Early seventeenth century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the most talented and successful artists of her time. It was not until recently that she gained this recognition, which has set her apart from her male contemporaries. She was also one of the most skilled of Carvaggio’s followers.
The unique female perspective of her work is exemplary not only of this period of history, but also rings true to our present day society. I’ve come upon Gentileschi at a time when I myself am caught up in trying to decipher my role as a female artist and how my personal experiences impact the work that I produce. Her story fascinates and frustrates me. It is similar to so many stories familiar to the world we live in today.
An important part of my work revolves around sexuality and the struggle of women to maintain and uphold their strength in the face of sexual adversity. Artemisia was sexually assaulted at the age of seventeen by her much older teacher and friend of her artist-father, Orazio Gentileschi. The man who raped her was Agostino Tassi, also a well known artist of the time. Some have said that Tassi grabbed her as she worked on a canvas, yelling: “Not so much painting, not so much painting.” Tassi’s actions seemed to come from a mix of jealousy, lust, and desire. He wanted to overpower her as an artist. Forcing himself upon her, he humiliated her, resulting in dishonour to her family. Following the customs of the day, Tassi would go on to falsely promising Artemisia that he would marry her, using this tactic as a means of convincing her to continue to have sexual relations with him. When it became clear that his intentions were never to marry her, Tassi was brought to trial. To Artemisia it also became clear that he could not accept that she could have success in a man’s profession. During the trial, she was tortured with the sibille, a device made of thumbscrews, and with cords of rope tied around her hands and pulled tightly. Throughout the process, her hands and body were bruised, and she was repeatedly asked whether or not Tassi had raped her. She continually responded, "It is true, it is true."
Gentileschi’s canvases were reflections of this personal abusive experience. She employed biblical and Roman heroines who appeared to take vengeance on those individuals who raped women of their bodies and talents. Although very talented, she was looked upon as monstrous, rough and controversial since she was a woman exercising a creative talent thought to be exclusively male.
My images represent the strength of both individuals: perpetrator and victim. Tassi holds the power. He is the abuser, the male who will escape justice, despite the obvious. Artemisia is the victim turned heroine. Her portrait is raw, strong, deep, defiant. Her gaze is one similar to so some survivors of sexual abuse. She still stands tall. She has a fire in her, an unwillingness to be moved in her truth, even after being tortured. Through her art, she represents the history of her female contemporaries and the bias that still exists in our present day society.
The reason for my work is not only to tell Artemisia Gentilesch’s story and shine light on her magnificent work, but also to show the determination and will that it takes, as an artist, to be true to one’s convictions, no matter what.
Valkyrie and the Five Stages
A Valkyrie was, in Norse mythology, one of a group of warrior-type female figures who had the power to choose who would die or live in battle. Known as the “choosers of the slain”, only valkyries could control death.
In “Valkyrie and the Five Stages” the theme of death disconnects from the emotional and is explored from a scientific, clinical perspective. Fashion becomes the conduit to visually demonstrate 5 of its stages, which occur after the soul leaves the body.
Valkyrie “Chooser of the Slain”
Minute 0 “Indigentiam Oxygeni” - Lack of Oxygen
1 to 9 minutes“Et Collatis Consiliis Sanguine” - Pooling of Blood
1 to 8 hours “Obriguerunt, Sed Rigida” - Stiffness & Rigidity
1 to 5 days“Et Mollitiei Interitus” - Pliability & Decay
8 to 10 days “Tumidus et Superba” - Swelling & Bloating
In the fall of 2017, I had a dream where I saw what my extensive body of work was going to be. I wanted to hide facial expressions by building big, aggressive masks and fitting them on my nude subjects.
I called them Masses and, at the time, I thought it represented the frustration I felt with myself. All the thoughts that I couldn't put into words and didn't want to face, I decided to put towards my art. To me, these sculptures were going through the same mental block that I was.
This was my motivation to create this work. Yet, the more I worked on the pieces, the more I delved deeper and saw how they turned into something else. The execution and control of the Masses and my subjects became my obsession. I was attached to something that didn’t exist and I couldn’t find a way to move on and away from it.
The exaggerated constructions still represent emotions of manipulation, pain and aggression, but the nudes, adorned and held up by oversized, forceful and colourful sculptures are what the narrative of the work is.
A escondidas cada tarde
Mi alma vibra
Mi cuerpo arde
Rayado y Agotado
A chemical mishap that became a creative catalyst.
Nudity: refers to a culturally transcendent and virtuous depiction of an unclothed body.
Nakedness: refers to an exposed, vulnerable image of an unclothed body. In the convention of the reclining female nude in western art history, women are considered “nude” and thus morally suitable subjects of fine art.