Fort Worth, Texas
19 Jan 2002
17 Feb 2002
The variety of navels alone within this project could form the basis for some extended thought process . Ellen Soderquist brought up the subject of "omphalos" in her statement.* The process of focusing on ones belly button to achieve some inner knowledge directly parallels working with the body. Our bodies provide an opportunity to understand others.
"Typically, my drawings of women express only my attitudes about sensuality and being. These drawings of women by male artists required me respond not only to my own concepts but also to a man's view of women. Another new perspective was my empathy for the female model. I began to see the artwork through her eyes. Perhaps art is self-portraiture. My drawings of women by men, ultimately, are drawings of women by a woman...and, all of them are me."
Before our umbilical cord is cut we morph from egg through a tailed gilled tadpole while still in our mother's womb. Suddenly we have a belly button. Then life starts what I once accepted as a slow process of maturation and deterioration. Now menopause has changed my understanding.
Metamorphosis happens repeatedly in life. From tadpole to frog is strikingly fast and obvious, while most changes in our lives are slow and more illusive. Our reptilian brain is fully formed at birth, but all the intellectual layers take the next twenty years to slowly ripen. Then we spend the next forty years relearning what we once thought we knew.
Stella Ehrich paints universal images of coming of age. Her daughter Vanessa provides the feelings Stella remembers. The images provoke feelings we all know hidden deep within.
"I find it hard to separate these young adolescents from the feelings that they evoke, memories of another coming of age. They seem to be portraits of another and self-portraits and portraits of every woman, all at the same time. All those innocent feelings we know so well are still part of all of us.
…about making this work with young girls. I feel very reverent."
When I was young I wondered about little girls and women's bodies. And I guess to some degree I always will. The child in me is always active …especially when nudity is involved.
With this "Female Body" project I am exploring something of that first innocent sexual awakening. That experience common to most of all of us in a myriad of ways, but covered with layers of don'ts (and some do's). Something of that honest and innocent child's experience is still alive in all of us, I believe. This project is related to provoking the experience before we giggled. Innocence is forgotten but not lost.
Tracy Cooper looks to her own body for art material. She examines her body and life then presents it with all the awkwardness and grace we all find in interpretations our bodies.
… An exploration regarding the female form… …and I am that form.
The awkwardness of looking down at my body and drawing with an extended object seemed to parallel the uneasiness I felt about my post-operative body.
As an Artist it's often my intention to change the shape of things. To morph from one form to another as tadpole to frog or adolescent to adult happens as some unseen force. Art happens just the same. What a sexy process ---making Art and growing up--- no matter how long it takes. Taking shape happens naturally.
Marge Ely has photo-documented her body during pregnancy. An experience she relates to as the "epitome of female".
"…it all comes back to my pictures. They save me. I make them. And they make "me".
…my photographs are often my own version of a dream world - a Calgon, if you will. And then I realize it is also so about being a woman."
As a male I am going to interpret different than these women. My imagination will be alive and my instincts enlivened. I'll tingle with some basic juice produced somewhere deep in my reptilian brain. Imagination is one of the most thrilling aspects of art. Nude images evoke some primal level deep within my layered brain and covered with reason.
As I get older it has become much easier for me to accept my body as it is, and others as they are.
My frogs are calling…
I love what I do!
Raising frogs, making Art, and relating one to the other.
A FEW MORE IMAGES
"Coy" Stella Ehrich
oil on canvas
"Friday Afternoon" Stella Ehrich
"PayLess Shoe Source IV" Stella Ehrich
"Divided #1 & #2" Tracy Cooper
"Confined" Tracy Cooper
installation view of:
"Apex" "Hanging" and "Clasp" Tracy Cooper
"Slave to the Light" Ellen Soderquist 2002
graphite on paper
"The Temptation of St. Anthony" Ellen Soderquist 2002
These drawings required a different approach in several ways. When Tracy Hicks asked me to participate in an exhibit of artwork by women of women, I was already committed to a teaching tour in Europe. For the past several years, I have organized trips to museums in Europe where I lecture about the nude in the various collections and the students compile sketchbook/journals of their trip. This time, I drew with my students.
Since a limited time can be spent standing and drawing in front of a painting or a sculpture in a crowded museum, my gestural sketches of women focused, in particular , on belly buttons. Narrowing the focus to the belly button was surprisingly illuminating. The navel is a symbol of the center of creation, in regard to both nature and the universe. The navel, or the belly button, also seems to serve as a qualifier of humanity in depictions of the nude.
With few exceptions, the paintings, sculptures, and drawings of women from which I drew were created by male artists. Whether the anatomy was highly realistic or abstracted, the character of the belly button was interesting to read. I became aware of belly buttons that were delineated with a nonchalant mark or with obsessive detail and of the tenderness or the rage that could be expressed. "Innies" or "outies," deep wells or gashes, merely there or erotically charged...I became thoroughly fascinated by the *omphalos...the navel...the belly button.
Typically, my drawings of women express only my attitudes about sensuality and being. These drawings of women by male artists required me respond not only to my own concepts but also to a man's view of women. Another new perspective was my empathy for the female model. I began to see the artwork through her eyes. Perhaps art is self-portraiture. My drawings of women by men, ultimately, are drawings of women by a woman...and, all of them are me.
In some of these drawings, I changed to focal point and the impetus of the original imagery to reflect my attitudes. In others, I juxtaposed or contrasted the drawing from my sketchbook with a drawing that I made after I got home. With these works the process seems integral to the work on the wall, so images of the original artwork and the notes about my reactions to these images of women by men are also on exhibit. Some of the notes were made while on the trip and others were a result of further research and insights as I worked on the drawings when I got home.
For much of the past twenty years my work has questioned what we find precious enough to preserve. The fragility of life encourages our personal sensitivities to the objects and living creatures around us differently from our collective social or cultural needs. We are personally outraged at the destruction of the rainforests while the native forests in our own backyards are destroyed by our social "needs" and life style.
This dichotomy is very interesting to me. The rainforest analogy is only one clear example of this observation. In my lifetime culture has moved from a personal agrarian and small owner/operator base to a mass culture characterized by international global corporate structures. We are in a metamorphosis.
Objects of art are precious to us. They strike some emotional chord. To me the one note of "Oh, that's beautiful" is comforting, but not enough. The resonance happens when you look beneath the surface and hear the other notes. In experiencing Art, the resonance is inherently personal, while its interpretation is often a reflection of our mass culture.
In 1996 I spent the summer in Guatemala with a group of respected professional herpetologists collecting reptiles and amphibians for a natural history collection. We sacrificed and preserved over 800 animals. What we did was important. These animals are preserved as a near permanent record of their existence. Many will soon be extinct.
I came home from Guatemala looking for some other way to preserve the experience I gained from these animals' lives. After a year of research I settled on the Dendrobatidae group primarily because the captive gene pool was sufficiently well established. Now I breed these most interesting frogs to correlate the experience into my Art.