Constructing a feminist gaze?

Portrais by Karl Glave
Originally uploaded by killerfemme.

Another favorite at the Petra Projects U-Turn show, Karl Glave’s small, painted portraits. There’s something almost classical about them and their position on this shelf reminds me somehow of an alter or mantle piece. The solid backgrounds isloate you with the subjects’ gaze. I felt myself wanting to have a conversation with these women, wondering about their relationship with the artist, the challenges in their life and how they found strength to overcome them.
Thinking about gaze though, most of the artists in this show were men and most of the subjects female, many scatily clad or naked. It brings up those age old questions of subject and object, active and passive. It kind of shook me because I felt like there’s much strength in many of the women portrayed, while at the same time they are constrained by the canvas and remade how the artist (male gaze) wants to see them. I think I’d also like to see different (feminist) approaches to portraiture as well. What does a feminist gaze (as opposed to “female” gaze, as it’s debatable that such a thing exists) look like? Can we “gaze” in a feminist manner, or do we use feminism as a lens with which to examine?

“It Could Have Been Oh So…” by Jason Grunwald

Last night was the opening of the show “U-Turn,” a group show of portraiture at Petra Projects in Soho. Shown here is Jason Grunwald’s painting “It could have been oh so…”. I had seen this image on the postcard before the show and I was refreshingly taken with the “real” thing. To me this shows again the power of the actual object of art, with visible brushstrokes and all its painterly qualities. Plus I really love the intensity of this girl’s gaze, even though her eyes are hidden behind the sunglasses. There’s a sense of expectation, but also a hint of a challenge in the subject’s face.
I don’t go to galleries expecting to enjoy the art and I was happy to say that while some works in the show I was more taken with than others, it was nice to see a strong showing of portraiture in different mediums in one space. There was a kind of conversation between the pieces, asking us how we see people and how artists choose to show us their subjects. What captures the essence of someone? Is looking at people ultimately comforting or does it confront us with questions about our own identities and what we present to the world?