New York painter Joan Semmel received critical success for her large nude self-portraits in the 1970’s and has been a leader of the feminist movement ever since. Her recent paintings continue to explore the subject of the female nude, using herself as the model, with much of the interest in the subject of painting and the visual experience. Here in Transformation the play of double exposure references not only the use of photography as a source, but also allows for motion. Her unflinching depiction of the aging female, full frontal nude shows the power of her complete confidence and maturity as an artist and woman.
Her work, including this painting, was described in the New Yorker (May 10, 2011). “For the past decade, the seventy-eight-year-old has turned an unflinching eye-and a very deft hand-on her own aging body and face in an ongoing series of paintings. The feminist intentions are obvious, and the work is best when it verges on the surreal, playing with double exposures.
One startlingly beautiful canvas overlays two images of the artist’s crossed legs, creating a sort of nest, at the center of which a hand rests on a thigh. A turquoise ring on one finger provides a taunting suggestion of permanence in a world in which all things must pass.”
Born in New York in 1932, Joan Semmel studied at the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute and the Art Student’s League of New York. She began her painting career in Spain and South America in the 1960s. In the early 1970s she returned to New York where her practice turned towards figurative paintings, many with erotic themes, in response to pornography, popular culture, and concerns around representation. Her museum shows include: Shifting the Gaze at the Jewish Museum (2010); Rebelle at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem, The Netherlands (2009); Solitaire: Lee Lozano, Sylvia Mangold Pilmack, Joan Semmel at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2008); and the touring exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Movement, MoCA, Los Angeles (2007). Semmel's paintings are part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Blanton Museum, Austin, TX; Newport Beach Art Museum, 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. She is the recipient of numerous grants, including Anonymous Was a Woman and the National Endowment for the Arts awards. She is Professor Emeritus of Painting at Rutgers University.
Image courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York