'Women of a Certain Age and Beyond' at Gallery of Contemporary Art

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The work of five well-know contemporary artists will be showcased at The Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University later this month. "Women of a Certain Age and Beyond" opens January 27 and runs through February 28. An opening reception on January 27 will be held at 1 p.m. with a panel discussion starting at 3:30 p.m.

In their exhibited work, the artists, Dotty Attie (NYC), Louise Bourgeois (NYC), Ann Chernow (Westport), Nancy Spero (NYC) and Selina Trieff (Welfleet, MA and NYC), depict or refer to either women or the female of a species – from Attie’s middle class women, to the spiders of Bourgeois, to Chernow’s wanton women of the Film Noir period, to the goddess figures of Spero, to the mysterious, tender figures of Trieff.

“The five artists in this exhibit have been chosen to present a small sample of distinctive women’s voices in figurative contemporary art,” said Sophia Gevas, director of The Gallery of Contemporary Art. “These artists have been creating visual imagery that has become a central feature of their identity. Each woman has developed her vocabulary over a long period of time, despite the changing trends of the art market or art movements. Their dedication to their work has been the pivotal theme of their lives.”

According to Gevas, “women of a certain age” traditionally refers to women over 40 and suggests that true beauty comes with maturity. Still working, their late-life creativity is undiminished. Gevas added that these women established their careers when few female artists were taken seriously.

In Skin Deep (2007), Dotty Attie combines text with appropriated images from book illustrations, magazines or photographs. This particular series began with a text that reads, “Sometimes a traveler in foreign lands where customs and mores are unfamiliar will find to his surprise that in certain places and in certain times persistence and perusal mean consent.” Utilizing essentially the same text, she has composed multi-paneled works on such disparate themes as war, sports, paparazzi and, in this case, the quest for physical appeal.

Skin Deep explores the varied and torturous things women will submit to and endure in the name of attractiveness: perms, exercise, pedicures and manicures, donning makeup and struggling into girdles. Composed of twenty-eight 6-inch square oil panels interspersed with seven text panels, these images are cropped and carefully painted in grisaille, with flesh tones applied to the surface. Although the complex, self-improving feminine regimens appear to be from the 50s and 60s, apparently these rituals are perennial.

In a strikingly different approach, Louise Bourgeois’ spider prints are meant to represent her mother. Born in 1911, her family operated a tapestry business. Bourgeois’ works are based on her childhood memories filtered through an intense intellect – a childhood that she contends has never lost its mystery. Although she has at times used non-representational imagery, much of her work centers upon the physical body and/or represents familial relationships. She has utilized varied media and explored many themes, making it difficult to categorize her art.

Ode à Ma Mère (1995), a suite of nine small dry-point etchings, depicts spiders and their webs. The spider has been a consistent theme for many of Bourgeois’ sculptures on a large and even massive scale. Her spiders elicit a range of emotions – sometimes menacing, at others protective or vulnerable. Bourgeois states spiders are to be revered; they weave webs, they provide for their young and they entrap enemies as well as food.

Nancy Spero has created a visual vocabulary of over 200 female images that she recombines and hand-prints. Borrowing figures from ancient cultures such as the Egyptian Sky Goddess, erotic Greek vase paintings or ancient fertility figures, as well as contemporary sources, she has created a cast of characters whose meaning changes with their placement, juxtaposition, colors and even whether they are placed vertically or horizontally on a page or wall. 

Like Attie, she often contextualizes iconic images to create her works. As an artist concerned with politics and social change, She has concentrated on the depiction of women, in varied states of joy or pain.

Ranging from works on paper with collage, to installations that cover entire rooms or, conversely, images that are printed directly on the architecture of a room, the women in her work populate their spaces with power.

In Marlene (2002), Spero has appropriated an image of Marlene Dietrich, known the world over as a movie star and cabaret singer. Although only 21 inches high, the work is six feet across, depicting approximately 25 collaged and printed repetitions of the actress – in different colors, or slightly off register, some printed lighter than others. The repetition stresses the implicit motion of the figure. Dietrich is depicted here in the Weimar days, slightly heavier, dressed in male attire, striding full of confidence.

Ann Chernow has been fascinated with old movies since childhood. Beginning in the early 1970s, she has been addressing the human condition through reinterpretations of original film sources and publicity materials, altering and introducing contemporary faces into the images.

The Bad Girls (2001-2002) etching and aquatint series were inspired by the “B” movies of the 1940s, in particular the Film Noir of the period. A text accompanies each work, describing the particular status of the women in the dramatic, sensational tabloid manner of the period.

Every woman has the potential to identify with or become the women in Vendetta (2001-2002) or Strangled Witness (2001-2002). In fact, the success of Film Noir and pulp fiction books lies in the ability of the women in these stories to recognize and act upon intense desires or disallowed emotions that are repressed.

Utilizing her formidable drafting skills, Chernow carefully selects details that are dramatized by the integration of abstract pattern, either as part of the clothing of a woman or as part of the background. There is a surface richness and range of technical facility that permeates Chernow’s distinctive printmaking style.

Another exquisite draftsman, Selina Trieff was born in Brooklyn and studied with such luminaries as Hans Hoffman, Ad Reinhart and Mark Rothko. As seen in Pastorale (2005), her paintings of groups of simplified figures, in twos or threes, often depicted in a kind of dancer’s leotard or costume, are carefully observed for those few details that describe exactly their most salient characteristics. They are uniquely her own invented figures, with firmly outlined bodies that stand in balletic poses yet appear other-worldly.

Although androgynous, they seem to interact as women, with facial features that resemble Trieff’s. The figures inhabit an abstract, mysterious world, with or without a horizon line, often with a few leaves to indicate landscape and emphasized with shimmering gold leaf. Whispering to one another, or standing close, they are introspective and live in a solemn, quiet place. The color is radiant, jewel-like and applied in large gestural strokes.

Gevas said the works from the five artists should not be viewed as portraits of specific individuals. “These images represent a multiplicity of symbolic females – a mother, a goddess, a seductress, an angel, or an everywoman,” she said.

The Gallery of Contemporary Art is located at the University’s main campus at 5151 Park Avenue, in Fairfield, Conn. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday from 12 to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m. (Closed Columbus Day Weekend). Admission is free. For more information, call 203-365-7650