Artists discuss contemporary artists whose work influences theirs during Boyertown Studio B Fine Art Gallery’s “Pretty Monsters #2: Let’s Talk About Art” Facebook LIVE Event held from 6 to 7 p.m. on Jan. 29.
The event's name "Pretty Monsters" derives from a Auguste Renoir quote from the turn of the 20th century: "I consider women writers, lawyers, and politicians as monsters and nothing more than five-legged calves. The woman artist is merely ridiculous, but I am in favor of the female singer and dancer."
"Our last exhibit featured a dozen women artists (Still Roaring 2020) celebrating the anniversary of women’s suffrage. Knowing that our presenter, fine artist Lisa Muller was an adjunct professor of art history (at Albright College), I asked her a year or so ago if she could put together a series of programs about the history of women in art," said Studio B Director of Community Relations Jane Stahl.
"Being accepted as a legitimate artist, or writer, for example, in the arts has been a challenge throughout history. Consider that even today J.K. Rowlings kind of 'hid' her gender in using her initials instead of her first name to publish the Harry Potter series," added Stahl.
Much like the 19th century novel Silas Marner was written by Mary Ann Evans who used a man’s name George Eliot for fear of being dismissed or not taken seriously, she said.
"(Muller's) programs have been a look at women artists (Renoir’s “pretty monsters”) and how they offered something different for their time in their work," said Stahl.
The first program on Dec. 18 focused on Mierle Ukeles — a woman artist activist who endeavored to highlight that much of “women’s work” is "maintenance work" and artfully accomplished—art in and of itself, she said.
During the Jan. 29 event, Muller, a Pottstown-based fine artist, introduces viewers to the artwork of portrait artist Amy Sherald who painted First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, a historic art museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
Muller exhibits her work in regional and national shows and galleries.
“She finds her artistic mission both daunting and thrilling as an attempt to make some order out of chaos. Surface depth, texture, shifts in color and translucency are some of the formal traits she pursues when working, finding inspiration from every shadowy corner of her life experience. The undefined figures that emerge reflect thoughts about relationships or things,” according to Muller’s artist statement.
In 2016, Sherald became the first woman and first African American to win the National Portrait Gallery's Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, along with a $25,000 award, for her painting, “Miss Everything” (Unsuppressed Deliverance).
According to the National Portrait Gallery website, Sherald, based in Baltimore, Md., focuses on African American cultural history and the representation of the African American body. She uses a grayscale to paint skin tones as a way of challenging the concept of color as race. This grayscale technique, also called grisaille, is connected to the artist’s early personal experiences.
“Sherald, who was born in Columbus, Georgia, remembers looking at family photo albums as a child and getting to know her grandmother Jewel through a black-and-white photograph. She was captivated by her grandmother’s beauty, self-possession, and confident, direct gaze in the photograph,” stated the bio.
When looking for painted portraits of people who looked like her in art history books in local libraries, she realized that her family’s story was absent in the history of painted portraiture.
“She was also discouraged when she did not find people who looked like her in the public spaces of museums,” according the gallery site. Her larger project of painting portraits of African Americans seeks to make up for this absence.
Describing her paintings as a “meditation on photography,” her subjects are often set in whimsical, nondescript settings with occasional surreal details that add a bit of satire, according the gallery site. The dreamlike backgrounds create what the artist refers to as “the amorphous personal space of my own existence within the context of black identity and my search for ways to clarify and ground it.”
Sherald’s portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama uses her signature grayscale.
“While the use of gray in lieu of more natural skin tones reduces the reference to her race, the blunt removal also draws attention to her skin color, highlighting her racial identity,” according to the gallery site. “Instead of representing a particular time or place, Sherald strives to make Mrs. Obama timeless and therefore eternally relevant for viewers.”
View the portrait on the National Portrait Gallery website at https://npg.si.edu/learn/classroom-resource/michelle-obama
Studio B’s Gallery Director and Founder Susan Biebuyck, an inaugural GoggleWorks studio artist, will offer commentary on Sherald’s work as well as on her own series of portraits inspired by the artwork of other contemporary artists.
Known for her acrylic, oil, pastel and watercolor painting diversity, Biebuyck calls herself “an art supplies junky” and works in a variety of media with fluency.
“I’m fascinated with Susan’s and Lisa’s knowledge about the contemporary artists whose work influences theirs, and I'm eager to share what they know with our area’s art lovers. Artists are often hesitant to discuss their own work; and — not being an artist myself — I’m often hesitant to ask them to discuss it, but I thoroughly enjoy hearing them discuss their work when they’re willing — their intentions and approaches,” Stahl said. “And I figure our audience will enjoy a peek into the minds of these talented people.”
Studio B’s LIVE event concludes with interviews with Biebuyck and Studio B artist member and Goggleworks Studio artist Suzanne Fellows, a painter, printmaker, student of abstract design and teacher at Reading Area Community College and Goggleworks.
The “Pretty Monsters #2: Let’s Talk About Art” Facebook LIVE Event is sponsored by Brian Gilbert, real estate agent with Richard A. Zuber Realty and a basketball referee for 32 years in the PAC-10 Chesmont and Suburban 1 leagues.
“With a little help from friends like Brian, we are able to continue our mission to enhance art, education, and cultural activities for the families living and working in our communities,” Stahl said.
“We all share in the goal of maintaining a strong community and know that a thriving arts and culture scene in a community contributes to the economic growth and stability of a community, attracts families to move into the area, take pride in home ownership, and participate in the community,” she said. “Our area is home to many fine artists and fine crafters as well as strong support for athletics. It’s a special kind of community.”
Studio patrons, Gilbert and his wife Wendy are members of the studio’s Beamer Club.
“Beamers are those who support our foundation — our mission — to promote local art and artists by offering a space for artists to exhibit and sell their artwork, for children and adults to take classes in the visual and literary arts, and for the community to gather together in friendship and participate in the arts,” explained Stahl. “Beamers are recognized on the ceiling beams of the studio; in showcasing their names, others know of our gratitude. We are always grateful to acknowledge those who understand that art matters in building better communities.”
The event is recorded and edited by Amy Muzopappa of Muzo Media Productions. Studio B’s Facebook LIVE events are archived on Facebook.
“We are eager to continue to offer our programs to art lovers through these Facebook LIVE events,” said Stahl. “We continue through these programs to make ‘lemonade’ from the ‘lemons’ that the COVID pandemic has delivered.”
Visit Studio B’s website: www.studiobbb.org or Studio B Art Gallery at 39A East Philadelphia Ave. or Studio B Virtual Exhibit Group on Facebook. The studio is open on Sundays 12 to 2 p.m. or by appointment. Call or text Susan Biebuyck 484-332-2757 or Jane Stahl 610-563-7879.