A new exhibit opening this week at Mary Martin Gallery celebrates the empowerment and strength of the modern-day woman through the perspective of artists June Valentine-Ruppe and David Michael Beck.
Observed together, the paintings in Women … A Different Era share few aesthetic and technical similarities, aside from the omnipresence of women subjects. Ruppe’s figurative work is more stylized and impressionistic, whereas Beck’s is more true to life and photographic. But both artists, through their different points of inspiration, ultimately strive to shed a positive light on the changing status and shifting roles of women.
Ruppe’s paintings include “Movie Marathon,” which depicts three women huddled together, drinking wine and watching movies in their pajamas, their hands clutching tissues to dab falling tears. Another, “Birds of A Feather,” is of three women socializing with each other on a night out. Others, including “Southern Charmer” and “Sunday Best,” are more playful, showing individual women modeling various hats.
This range of depictions was intentional for the series, Ruppe says. “I want to show all sides of women — sentimental, romantic, emotional, strong, edgy, quirky, powerful, whimsical, and sophisticated. When I start to create a new piece of art, these are the words I think about.”
Ruppe sees Women … A Different Era as an opportunity to illustrate that women are “complex, beyond categorization.”
“My paintings attempt to show all sides of women. The ability to express yourself and be who you are is real empowerment,” she says. “You can be sentimental and strong, whimsical and sophisticated. One size does not fit all. I simply want to show all facets of women.”
Citing recent social movements like #MeToo, Beck said the show was originally proposed to him as “something that featured women in positions or images of confidence and maybe power, just really positive stuff in response to [current events].”
Beck, whose vast client list includes DC Comics, channeled his experience with comic-book work in his first piece for the series, a detailed portrait of superhero Wonder Woman.
“I didn’t want to do it like a comic-style direction,” he says, “so I decided to do something along the style of old photography from Hollywood.” He describes his representation of Wonder Woman as “romantic — not necessarily sultry — but romantic and poetic at the same time.”
Experimenting with different techniques is a cornerstone of Beck’s artistic approach. “I have a range to my work that hits a lot of different markets, and I approach my technique in similar ways, but also I change it up quite a bit just to make things interesting,” he says. “I don’t get bored doing the same thing, but I enjoy switching things up and pushing things and experimenting a lot of the time. I am classically trained, but I bring that knowledge to bear as much as I can possibly can, whether it’s a landscape or a comic book piece or children’s book work. I make adjustments according to what area I am working in.”
Rather than move forward with additional paintings of comic book characters, Beck pursued another angle to complete his series for Women … A Different Era. He decided to put his own perspective on depicting women as the four seasons — a concept based on Czech painter Alphonse Mucha’s series “The Seasons” — by continuing the Hollywood portraiture aesthetic explored in his Wonder Woman portrait.
The final paintings in Beck’s series are of women connected to various elements: the moon, stars, fire, water, and wind. Collectively, the women are in the setting of “natural things that you associate Mother Nature with, the extension of the mythos of Mother Nature,” Beck says.
Beck hopes viewers’ reactions to Women … A Different Era are similar to those of his other work. “With all of my work, I want them to be introspective and certainly entertained by the images, the quality of the work,” he says. “I just want them to come away with a positive feeling, especially with this show. [I hope they] enjoy the theme of a collection of artwork associated with the magnificence of women.”