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WATCHING YOU WITHOUT ME BY SHERRY HABER A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Kim Anderson Saras ota, Florida May, 2012
i TABLE OF CONTENTS List of Illustrations..............................................................................................ii Abstract....................................................................................... .....................iii Introduction.......................................................................................................1 Implications of the Portrait.................................................................................4 Sho wing Seeing...............................................................................................10 Commodification of Desire..............................................................................15 Conclusion............................... .......................................................................24 References.......................................................................................................25 Plates............................................................ ...................................................26
ii LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 1. John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Cecil Wade 1886, oil on canvas, 66 x 54 inches. 2. Kathleen Gilje, Mrs. Cecil Wade, Restored 2009, oil on linen, 25 x 20 inches. 3. Sherry Haber, Rose, 2 012, oil on canvas, 26 x 36 inches. 4. Sherry Haber, Sherry, 2011, oil on canvas, 23 x 36 inches. 5. Joan Semmel, Centered 2006, oil on canvas, 48 x 53 inches. 6. Sherry Haber, Dana, 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 42 inches. 7. Sherry Haber, Susanna, 2012, oil on canvas 23 x 36 inches. 8. Sherry Haber, Kirsten, 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. 9. Sherry Haber, Lindsay, 2011, charcoal on paper, 19 x 30 inches. 10. Sherry Haber, Kelly, 2012, charcoal on paper, 19 x 30 inches. 11. Sherry Haber, Sherise, 2012, oil on canvas, 27 x 44 inches. 12. Will Cotton, Cotton Candy Sky 2006, oil on linen, 72 x 84 inches. 13. Sherry Haber, Shelby, 2012. oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. 14. Jason Kronenwald, Gum Blonde IX, 2005, c hewed bubblegum on plywood and sealed in epoxy resin, 24 x 32 inches. 15. S herry Haber, Lush, 2011. oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.
iii WATCHING YOU WITHOUT ME Sherry Haber New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT Portrait painting has been historically situated in allegory for social and political indications of class, status, and power. The clothing and adornments of the painted subject and the location in which he or she were situated spoke more concretely about how subjects presented themselves in a social space than of their true nature. By stripping the subject and alleviat ing her of these aspects of self fashioning, she is able to communicate through her own form. Through painting head and bust portraits of nude women against flat backgrounds, I reflect on issues of femininity, intimacy, vulnerability, sexuality and the cul tural commodification of desire. Situated in the work of Jacques Lacan concerning desire and "the gaze" and the ideas of Richard Brilliant on self representation in portraiture, my portraits explore how we look at and interact with images of the female bod y in visual culture. Kim Anderson Humanities
1 INTRODUCTION I spent most of my time at the beginning of this project versing myself in feminist art in an effort to find an avenue to navigate the subject of the female nude in painti ng. As I researched, I kept feeling bombarded with feelings of inadequacy when I would fail to see the distinction between images that were described as sexist and those that were powerful affirmations of self expression and bodily agency. I began to assum e that I was the problem, or that our contemporary society had indoctrinated me with an obliviousness to sexism in images, even though I believe, just as any rational person would, that the pervasive commodification of bodies in visual culture is problemat ic. It is, in part, that very notion that drove my desire to explore issues of femininity in my thesis. Still, I could not understand how a woman in an image could be capable of asserting agency. I realized that my trouble was that I could not view images of the body in a hierarchical way because I could not see how a subject's image could hold power within the confines of a visual separated from reality. Most of the theory I read simply seemed glaringly problematic to me because it failed to distinguish b etween the real subject, who exists in reality, and the artistic rendering of the subject, who quite literally becomes an object through his or her translation into a medium. While tied to the original figure in likeness, the artist's rendering, on the mos t objective level, will never be exalted from the rank of object. It can only present a subject with humanity as an object alluding to a
2 subject's humanity. Ultimately, all visuals are inherent objectifications because they exist solely to be viewed. I dis covered that my intentions lay rather in the psychological aspects of looking and interacting with works of art. I was more interested in the conflicts and contradictions within the subject object paradigm and sought to expose these tensions, rather than p rovide an answer. When I realized this, I was overcome with simultaneous relief and dejection. Previously, I had felt that to paint images of nude women I had to be making some sort of powerful assertion of feminine agency or else my work would be misconst rued as damaging objectification. I felt almost as if I was stifled from communicating issues of my own femininity because I didn't understand the how to use the language effectively. Now, I felt that anything I did would be pointless and simply become par t of an almost hedonistic ritual of looking at art objects. When I began to feel that what I was doing meant nothing (and it happened often), my friends would find me in my studio to view the progress of their portrait. Their faces would always light up in excitement at seeing their image translated into paint. Truly there must be some substance surrounding the portrait. On portraiture, Richard Brilliant writes: "The very fact of the portrait's allusion to an individual human being, actually existing outs ide of the work, defines the function of the art work in the world and constitutes the cause of its coming into being. The vital relationship between the portrait and its object of representation directly reflects the social dimension of human life as a field of action among person, with it's own repertoire of signals and signs." (Brilliant 1991:8)
3 While I still support that a portrait painting is an illusionary objectification of a subject, I do not find the portrait genre to be problematic. There is an implicit value judgement placed upon portraits. Quite simply, for one to be painted suggests that he or she is deserving of the time and energy invested in painting. It affirms the subject as someone of importance who is worthy of being looked at. A por trait is a social thing, a pictorial commentary on our relationships to others and to ourselves. To paint something indicates its significance. By painting women, I am asserting her expression of individuality as a subject of value. I juxtapose this with t he prevalence of images of women in visual culture that perpetuates the commodification of women's bodies through an invasive and panoptic lens. The subjects in my portraits pose in awareness of the inevitable gaze, dictating how she wishes to express her own femininity, sexuality, or vulnerability as women in the grand social context.
4 IMPLICATIONS OF THE PORTRAIT For centuries in Western art the portrait genre has held a firm place in the art historical canon as a means for bodily representation, grounde d in the relationship between the painted image and the human original. Even in light of the advent of the camera, the painted portrait still holds legitimacy today for its ability to capture the likeness of a subject beyond bodily representation. Photogra phy granted the ability to quickly and cheaply create a tangible representation of reality, which threatened the value and purpose of painted portraits. While the painting tradition previously held its merit in realism, modernist portrait painters sought a new abstracted aesthetic to assert their work as a necessary complement to photography and reality. Portraiture holds its basis in identification of a subject, but "the possibilities of identification range far beyond the boundaries of mimetic description ." (Brilliant 14) Artisits concerned with the movement of portraiture revival, such as Alice Neel, were more concerned with utilizing color and paint handling to create a psychological representation of the sitter, representing his or her essence rather th an a lifelike depiction of bodily form. In addition to a change in value of stylistic concerns, the advent of the camera also led to a change in political perspectives towards the portrait. Before the camera, portraiture was revered as a symbol of wealth, class, power, and status. To display a commissioned portrait in one's home was an indication of affluence, a factor that accounts for the profusion of royal figures as subjects
5 in much of Western portrait painting. American painter John Singer Sargent is perhaps most famous for his paintings of high society women, draped in elaborate gowns and jewels and posed in luxurious settings to display their status. Masked behind their embellished attire, the women achieve a visual similitude that revokes them of th eir individuality. In an effort to instill each figure with her own unique personality, contemporary artist Kathleen Gilje "restored" forty eight of his paintings of women as nude head and bust portraits. Stripping the body of its elaborate accoutrements, Gilje venerates each woman for her strength, beauty, and conviction, rather than for her social standing. In her portrait of Mrs. Cecil Wade (figs. 1 & 2) she extricates her from the expansive room and dress that overwhelms her form and gives the viewer a n opportunity to focus on her contemplative and thoughtful expression (Friswell). As head and bust portraits of nude women against a flat background, my portraits bare resemblance to those of Gilje. With chin up and shoulders back, the subject in Rose (fig 3) approaches the viewer boldly with a confident smile. Her head is held high as she presents her body to the viewer, commanding ownership of her body with an poised confidence. Painted against a deep viridian background reminiscent of emeralds, her nude form is exalted to an almost royal status. The traditional head and bust cropping emphasizes the allusion to royal portraiture, but unlike these portraits which illustrate class, status, and alliances through garments and accessories, she is stripped
6 comp letely, and this exaltation of form is created entirely through pose and color relationships. By stripping the figure I sought to relieve her of social self fashioning behavior, rather than status specifically. We are constantly fashioning our bodies and our behaviors in an effort to present ourselves in a particular way. We pay very conscious attention to how we adorn ourselves for others, and these choices project cues about our character, often incorrectly. My intent was to alleviate women from these so cially conditioned assu mptions by revealing the body, m uch like in Gilje's reinterpr etations of Sargent's paintings. By changing the view of the subject from the social space into a very intimate space, the focus shifts from how we view one another based o n dress to how we look at and communicate through each other's bodies. While it is inevitable that the nude body will be sexualized by some viewers, I feel the evocative beauty, vulnerability and individuality of the form speaks more strongly. The women i n my paintings speak through their body language and facial expression, but what do these actions enable her to convey about her self and how do her intentions differ from her painted image? To see what the portrait is capable of, one can analyze it under the guise of the physiognomic narrative, the method art historians use to analyze traditional Renaissance portraiture. Structured in a view of the face as the "index of the mind", the substance of the portrait is segmented into four main sections: archive, character, image, and painter (Berger 104). The archive refers the to the
7 available information about the context during which the piece was painted, including historical background of the time period and information about the lives and practices of the s itters and painters involved. The archive is the most complex of the narrative and holds the most information necessary for social and cultural interpretations of the work. The character embodies the sitter's social and political status and his or her pers onality, state of mind, and moral quality. The character is revealed by the image, which embodies everything that is seen. The image is the overall presentation of the subject including their pose, their facial expression, their body language, and so on. T he image is a medium for the painter's interpretation of the subject and their character. The painter's influence is his or her indubitable characterization of the figure, acting as a decipherer of the subject as he or she is translated into paint. This is done through the artist's choices of lighting, posing, and composition, which are all invariably expounded by his or her interpretation of the sitter. The psychological act of posing places the subject in the liminal space between subject and object is i ndubitable, for by transcribing a subject's image into paint, the painter is rendering the image as a tangible object: paint on canvas. Berger writes that "to pose, the sitter becomes neither subject nor object, but a subject who feels he is becoming an ob ject." (111) While trying to organize oneself through the awkwardness of posing, the poser invents an image that embodies his or her character under the specific conditions of the image. This process of posing for an artist is directly correlated to one's daily
8 acts of self fashioning within the social sphere. To pose, one is fashioning his or herself in a manner that is not truly indicative of one's true nature, but rather of an image with which he or she wishes to be identified, moderated by images exper ienced in visual culture. To pose is to engage in a performance of the idealized self, or the social image of the self. The painted portrait cannot ever truly capture the sitter's true character because it is an amalgamation of how the painter saw the sit ter and how the sitter wanted to be seen. It cannot operate so much as an index of the subject's mind as a representation of what the sitter and the painter "had in mind" (Berger 109). It seems, in essence, that the achievement of the portrait painter is n ot to capture a subject's character, but rather their self representation, which is mediated by cultural imagery. Thus the role of the portrait is a social one, reflecting on how individuals present themselves and interact with one another for the very con struction of the portrait is situated in a social interaction between a sitter and a painter. "Making portraits is a response to the natural human tendency to think about oneself, of oneself in relation to others, and of others in apparent relation to th emselves and to others. 'To put a face on the world' catches the essence of ordinary behavior in the social context; to do the same in a work of art catches the essence of the human relationship and consolidates it in the portrait through the creation o f a visible identity sign by which someone can be known, possibly for ever." (Brilliant 1991:14) Brilliant attributes the success of the portrait as a "visible identity sign" to the degree of its "likeness" to the subject (1987: 171). The way the one in teracts
9 with a portrait, as a likeness of a human subject and as an art object, is structured in the same way one views all aspects of visual culture. Thereby, in painting images of women that capture her likeness, I am attempting to direct the viewer's cu ltural considerations about the nude female as a subject, rather than as a commodification of desire.
10 SHOWING SEEING "The gaze" is a concept development by Jacques Lacan that refers to the anxiety stimulated by awareness of the objectification of one's se lf by an Other. To look at something is to render it a picture, an object. To look at another person is to objectify him or her, as the act of looking places that which is being looked at in the form of a picture in the mind of the looker. "I n the scopic f ield, the gaze is outside, I am looked at, that is to say, I am a picture" (Lacan 104). This presupposes that an Other, that which is not oneself, engages in the same action. One becomes susceptible to the same objectification that one projects onto the wo rld; as something capable of looking, one is capable of being looked at. This realization renders the subject to view oneself as an object in one's own mind by the awareness of oneself as an object in the mind of the Other. This produces anxiety as it remi nds the subject of his or her prevalence towards objectification through his or her own looking, and is not necessarily stimulated by having been caught by the Other in the act of looking. It is "not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of t he Other" (Lacan 84). The gaze need not even be stimulated by a human Other as the "gaze is everything in the field of vision" (Lacan 84). To even look at a painting enacts the gaze because the ability to see it is a reminder of one's ability to be seen. This aspect, called "the stain", governs the function of the gaze. It distinguishes between the eye and the gaze by asserting that seeing necessitates a "given to be seen." As the stain, the subject imagines his or herself as a blotch, as an
11 actual stain, that stands out for any Other to see. The female nude in art has been specifically vulnerable to issues of the gaze. Feminist critics write of a "male gaze" that describes the voyeuristic sexualization and objectification of the passive female body by an active male spectator. Joan Semmel, a painter of the erotic nude out of the Abstract Expressionist tradition, sought to confront the "male gaze" by changing the perspective from which one is accustomed to viewing the female body. By painting her body thro ugh her own perspective, through her own eyes, she discomforts the audience and makes them aware of their voyeuristic status as a spectator. Nobody else is able to look at her body from this angle, so it suggests that nobody else should be looking. This un easiness towards viewing the work of Semmel is exemplified in pieces wherein she expresses her sexuality through the intensely private acts of intercourse and masturbation. As self portraiture, Semmel's work leads her "to contend with the multifaceted natu re of female sexuality as is develops through both subject and object positions" and "renegotiate the concepts of passivity and submission to find forms which simultaneously visualise the pleasures of activity and passivity, dominance and submission." (Mes kimmon 105) Upon viewing the intimate portraits of Semmel, as well as any image depicting the nude body, the spectator is reminded of his or her existence as the stain. The redirection of the gaze through self portraiture creates a unique relationship bet ween painter and spectator; the painter is both creator of the
12 object of the gaze and the object of the gaze itself. As a female, the painter is not only attempting to locate her own voice through the work, she is addressing her own role as a woman (Mesk immon 107). The painter "wishes to be a subject, and the art of painting is to be distinguished from all others in that, in the work, it is as subject, as gaze, that the artist intends to impose himself on us" (Lacan 100). The humanity of the subject is re inforced by the subject having "engaged in make a picture of himself; in putting into operation something that has at its centre the gaze" (Lacan 100). In this process, according to Lacan, the painter does not necessarily wish to be looked at; the creator spectator relationship is more complex. "The painter gives something to the person who must stand in front of his painting which ... gives something for the eye to feed on, but he invites the person to whom this picture is presented to lay down his gaze there as one lays down one's weapons...Something is given not so much to the gaze as to the eye, something that involves the abandonment, the laying down, of the gaze." (Lacan 101) The gaze in the process of a painter creating a self portrait is furth er convoluted through his or her simultaneous action as both creator and spectator. The paradigm raises the artist from the role of voyeur, as is inevitable in the act of painting another person, especially the nude body. Through painting, the painter bre aks down the body into its component forms, right down to every brushstroke. In the act creating a self portrait, however, the implications of this hypercritical perspective is assuaged by the form being one's own, by the painter assuming the position of t he implied Other.
13 In the vein of Semmel, one of my pieces deals with expressing sexuality through self portraiture. In Sherry (fig. 4), a woman bursts from the frame, shoulders back and chest thrust forward, demanding the attention of the viewer. The ches t is emphasized through directional mark making and soft pastel tones that coat the flesh like patchwork against the warm browns of the rest of the body. Confrontational, yet receptive, she meets the eye of the viewers as she towers over them, half of her face swarmed by tendrils of hair. Semmel's work also draws attention to the critical limitations of our own perception. We can only examine our selves with our own eyes and, even with the assistance of mirrors, some parts of our own form can never be exam ined with the scrutiny through which others can view our bodies. In a series of works entitled With Camera, Semmel uses the camera as recording device for her own perception. She paints from pictures she has taken of herself in front of a mirror with her e ye pressed against its viewfinder, using the camera as a mechanical surrogate for the eye. In Centered (fig. 5) the physical boundaries of the mirror frame crop her form, creating an intensely claustrophobic space that mimics the extent to which we can ev er see our own bodies. Through the reflection of her mirror portraits, we see the artist seeing herself seeing herself: a redirection of the gaze. The subjects in all of my portraits confront the act of looking by establishing eye contact with the spectat or, illustrating her awareness of being seen. In accordance, the spectator can ascertain that, knowing that she is being
14 looked at, the subject is presenting herself in preparation of the gaze. The reactions my subjects had to the camera varied drastically amongst one another and was indicative of an expression of their own personalities and presumptions about their bodies and the gaze. Some chose to assert herself as a strong, dominant, sexual figure in spite of the gaze, while others responded to the voye uristic action of the spectator by covering the body and staring down the viewer. This contrast can be seen between the two pieces Dana (fig. 6) and Susanna (fig. 7). The subject in Dana utilizes the opportunity of the portrait to take control over the pre sentation of her sexuality in response to the inevitable objectification of her form by the spectator. Instead of having her sexuality assigned to her, she communicates her feelings about her own desires and femininity through the portrait. Susanna in con trast, resists the viewer by covering her che s t and eyeing the viewer with a confrontational expression. Alternatively, Kirsten (fig. 8), makes a mockery of the inherent voyeurism of the portrait and stares the viewer down with a disconcerting blankness. J uxtaposed with her unemotive eyes, she bites her lip coyly in a parody of the inevitable sexualization of the nude female. The different responses to the gaze by each sitter reveal her individuality.
15 COMMODIFCATION OF DESIRE There is an innate pleasure in looking. Whether culturally prescribed or otherwise, we all have a curiosity about each other's bodies. We want to see what we're not supposed to and we want to compare our bodies to others. Tabloids exist for this reason. We exist in a culture saturate d with images of bodies. Advertising the "best" and "worst" bodies as front page headlines, tabloid magazines demonstrate our cultural obsession with dissecting t he body, regardless of gender. It seems almost as if we feel, as a culture, that a celebrity's status and propinquity to the public eye grants us an undeserved authority to attempt to strip his or her body for our own amusement. This human curiosity becomes a voyeuristic entitlement to see others' bodies at their most vulnerable. This drive fuels the celebrity panopticon, which creates a unique gaze that is "at once collective and anonymous" (Foucalt 235). Our culture reveres celebrities as almost godlike figures. Their place in the public eye is driven by a desire to be seen, which grants them an exhibitionistic power. In antithesis, they are also at risk to personal invasion by the voyeuristic camera of the paparazzi. There is a constant push and pull of power in the relationship between the celebrity and the public eye. Foucalt's concept of the panoptic gaze accords with Lacan's notion of the spectator as stain within the function of the gaze. Foucalt's description of the utility of panopticism can be interpreted as an account for the drive for the very existence of pop culture.
16 "The pleasure th at comes of exercising a power that questions, monitors, watches, spies, searches out, palpates, brings to light; and on the other hand, the pleasure that kindles at having to evade this power, flee from it, fool it, or travesty it. The power that lets itself be invaded by the pleasure it is pursing; and opposite It, power asserting itself in the pleasure of showing off, scandalizing, or resisting... These attractions, these evasions, these circular incitements have traced around bodies and sexes, not boundaries not to be crossed, but perpetual spirals of power and pleasure" (Foucault 45) Paparazzi photographs, plastered all over the media, capture an image of the body in a way that "eliminate[s] intrusive camera presence and prevent[s] a distancing awareness in the audience" (Mulvey 25). Thus, the spectator experiences a dissolution of the ego, which eradicates feelings of guilt or self awareness upon viewing the invasive images. The distance between media images and the celebrities themselves revok es them of their humanity and reduces them to objects to be looked at. More broadly, the distance between all types of images of people, as visual objects, and their real life subjects, act in the same way. Because one cannot be caught looking, the drive f or visual pleasure subjugates the anxiety generated by the act of voyeurism. By overlooking that the object viewed is an Other, the gaze is lost in this temporal moment, but can be "s uddenly refound in the conflagration of shame, by the introduction of the other. (Lacan 182) This recollection precipitates anxiety upon awareness of the spectator as the stain within the function of the gaze. As a way of exploring this problem, I created a series of drawings based on paparazzi photographs that capture female celebrity figures in vuln erable and comprising positions The drawings bring attention to the invasiveness and
17 sense of entitlement of the cultural eye. The first woman explored in this series was Lindsay Lohan. Coming into the public eye at age eleven, t he entire media conscious public media followed her through her development as both an entertainer and a woman. Her physical development through puberty fueled the tabloids with allegations of breast enlargement surgery. At that time in her career, people cared more about the media fueled mystery surrounding her breasts than anything else about her. Her lesbian relationship with Samantha Ronson made her intensely controversial and ultimately fetishistic. Her habits of intense partying made her an icon of t he "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" culture and has contributed to her multitude of run ins with the law. She is a sex object with a tragic aura about her, which is precisely what makes her so enticing; people want to see her fail just as much as they want to see her nude. Lindsay (fig. 9) is a drawing based on an image of her being bombarded by paparazzi. Cameras and people surround her, documenting her every move and every flaw, in order to capture a striking headline for the tabloids. Her eyes are croppe d from the drawing because her identity really does not matter. At this moment, encompassed b y cameras, she is an object. Draped in a fitted dresss, h er body is deconstructed into its parts as a fish eye lens emphasizes her cleavage. It becomes apparent th at the clothed body is just as prone to sexualization as the nude body, if not moreso for the mystery surrounding the unrevealed.
18 Another drawing from the series based on paparazzi photographs, Kelly (fig.10) depicts model Kelly Brook getting out of a car as the camera peers up her skirt. The intensity of the camera's flash furthers fetishizes her form, as the details of her face are lost in the vastness of glaring white. In this moment, she is trapped by the presence of the camera, for there is perhaps no correct way to exit a vehicle in a short dress without risking self exposure. Knowing this, the paparazzo situated his or her camera towards the ground to point upwards at her as the car door opened. Colloquially coined the "upskirt shot", these types of photos are highly valued by tabloid editors, selling for considerable amounts of money as front cover material. Their appeal stems from the shock value brought on by revealing the most private part of the body, a visual that is coveted for its inaccessibil ity. The camera lens has a vulture esque intrusion that seeks out women at their most vulnerable and accidentally indecent to capture their dignity for profit. This process is glaringly indicative of the intense objectification of women in the media. Ultim ately, these drawings were omitted from the final exhibition for fear of appearing too literal and lacking substance. They merely replicate the issues I am eager to revise, and by simply appropriating images of visual culture into the high brow realm of fi ne art without substantial critique or revision, I feared it would only give them legitimacy. While they do point out the issues with these images that flood visual culture through the emphasis assisted by stylistic considerations of scale and cropping, th ey do not offer anything more to the
19 viewer than what can be seen on any tabloid cover. My intention was that to frame the images and place them in the gallery space the pieces would speak about how we exalt these images in our culture and give them weight and value. In retrospect, I realized that through the way I implemented these aesthetic choices, the images operate in exactly the same way as front cover tabloid images. By cropping out the eyes in an effort to underscore our cultural fetishization of ce lebrity bodies, I acted in the same way tabloid publishers mask identities in front cover images to entice consumers to stop and open their magazine. The celebrity image has been utilized by artists successfully, perhaps most notably by Andy Warhol throu gh his mass produced images of celebrities. His process directly mimicked the commodification of the celebrity in visual culture by replicating the image as a high art object, as something with value to be bought and sold. Contemporary artist Jason Kronenw ald reflects our cultural reverence of celebrities through his series of "Gum Blondes": art objects made from chewed bubblegum stuck to plywood, sealed with epoxy resin for archival purposes. The pieces are substantial in size considering their compositio nal medium, many are 16"x22". Their titles, either in lieu of or in spite of the idenifiability of the subjects, are numbered sequentially as items in the "Gum Blonde" series rather than by name. Playing on the phrase "bubble gum blonde", a perpetuation of the stereotype of blonde women as unintelligent, bubbly and ditzy, Kronenwald depicts only blonde celebrities, though his
20 subjects rage in status from political figures such as Hilary Clinton and Princess Diana to pop icons like Taylor Swift and Britney S pears (fig. 11). Much more substantial than a play on words, in Kronenwald's work the medium truly is the message. His gum portraits serve as commentary on our culture's appetite for updates on the details of the lives of celebrity figures. We consume imag es and news of celebrities like candy; an act that Kronenwald has translated literally into his work. His medium starts out as candy, a commodity as much as the celebrity image it depicts, but by the time it is placed on plywood is it a form of disgusting garbage that can be found everywhere. Though his portraits are beautiful, brightly colored and visually engaging, they are literally trash. As high brow art objects, they subtly critique our cultural obsession with celebrities much in the way Warhol did. Realizing the limitations of my image of celebrities, I began to address the our cultural commodification of desire less directly in my other work. Sherise (fig. 12), a portrait composed of bold oranges of pinks, portrays the subject seated on the floor, r eclining back into her hands as they support her body. She gazes back at the viewer, returning a sultry and inviting expression. Her face, in shadow, recedes into the background and presents the cotton candy colored flesh of her torso. Her body highlighted the viewer is drawn first to the smooth skin of her stomach, only to be discomforted when they find she has caught them looking. The saccharine quality of tones that comprise her form ignite desire in the ironic manner achieved in the work of Will Cotton
2 1 Cotton's work is situated in spectacle. His candied landscapes, achieving an almost aversive sickly sweet quality serve as a signifier of our culture's appetite for abundance, indulgence and unbridled pleasure. His pin ups, allude more specifically to th e concept of male desire. In his painting Cotton Candy Sky (fig. 13), a nude pinup reclines against clouds of cotton candy. She seduces the viewer, biting her lip and raising an eyebrow. In another piece inspired by Will Cotton's work, Shelby (fig. 14), th e subject's coy pose and expression mimic that of Marilyn Monroe, alluding to desire and pop culture. She simpers unabashedly for the viewer as she makes a modest attempt to cover her body with her arms. Her form is composed from a candy coated palette of pinks and blues, while tendrils of hair, redolent of candied sprinkles bounce around her face. Ironically, Sherise is perhaps the most voyeuristic painting because the figure is wearing lingerie and not nude. There is a mystery surrounding her body because it is not completely exposed. Her lingerie sexualizes her more than if she were nude; because she is wearing something, there is something to be removed. There is a tension between her enticing expression and the potential to be stripped that stimulates a dialogue between the viewer and the subject. As a painting, she can not give consent to the viewer's curiosity, making it the most controversial and disconcerting. In another painting, I delve into the exploration of different example of cultural panopti cism through the lens of online video communication. In Lush
22 (fig. 15), the lighting is distinctly that from an illuminated computer screen. Ultramarines and cadmium yellows emerge from the flesh upon exposure to the light source. The subject's expression lies untensed and neutral expect for sultry, penetrating eyes that tempt the viewer. This image, a webcam capture, inevitably addresses many connotations with regard to sexual expression in digital media. Namely, with the ubiquity of "cam sites", where vie wers anonymously watch others partake in sexual acts via webcam, there is a distinct association between the webcam and amateur pornography. Existing within a global social platform, the webcam image alludes to an omnipresent gaze. The voyeurism of the vie wer is intensified through their anonymity. The realness of the amateur alleviates the distance one feels between themselves and the unknown, and often digitally altered image of the celebrity, whose unattainability alleviates the shame propagated by the a ct of voyeurism. For these reasons, viewing the woman on the webcam lies on the more perverse end of the spectrum of physiological pleasure. Within this context, Lush can be seen as perhaps the most explicit of the pieces despite revealing the least of the body. Since its lens is affixed to a computer, a place where people spend so much of their personal and private time, the webcam references a perpetual voyeurism. Always uncovered, the webcam lens is vulnerable and constantly susceptible to invasion, giv en someone has the knowledge and motivation to break in. This lens can be seen as a metaphor for the panoptic gaze that
23 pervades our social lives. The webcam lens, however, is more perverse because it has the potential to expose the unrestricted and uncont rolled self that is not in the act of self fashioning for the social realm. When discussing the webcam and its voyeuristic implications, one might recall the JenniCam project started by Jennifer Ringley in 1996. Viewed by millions of people daily back when the internet received a fraction of the traffic is does today, JenniCam provided people anonymous access to her home as she went about her daily activities live and unscripted. There was nothing deliberately sexual about JenniCam, but the project was so e nticing because it enabled the viewer to be have the role of passive spectator, something that is intrinsically scopophilic. Just as there is a pleasure in viewing, there is also a pleasure in being viewed.
24 CONCLUSION My thesis is situated in how people i nteract with and relate to images of bodies as social objects in a grander visual culture. Through my paintings of women, I seek to subvert the commodification of images of female bodies in the media by exalting the subject through the time intensive proc ess of painting. Coming into image, the paintings critique invasive and voyeuristic images of women in pop culture through a visual comparison. As described by Richard Brilliant, the existence a portrait discerns the subject it represents as a someone of value and importance. By presenting the subject as a nude, I relieve her of the conditions of self fashioning behavior and allow her the freedom to express herself through her own form. The array of nude subjects creates a visual equality among the paintin gs and allows the viewer to focus on each subject's expression and stature, which combined serve to convey her ideas on her sexuality and femininity.
25 REFERENCES Berger, Harry. Fictions of the Pose: Rembrandt Against the Italian Renaissance Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2000. Brilliant, Richard. "Portraits: The Limitations of Likeness." Art Journal 46.3, Portraits: The Limitations of Likenes s (1987): pp. 171 172. Brilliant, Richard. Portraiture London: Reaktion, 1991. Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century Cambridge, Mas s: MIT Press, 1990. Friswell, Richard. New York Artist, Kathleen Gilje, Revisits John Singer Sargent's Portraits." Artes Magazine 9 July 2010. Web. 7 May 2012 Foucalt, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An In troduction, New York: Vintage. (1976. Krips, Henry. The Politics of the gaze: Foucalt, Lacan and # i$ek ." Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 2 (2010): 91 102. Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Reissued 1 998 ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. Marter, Joan. "Joan Semmel's Nudes: The Erotic Self and the Masquerade." Woman's Art Journal 16.2 (1995): 24. Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Nar rative Cinema. Screen. 16.3 (1975): 6. Meskimmon, Marsha. The Art of Reflection: Women Artists' Self Portraiture in the Twentieth Century New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Nead, Lynda. The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality London; New York: Routledge, 1992. Silverman, Kaja. "Fassbinder and Lacan: A reconsideration of gaze, look, and image." Camera obscura 7.1 19 (1989):5 4.
26 PLATES FIG. 1: John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Cecil Wade 1886, oil on canvas, 66 x 54 inches. FIG 2: Kathleen Gilje, Mrs. Cecil Wade, Restored 2009, oil on linen, 25 x 20 inches.
27 FIG 3: Sherry Haber, Rose, 2012, oil on canvas, 26 x 36 inches. FIG 4: Sherry Haber, Sherry, 2011, oil on canvas, 23 x 36 inches.
28 FIG 5: Joan Semmel, Centered 2006, oil on canvas, 48 x 53 inches. FIG 6: Sherry Haber, Dana, 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 42 inches.
29 FIG 7: Sherry Haber, Susanna, 2012, oil on canvas, 23 x 36 inches. FIG 8: Sherry Haber, Kirsten, 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.
30 FIG 9: Sherry Haber, Lindsay, 2011, oil on canvas, 19 x 30 inches. FIG 10: Sherry Haber, Kelly, 2012, oil on canvas, 19 x 30 inches.
31 FIG 11: Sherry Haber, Sherise, 2012, oil on canvas, 27 x 44 inches. FIG 12: Will Cotton, Cotton Candy Sky 2006, oil on linen, 72 x 84 inches.
32 FIG 13: Sherry Haber, Shelby, 2012. oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. FIG 14: Jason Kronenwald, Gum Blonde IX, 2005, c hewed bubblegum on plywood and sealed in epoxy resin, 24 x 32 inches.
33 FIG 15: Sherry Haber, Lush, 2011. oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.