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Identity through the Gendered Eye in Modern Art

Curating an exhibition (view full screen)

Tamara Dunkley

on 25 September 2013

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Transcript of Identity through the Gendered Eye in Modern Art

Identity through the
Gendered Eye

New Zealand and
British modern
art: an exploration
of the impact of
process and media
and the theme of
‘This is the Promised Land’ is a rare work of self portraiture done by McCahon. We see McCahon’s love for the beauty of rural New Zealand, religion and the idea of the perfection which lies beyond the land. McCahon has placed himself in this work, in a typical black singlet next to the Takaka Hills. Next to him, we see a future representation of the paradise which awaits him (envisioned by a hovering angel); Golden Bay, which lies beyond the Hills of Takaka. With this, he is reinstating the goodness of the earthly creations of God.
Like many of his other works, McCahon has used an interesting process in order to create this work. The paint has been applied smoothly, in long brushstrokes. In some sections this paint application is visible, for example in the Takaka Hills; reinforcing their height and natural strength, perhaps. In both his and the angels’ face, the paint is smooth, adding to the calm expression seen on them. The painting on a whole holds a matte aesthetic of sorts. This smooth finish could relate to older, more traditional religious works, such as those in the High Renaissance; for example ‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo. In terms of media, we see this smooth, matte finish through the use of layers of rich oil paints.
Throughout Colin’s career, he communicated a deep interest in the theme of dark vs. light. This is evident in this work, as light beams from behind the Takaka Hills: the promised land; Golden Bay. This incorporation of light contrasts immensely with darker areas of the work, making for a striking image. The process of applying thick white paint in expressive brushstrokes adds to the impact of this. To conclude, in this work we see smooth paint application, both in the work and physically, creating a soothing, reassuring aesthetic. This is done with the intent to communicate the perfection that is God.
Identity through the
Gendered Eye
Identity is a theme which can be communicated in a number of ways through art. It may be a personal documentation of the artist; for example how a space effects the self or how the self may effect a space, a testimonial of the self, or even personal confessions or self-exposure; a personal attestation of sorts. Artists may also note the identity of others, friends or family perhaps - or even the identity of a community or group of people. This may include sub themes of religion and sexuality.

In this presentation I am going to analyze 3 artists and how their use of process and media effects and defines their representations of the idea of 'Identity'.

Colin McCahon
fact file:
Colin McCahon was born in Timaru, New Zealand in 1919. He studied art in Dunedin after finishing school, as he had an interest in the subject from a young age. He worked as a curator at Auckland Art Gallery, and later became a teacher at Elam School of Fine Arts. During his Artistic career, McCahon made a name for himself as one of New Zealand's most influential artists. He introduced new styles and techniques to New Zealand art, inspired by cubist artists such as Mondrian, and later abstract expressionists such as Pollock.
Colin McCahon - This is The Promised Land
1948 | Oil on Canvas | 920 x 1370 mm
fact file:
Jacqueline Fahey
Jacqueline Fahey - Final Domestic Expose: I Paint Myself
1982 | Oil and Collage on Board
In this work we see Fahey herself, resting on a pile of clothing in amongst a swarming, chaotic mixture of children, food, alcohol, products and the furniture of everyday domestic life. Despite this, Fahey keeps her composure, pride, sense of intelligence and sense of humour thoroughly intact. These effects have been created with the process in which Fahey worked and with a unique use of different medias. Fahey has used a language of paint which is bold and joyous in this work. We see an eclectic mixture of different colours and tones, created with intentional lyrical and visible brushstrokes. These visible brushstrokes contribute to the sense of chaos within the work, yet the clear distinction between each object due to the strokes having been made with intent adds to Fahey’s strong presence within the work. Again, we see that the composition lacks traditional influence, as with perspective, which adds to the confusion. Yet Fahey lounges, positioned right in the middle, acting as an anchor of sorts.
The use of media supports these two ideas of chaos and composure. Fahey has used a mixture of oil paint and clippings from magazines to create this work. The use of oil paint creates an impasto, strong work, with rich colours and plenty of depth. The use of collage encourages the chaotic vibe, as it adds new textures and a new level of detail to the work, whilst also incorporating a feeling of realism.

Tracey Emin - My Bed
1998 | Standard bed, linen, pillows, various objects
Tracey Emin has been known to hold the crown as the epitome of distaste; a rebellious Femme in contemporary modern art. ‘My Bed’ is a prime example of her controversial work.
A bed sits, crumpled and used - bed sheets stained with urine, blood and semen. An array of items lay beside the bed upon a mat - used condoms, pharmaceuticals, soiled underwear, vodka bottles and slippers. ‘My Bed’ is the result of a week of suicidal introversy, brought on by a relationship going downhill. In terms of process, Emin has subtly introduced the theme of light vs. dark, which McCahon also works with. We see the crumpled duvet, yet beneath it smoothed sections of sheet are evident. On these sheets we see soiled sections, yet between them are areas of clean, white freshly-washed looking sheet. Amongst the mess and filth on the ground we see the clarity of the empty glass vodka bottles. All of these things relate to the idea of light vs. dark, or the light visible through the dark; as if the cleanliness through the filth represents the light at the end of the tunnel. So from this, we see that there is order to Emin’s chaotic creative process.
The impact of this is that the work appears to be more than just a dirty, disgusting bed, and rather a narrative of an important event in Emin’s life. We see her week of filth clearly represented through the ‘dirty’ media, and the regeneration of her livelihood represented with the ‘clean’ media. Another way that Emin’s work relates to McCahon’s is with this use of representational/symbolic items. As in ‘This is the Promised Land’ with the inclusion of the candle and the vase, we see these items in Emin’s work working much in the same way. Emin’s works are highly confessional and confrontational. Both the media and the processes that she uses cause mass controversy amongst the art society; creating rhetorics of shock, disgust and amusement. They are confessional in the sense that she is bearing all as an artist, to people she doesn’t even know (much like Fahey); this is something that people aren’t often exposed to, therefore creating shock. Her use of media is off-the-wall and unique - also something people don’t often witness.
Emin exposes the parts of society that people keep hidden away; that people shy away from. The ‘disgusting’ parts of the human body, dirty habitual practices, taboo subjects like virginity. But this is what makes her a pioneer of art; women's art in particular.
fact file:
Tracey Emin
We see an eclectic mixture of processes and media through the analysis of similarities and differences within the selected works. To place these works in the same room, one would find a strong contrast yet a sense of harmony within them. Fahey and Emin are both strong, controversial women artists, incorporating feminist ideas into their pieces. In this, we see a harmonious and visually impacting combination. McCahon, on the other hand, contrasts with these artists; he brings in a male perspective to the depiction of ‘identity’ through art work. This perhaps highlights the patriarchy in which we live; women's issues versus men's. Women's hardships; being tied down into a domestic lifestyle, living under the pressures of men, whereas men may be more concerned with things such as religion. This is an important as it highlights both the priorities and the capabilities of the sexes.
Men may keep their heads in the clouds, avoiding serious ‘earthly’ matters; problems surrounding them. They have the time to focus on things such as religion. In this case the idea of the male sex is highlighted by McCahon’s black singlet, which is a highly stereotypical clothing piece of New Zealand country males. This also suggests that he spends a lot of time on the farm, perhaps once again highlighting men's ability to escape personal problems such as Fahey or Emin's. The idea of the capabilities of the sexes in terms of male dominance of the church is also a point to consider. Throughout history, we see a strong male force within the church; for example only males are capable of becoming Priests. This very unsubtle sexism is something often ignored by both old and new societies, and these 'rules' support and encourage the patriarchy immensely. Christian (and other religions, such as Islam) still influence society strongly to this day, in many different ways. In terms of art history, we rarely see woman artists communicating religious ideas or themes. So through McCahon's religious concepts, we see a blatant ignorance being communicated. Particularly with his inclusion of the 'angel', which is supposedly a female figure. As I see it, females (in religious situations) are always depicted as a being incapable of doing anything other than serving men and providing them with their kin. Women are never depicted as strong, heroic figures (other than being mothers, which is a rather heroic endeavor in itself, I digress) in religious works, and I yearn for the day an artist steps out of the typical 'mold' and bends the rules in terms of the role of the sexes within religious art. For example, we see both Mary and Eve solely as child bearing beings. The works by the women I analyzed are comparably different to that of McCahon and other male religious artists; we see both of our female artists fretting over more down-to-earth issues than religion. Issues which predominantly occur among women. Fahey, juggling a family and the domestic lifestyle of cooking, cleaning, and childcare, all whilst trying to maintain her composure. Emin, having been put into a state of suicidal depression because of relationship problems. These are issues which many women cannot simply escape from; therefore they have less time to pursue their interests. The ideas analyzed in these three works could be summarized by the saying ‘Ignorance is Bliss’, perhaps.

Fahey was born in Timaru, New Zealand in 1929 and studied at Canterbury College School of Art (IIam) between 1946 and 1951. With her work, she stands out among many New Zealand contemporary artists because of her involvement in social, political and personal issues. In particular, she has challenged the limits for feminist artistic expression with her confrontational and personal works.
Tracey Emin was born in England in 1963. In 1984 she studied painting at Maidstone Art College, which she later described as the best experience of her life. Later she studied at The Royal College of Art, taking inspiration from artists such as Egon Schiele. Many of her works act as confrontational confessions, and she has gained a name for herself as being the queen of controversy within art.
an exhibition curated by tamara dunkley
city art gallery
13 - 25 september

an overview
emphasis on light vs dark
struggles with alcohol
self composure and care
The paint application in early Religious works such as 'The Creation of Adam' by Michelangelo is highly similar to McCahons smooth yet visible techniques.
A short video showing Emin's creation process for 'My Bed'
Similarities and differences of processes and media of selected artists
- All 3 works are confrontational.
- All 3 works are confessional.
- These works are all ‘bending the rules’ of what a typical / traditional display of self portraiture may be.
- The artists have displayed these works without concern for other people’s opinions.
- The subjects are different yet Fahey and Emin touch on similar topics; the self and the hardships of women.
- Fahey and Emin are both identify as Feminist artists / displaying - Feminist themes in their works.
- Emin and McCahon both work with the idea / theme of light and dark.
- All 3 artists work with items and/or symbolism.

- The selected works have all been created with different processes.
- They have all been created with different media.
- They are all different scales.
- They all confront different subjects, for example:
Fahey: the domestic lifestyle
McCahon: religion and the self and
Emin: personal hardships
Full transcript