Untitled 2023

12 in square collage, 2023

A recent source for collage elements is an old photography magazine from the early 1960s containing black and white art photos of people and animals. Many of the photos feature nude models who fit the beauty aesthetic of the time.

For a recent work, I selected a naked woman seated on a tall three legged stool. Her head is down so her face is hidden and her hands and feet dangle in the foreground. This pose has led me to wonder about context and the tradition of viewing women’s bodies “through the male lens.” While I placed this woman in a composition that I thought of as peaceful and beautiful, the finished work hints at interpretations of trauma, sadness, or oppression. But why?

“See, describe, wonder” is a visual analysis tool I learned from working in arts education helping to develop a practice of artistic literacy. It might untangle why this composition has transformed the original model pose into an unsettling commentary.

I See: Four columns made from a sliced photo of an architectural arch in a garden setting, a nude woman seated on a tall stool in the foreground with her head partially obscured and prominent hands and feet; a rusty circular staircase; a background with silver embossed leaves; a sword-like silver swirl, several hummingbirds, eight black hearts; and two sparkly turquoise colored shapes superimposed over the scene.

Describe: A woman is seated on a high stool in the center of the composition. She is naked, covering her face, with hands and feet dangling in the foreground. Her hair is shown in its full luxuriousness, but is partially covered by a turquoise organic shaped cutout painted with glitter. There are hints of a face in this abstract shape. The scene seems set in a garden, but the perspective is distorted because the image on the left side, which features an elaborate series of arches, has been sliced into columns and arranged at different heights. On the right is a rusty circular staircase that is set somewhat askew, as if abandoned. Another sparkly cutout, also with some hints of a face and shaped vaguely like a flying saucer, hovers over the left side where the columns are standing. Small hummingbirds and black hearts hover over the surface along with a number of cut out line drawings of plants and birds from a coloring book page. The setting is somehow at odds with the woman’s pose, though both are quiet and still.

I wonder: Is the woman peaceful or ashamed? With her head down, is she aware of her surroundings? Is she hiding from something, in retreat, or alone in the garden enjoying personal time? Her pose does not look entirely comfortable, so I wonder if there is any kind of pressure on her to sit that way. If she has been forced to sit in the nude on a stool, has she experienced trauma? Does her story include unrequited love, a broken heart, or is she awaiting a lover? Or, is she simply a model posing for the camera?

In the original setting, this was indeed a model posing for a photograph in the 1960s. There is a long tradition of nude women in “high art” art. However, when taken from the pages of the original photo journal and placed outdoors, her pose takes on different meanings. In this context, there is something alarmingly lifeless about her, with no hints of personality or agency. As the artist of this collage, I could say that she is meditating in a garden. I could just as easily tell a story about coercion and oppression, or talk about how this photograph has reduced a living woman into a beautiful object.

Maybe the visual impact of this finished work has revealed something of importance. I am discomfited by it, and so it remains untitled and awaits your own experience and interpretation.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *