Looking at women for a wile…
By Tom Wachunas
“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” - Robert A. Heinlein
“Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.” - Groucho Marx
“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” -Mary Shelley
EXHIBIT: The Wiles of a Woman / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 /at IKON IMAGES – The Illustration Gallery, 221 5th Street NW, Canton, Ohio / Viewing Hours: WED. – SAT. 12pm – 6pm / 330-904-1377
The title of this exhibit speaks to a persistent notion threaded through human history: For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, women can be at once maddeningly inscrutable and irresistible…’til death do us part. For the Ikon Images Gallery web page announcement of this show, owner Rhonda Seaman included this teasing(?) tidbit of dialogue from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:
Grumpy: "Angel, ha! She's a female! And all females is poison! They're full of wicked wiles!"
Bashful: "What are wicked wiles?"
Grumpy: "I don't know, but I'm agin' 'em."
Maybe Grumpy speaks for those who still blame Eve, and subsequently all her daughters in time, for The Fall. Adam, conversely, in an effort to process his resentment and deflect his guilt, would pass on to his male progeny a conflicted perception of women as both a species to be subjugated and controlled, and a vexing, beautiful mystery to be savored if not solved. But perhaps considerations of this nature are best left to theologians, philosophers, and psychologists to continue unpacking and articulating.
Meanwhile, even a casual glance at figural art through the ages reveals ample evidence of how artists have been seemingly obsessed with rendering women in dichotomous ways. On the one hand, women have been made into the beguiling stuff of myth and magic – goddesses, sprites and fairies, gracious oracles and soothsayers, or forces of Nature benign and malevolent. On the other, they’ve been objectified for the male gaze as sensuous symbols of our libidinous natures, as well as idealized embodiments of love, beauty, inspiration, and yes, cunning. Angels and vamps, Muses and monsters - equally pleasurable and cloying, alluring and mystifying.
Speaking of cloying and monsters, I couldn’t get Willem de Kooning’s ground-breaking (and initially controversial) abstract “Woman” series (six paintings from 1950-53) out of my head while viewing the many refined oil paintings here. His methodology was an uncompromising surrender to the actual materiality of paint, and intuitive physical gesture, such that he effectively deconstructed the Venus legacy in painting once and for all, while ironically enough paying homage to it. “Beauty becomes petulant to me,” he said of these paintings, adding, “I like the grotesque. It’s more joyous.” For all of their grotesque (many called it vulgar in 1953) effrontery and their almost Paleolithic primitivism – their eviscerated surfaces and seemingly sculpted forms – they remain oddly eloquent in their exuberant testaments to what de Kooning called “the female painted through all the ages, all those idols.”
So this is indeed a show of considerably eloquent idols. While their eloquence is of a wholly different sort than that of de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionism, it is no less potent. For those of you enamored of the “fantasy illustration” or, as it has been more recently called, “imaginative realism” genres, these preciously executed images are poetic narratives that invite you to pleasantly while away your time, if you will, contemplating the many nuances of feminine mystique.
In my usual process of searching out introductory quotes for my blog commentaries, I came across these words, uttered by that infamous womanizer, Pablo Picasso, to his mistress of nine years, Françoise Gilot: “Women are machines for suffering,” and, “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.”
Seriously? Unlike the sensitive perspectives so exquisitely presented in this exhibit (and the so called ‘wiles of a woman’ aside), Picasso’s words constitute a particularly brutal and anguished view of woman-ness, and I’m ‘agin it.
PHOTOS, from top: We Are Made Of Stars, by Rob Rey / Guardian of the Desert, by Aaron Miller / Rapunzel by Aaron Miller / Lora, by David Leri / Fawn, by John Hinderliter / Guardian of the Eastern Door, by Winona Nelson / A Daughter of Salem, by Jim Pavlec