Figure painting in particular has such a long history, how does your work fit into this canon? What is your interest in this subject and especially the female form?
My work is fueled by collaboration, driven towards beauty, and preoccupied with the feminine experience. It explores the internal battles faced by women as we confront society’s prefabricated narratives, realize our unique identities, and compose our personal responses to the emotions that shape the human experience. I am particularly interested in the conflict that emerges when the contemporary female experience collides with the narratives that we have inherited through myths, folktales and fairy tales. In my compositions, reality merges with the mystical, allowing me to recreate historical fables and invented tales from the perspective of the heroines living the stories today.
My first use of myths as a source of visual allegory resulted in a painting series informed by my fascination with animal-human hybrids, exploring the idea of two distinct and contrary entities sharing the same body. I wanted these hybrid creatures to visually manifest feminine beauty as but one facet of a complex entity that also embodies power, wisdom, strength, grace, magic and even the threat of danger. In my most recent work I use the language of myth to represent intimate stories of modern feminine experience in a series that began as a process of personal catharsis and later expanded to include the cathartic explorations of other women. I asked each of my collaborators to help me create compositions expressing their personal stories informed by fable and myth. I wanted the paintings to act as both sacred space for our characters to inhabit and safe spaces for them to reveal themselves to the viewer. Photography was an invaluable tool that allowed me to combine locations and subjects that I could not physically bring into my studio. Even more, it facilitated dialogue with my collaborators, translating ideas into a useful form of visual communication.
Visually, the paintings are informed by a centuries old tradition of depicting archetypal female forms in natural spaces and in private interiors through painting. Historically, such images have been created by men to appeal to the male gaze, in the words of feminist scholar Laura Mulvey, making women “the bearer of meaning and not the maker of meaning." My paintings are created collaboratively with my subjects; the women within my compositions enter that domain with agency and consent as makers of their own meaning and narrators of their own stories. I seek to continue the tradition of storytelling using familiar visual elements while elevating the narrative content and process to examine the complexities, strengths and beauty of women today.
I deliberately place feminine beauty as a central visual element in my work to celebrate its power and to challenge the viewer to look past it in order to discover deeper emotional material and narrative content. The female subjects that are central visual elements in my compositions inhabit a sort of dream space, balanced between reality and the fantastic. They appear simultaneously bold, confident and overtly self-conscious as they engage in the struggle between the need to conform to and the desire to rebel against conventional societal pressures.
Have your works taken on new meaning (for you or your audience) in the current political climate?
Absolutely. Whether or not it comes across to the audience, my passion for women's rights is a huge influence on my approach and content of my work. Many other political human rights and environmental rights are important to me, but as a woman those issues are closest to my heart and in my work I am always trying to give voice to the female experience.
The paintings you create seem very involved based on the scale and attention to naturalism. What is your process like? Your studio space?
My process varies from piece to piece, but I rely on photographic references frequently, either combining references form photographs I have taken in my travels or having an idea, elaborately creating a scene in a space with props and photographing it to work from. I frequently work from life in small paintings to stay fresh, but logistical challenges prevent me from working from life in my larger and more complex compositions. I paint in layers, starting with a colored ground, laying out the composition, blocking in the lights and shadows, and lastly painting the final work on top of those preparatory layers.
I have had the luxury of a large studio in my home base in PA over the last 8 years, though I have also set up tiny studios in which I have created huge works while painting abroad in Central America.
You have traveled quite a bit, including residencies abroad. How have living and working internationally affected your work?
Enormously. My experiences abroad have shaped me as a human being, given me an ever growing and deepening perspective through which to understand the complex world we live in. My travels also influence the content, scenes, and color palette of my work, and it is often my experiences abroad that give me my inspiration for my paintings.