Lisa Yuskavage; ‘Teen Mom’ 1994 – Oil on Canvas
Professor Patrick Howlett
Visual Arts 3310
Tuesday, March 18th, 2014
The female body has been depicted in art for centuries, the artists often being men, whom primarily render ideological images rectified from the male gaze. Recently, female artists such as Lisa Yuskavage and Jenny Saville have challenged the male fantasy of the perfect body, and have portrayed images of alternative notions of this idealized beauty. Both artists work, as seen in the images shown, are large-scale oil paintings which are both frightening yet captivating. While both artists share a similar goal, their techniques are unique from one another, both aesthetically and theoretically.
Yuskavage’s cartoonish figures are regularly painted with deep blues, yellow golds, and warm flesh-like pinks against a diminutive background, and are either armless, legless or blind with obscured edges, insinuating an idea of an ‘unwhole’ body. In contrast, Saville creates her self-portraits in dull greys, greens and blues to paint her flesh, overlain with contour lines, words and marks, and portrays them as enlarged, distorted figures, which sometimes spill over the canvas to display the body’s imperfections. Similarly, each artist no longer depict the female body as an object of male desire, but rather as a utility to develop the viewer’s own ideas and feelings surrounding body image.
Both of these theories share a similar idea of what I have been studying throughout my university career, and recently what I have been portraying in my paintings this semester. Yuskavage’s psychoanalytical approach towards her paintings was quite thought provoking in my eyes. She changes the power relationship of the male gaze by speaking towards a specific audience, which is female. Men witness the fact that they are not included in the message, and the role they take on is described by Lacan and Freud as a castrated ‘peeping tom’. Men are trying to reintegrate themselves into the equation, but doing so in an unwelcomed point of view. This dismantles the gender dynamic of power, and successfully uses an ‘aside’ approach (a character is speaking aloud to a specific audience, while other characters sharing the same stage do not hear the actor’s words) and ignores the traditional male audience. This is seen in her painting ‘Teen Mom’, depicting a sexualized, fertilized figure examining her body with ‘a detached wonder, if she has suddenly realized that a thought or a feeling is inseparable from the body that inhabits it’ (Xavier_Lopez_jr) This is where the castration process takes place, because instead of the male gazing on the sexualized figure, the figure is depicted as doing so herself (the gaze isn’t his anymore, its hers.) The idea is that psychoanalytic theory suggests that women do not have access to the phallus, and therefore they do not have access to the production of power. The fertilized empowered woman depicted breaks through these barriers. Saville’s approach is summarized in her quote ‘I’m not painting disgusting, big women, I’m painting women who’ve been made to think they’re big and disgusting.” (Hunter Davies) She describes, through her painting ‘Plan’ her theory of the ‘plastic surgery race’ and how quickly society is ready to modify them selves to fit the idea of perfection. She approaches her self-portrait as a landscape, with the marked areas on the body’s topography as indication of what needs to be modified. She describes that she takes on three roles in her painting process. She states that ‘What is beauty? Beauty is usually the male image of the female body, my women are beautiful in their individuality.” (Hunter Davies) So, like Yuskavage, she is painting women for women, instead of women for men.
Although both of these approaches are powerful, I would like to base my painting on the quote ‘Lacan thus, serves to separate the woman from her own body, through the alienating effects of linguistic desire and through a fundamental lack in the feminine. She is never the spectator, except in an imaginary situation in which she imagines herself being gazed upon by the other, a situation of judgment, objectification and essentializing abjection’ (Xavier_Lopez_jr). This relates more to Yuskavages, theory, but speaks to Saville’s as well. She describes her work as displaying ‘Vulnerability and discontinuity with perfection, but also with strength and solidity.’ This act takes the separation of women from her body through linguistic desire (vulnerability) and transforms it into a completely different discourse, which is portrayed through the gigantic figure (solidity). My approach will be similar, depicting the female body in all of its imperfections, but instead of Savilles approach of groping skin and topographical surgical line making, it will be the reverse of abjection and instead finding comfort in one’s skin, revealing a new beauty ideal (the beauty of confidence, rather than the male gaze.)
1. Xavier_lopez_jr. “Seattle Arts and Culture.” Seattle Arts and Culture. APA Format 6th Edition, 26 May 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
2. Johnson, Ken. “Lisa Yuskavage.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Oct. 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
3. Jennifer Higgie. “Frieze Magazine | Archive | Women on the Verge.” Frieze Magazine RSS. Issue 86, Oct. 2004. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
4. Cooke, Rachel. “Jenny Saville: ‘I Want to Be A painter Of modern Life, and Modern Bodies'” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
5. HUNTER DAVIES. “Interview: This Is Jenny, and This Is Her Plan: Men Paint Female Beauty in Stereotypes; Jenny Saville Paints It the Way It Is. And Charles Saatchi Is Paying Her to Keep Doing It.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 01 Mar. 1994. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
6. Femme Fatale. “This Is What Feminist Art Looks Like.” : Jenny Saville: Feminist Flesh. Jenny Saville: Feminist Flesh, 19 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.