowers Gallery, 2014. Aleah Chapin

She does admit that a few women went through “difficulty” when they first saw themselves depicted in paint. But nothing could have prepared them for the public reaction.

“None of us expecting that,” smiles Chapin. “That’s the hardest bit for us all – having personal pictures out there.”

It’s an issue that every modern artist must now tackle – the presence of his, or hers, subjects on the internet.

“I have to let them know that the images will be online, she says. “You see these little tiny thumbnails and they look more real when they’re smaller. It changes things for people. I’m honestly surprised that they are so comfortable with it.”

Social media has completely transformed life for young artists like Chapin – allowing them to share ideas and engage with their fans – and detractors.

“Not every one wants to see non-idealised female bodies,” she shrugs. “I try not to be affected but it’s difficult sometimes.

“People have a right to say what they want. But there’s something about the internet that gives them a platform to say anything. There’s that veil between you and that person.

“But then I’ll get an email saying how the work has influenced someone positively and it makes the struggle totally worth it.

“And I no longer feel that I’m not the only one who has body issues. I’ve learned that we all have insecurities, from people around the world who email to tell me what they’re dealing with. I don’t feel alone.”

Aleah working in her studio. Photo: Facebook

Next, Chapin plans to tackle gender and admits to having male subjects lined up.

“I have asked a couple actually,” she laughs. “But men are actually less comfortable posing in the nude. I guess we see less nude men generally in culture generally, unless you look back to Greek art.

“I have a show in LA next year and I haven’t started the work yet. It’s daunting – but I have to do it.”

She also hopes – at some point – to have a family (her boyfriend, a film-maker, is in London to support her) despite what the art establishment might think.

“I think there’s an expectation that for women to ‘make it’ you only have to do your art,” she says.

““You have to be incredibly selfish and spend a lot of time in the studio. People say you have to be ‘married to your art’.

“But I also believe you can have a partner and a family. I am absolutely going to do that.”

“So I will.”

gregory crewdson

Gregory Crewdson works within a photographic tradition that combines the documentary style of William Eggleston and Walker Evans with the dream-like vision of filmmakers such as Stephen Spielberg and David Lynch. Crewdson’s method is equally filmic, building elaborate sets to take pictures of extraordinary detail and narrative portent.Untitled-Penitent-Daughter gregory_crewdson_18 Gregory_Crewdson_normal GregoryCrewdson gregory-crewdson-21 gregory-crewdson-22 gregorycrewdson (1)

barbed wire lady


I had to open the boxes with the Eyrie works today. These works were exhibited in Cape Town in 2010. They’ve been bubble-wrapped since then in boxes. I took out “Barbed wire woman” to photograph her for a book cover that she will be appearing on. Her colours are rapidly fading. I find her more beautiful than ever. She’s safe behind glass, but her colours are going. She looks much paler now, and it really suits her.

dead lady

I’ve always loved second hand clothes. There’s something amazing about fabric that’s been ‘warn in’. Friends pass down clothes, mom spots some good gear at the church’s clothing sales etc. Recently this one lady died of cancer and some of her clothes ended up with me. When I wear the clothes, I think about her, wonder about her, as I’m protected against the autumn chill, still now and then getting a whiff of a distinct perfume lingering; a memory of someone I never knew but somehow feel close to.


‘self portraits of you and me´ by douglas gordon

With ‘Self Portraits of You and Me´ by Douglas Gordon, the viewer is denied engagement with the subject (celebrities) because all discriminating facial features have been removed by burning. Frames backed with mirrors were constructed so that the viewer’s gaze is quite literally reflected back out of the photographs through the holes in the images.