We are pleased to present How She Looks, an online exhibition featuring new artworks by Hester Finch, Venetia Berry, Alexandria Coe and Fee Greening. This edit investigates how these four female artists reclaim the subject matter of the female nude (a subject historically mainly painted by male artists who employed a “male gaze” - usually objectifying the female body).
Here however, these artists assert their female gaze; depicting the female form in a new way that is not an object of desire, but an expression of womanhood. The exhibition seeks to flip the female nude from art history on its head – allowing us to reconsider not how she looks ( a passive aesthetic object; the looked at), but rather how she looks (she becoming the active female artist; the looker).
The exhibition has particularly relevance as we launch alongside the opening of The Renaissance Nude at the Royal Academy. The artists make reference to the Renaissance nude in her many guises – as Venus, Madonna, The Three Graces or as Eve, but with a new approach, freshness, and most importantly, a new “look”.
Venetia’s works speak to the curves of the female nude but abstracts them into shapes and lines. Her wispy forms are free flowing and have a joyous feeling of freedom, whilst marking the impression of womanhood rather than any absolutes. These works are celebrations of seeing the world differently and of enjoying the colours and delicacy of contrasting lines.
Venetia has said “As a woman it is important for me to reflect my life experiences within my work. I have always been drawn to the female form for its aesthetic beauty and curve. However, it is also extremely important to me to reclaim the female nude."
You can feel this palpable engagement, the refusal of traditional rendering of the female nude in her new works. Here Venetia continues to open discussion of not just what the female nude looks like but what we gain from looking. In Venetia’s work the playful and the delicate mix to make the looking a sensuous experience. We can appreciate not just what her artwork looks like but how she looks at her subject.
Alexandria’s new works s see a clear reference to the Renaissance. Her charcoal works play on The Three Graces and Dancers, yet are reinterpreted with her own vision. Far from the dancing graces that flaunt their figures to male admires that we see may have seen in the works of Botticelli or Poussin, here we see a group of women who are more like warriors, rejoicing in their nudity and freedom.
Alexandria: “The Renaissance nude is a key part of my inspiration. I love the perverseness and the sexism laden with the representation of female archetypes. There is a lot to learn about traditional male gaze from these Classic works. There is such a power in subversion, I seek to create a language that acknowledges the past, present and future of female roles and imagery.”
In her Nude on Nude works and in her canvas pieces, we see a celebration of the curves and lines of the female form. Here, we get a sense that the artist is not necessarily painting what she sees, but what she knows - an abstracted yet highly visceral feeling of being a woman.
“In my opinion, It’s never enough to just celebrate curves, but more important to view the physical, emotional and social layers of the story that is unique to each human form.”
The Art of Nude
In The Art of Nude we see Alexandria work in a larger scale, using acrylic on canvas. The series with brings to mind classical nudes with its muted palette and interest in the sinuous curves of the female form, yet its rectangular shape perhaps brings to mind the shape of an iphone - immediately bringing us to the present day. The tight crop of the nude means that as viewer we are looking through a viewfinder - with parts of the body obscured from our view. Therefore, we question, are we voyeurs in this scene - or are these perhaps the artists musings on her own body in an age of social media. their ambiguity is at once unsettling and honest - but either way these works are utterly compelling and human.
These works are £800 each, or can be purchase as a series of three for £2,100.
As with much of Hester’s work, these works bring to light the often conflicted concept of “nudity”. Sometimes nudity can make the subject vulnerable and offer transparency, but at other times it’s confrontational and provides a disguise. Hester’s work questions whether you’re really learning more about the female subject when they’re nude, or whether the contours of flesh and skin and the play of light and dark just create a new barrier and disguise.
Hester explains “I like to use intentionally jarring juxtapositions of bold colours to carve out the flattened planes of the nude which, with her looming shadow, create a psychologically uneasy and ominous interior space.”
In these new works, we see Hester incorporate new ‘props’ - such as the house plant, the mug, and a mesh curtain. The mesh curtain adds a further feeling of being watched - we are the voyeurs or peeping Toms - although rather than being watched unaware, we are met with a defiant gaze from the model.
In contrast, in her artworks featuring the house plant, the sitter is less aware of our voyeurism. Although the house plant is decorative - it creates unease with its looming shadow which implies a harsh spotlight being cast upon the sitter. Here, perhaps sitter is compared to plant - an inanimate object there to be gazed upon by the artist and the viewer. Yet what is clear, wherever the sitter may be watched - the artist, Hester, is actively watching, and creating with great skill.
As Hester says herself, her work is laden with dualities and plays on the transfer of power and the fraught relationship and symbolism between artist and sitter.
She says: “I hope to examine my/her loss of identity, my/her isolation, my/her fear of violence, and my/her fuck you assertiveness. “
In Fee’s works we see a totally fresh and very different approach to the topic of the female gaze. Rather than portraying the female form, in Fee’s works we step inside the shoes of three different female artists from history, seeing life through their gaze in the form of a Vanitas.
A Vanitas is a Netherlandish still life genre from the 16th and 17th centuries. Thy are symbolic images representing the transience of life. The still life displays the worldly goods of a subject to form a portrait of sorts, symbols of mortality often re-occur, a memento mori skull, extinguished candles, ripe and rotten fruit and dying flowers.
Here we see a mirroring effect - Fee, a female artist, steps into the shoes of other renowned female artists, picturing what it’s like to see life through their lens - and allowing us to partake in this vision. Therefore, as viewer we see through the eyes of two female artists - that of Fee and her chosen female artists; a telescope through which we ponder the difference in the female gaze today versus our female predecessors.
Fee says: “In response to the title 'The Female Gaze' I wanted to explore what the subject herself was looking at, what she is inspired by and chooses to surround herself with. This series of drawings are Vanitas style portraits of historic female artists I admire. The scenes are made up of objects owned by the artist to form a sum of her parts.”