The physical beauty of the female form is what inspires most figurative artists, but it’s not the primary concern for the three women exhibiting in Robert Lange Studios’ group show Nuance. Amy Lind, Ali Cavanaugh, and Mia Bergeron have come together to change the way we think about the female figure in art.
After several years on the West coast, Amy Lind has recently returned to Savannah, where she graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006. Although she grew up in Chicago, she always felt a kinship to the South. She says the impetus for her latest series was a run-down, abandoned farmhouse she discovered during explorations of her adopted home. The historic, crumbling beauty of the house made her wonder about the stories and the people who’d lived there. “I was inspired by the subtle shifts in light and shadow that are vastly different throughout the space,” Lind says. She wants to inspire viewers to ask questions about returning home.
“This series is meant to be evocative, not provocative,” Lind says. In one piece, a woman dressed in a lace nightgown suggests a coming-of-age transformation; Lind explains that the viewer is positioned in a way that allows them to observe the subject’s private contemplation. “I am drawn to paint the female form because of its innate beauty, but also because I can naturally relate to the shape and form. I prefer not to dwell on dark and heavy subject matter. I want to celebrate beauty in my work.” In “Out of the Darkness, into the Light,” the figure stands in the doorway, bathed in light. She is physically beautiful, but also emotionally complex.
Ali Cavanaugh uses tiny, delicate brush strokes to create realistic and beautiful portraits of willowy young women. Sweeping gestures convey movement on the otherwise stark, white backgrounds. A St. Louis native, Cavanaugh studied painting at the Kendall College of Art and Design in Michigan and has been a professional artist for 15 years. Her paintings combine her technical skill with a whimsical, contemporary style. Working with watercolors on clay panels and tiny brushes, Cavanaugh’s females are depicted with silky locks of hair and rich folds of drapery. In “Rise and Fall,” a young woman stands with her bare arms outstretched as if she is creating shadows on the wall. Hands are tools of expression for Cavanaugh, who lost much of her hearing at 15 months of age, and sees the body as a form of language.
Playful compositions of young women covering their eyes or holding their hands in front of their faces acknowledge the existence of the viewer, inviting them into the intimate space. Cavanaugh says it’s her way of neutralizing her own intimate experience (her muse is her oldest daughter). “The painting is not about who it is, but the experience, and having the subject turn away from the viewer creates a sense of mystery and draws the viewer in.”
Mia Bergeron draws the viewer in through her use of color. As the child of graphic designers, she was raised with an appreciation for bold shapes and color. In her twenties she left New York City to study art in Florence, Italy. After three years of learning the classical discipline of figure and portraiture, she now works to fuse the traditional figure with color and design. “In the past year there has been more of an evolution in my work,” she says. “I like chasing the dynamic between detail and abstraction in my work.”
Bergeron has been experimenting with her creative process, and says it too has become more intuitive. In the past she approached the canvas with a plan in mind, but now she allows herself more freedom. In “Lift,” the subject rests along the bottom half of the canvas and almost seems to disappear into the layers of paint above. “I wanted to play with the negative space. I wanted her to be interacting with the background. She is so low in the composition, and I wanted it to feel like she was rising up instead of being pressed down. It’s like the dwindling down of a short poem.”
With her dramatic use of color and texture, Bergeron wants to show that there is more to the creation of beauty when painting the female form. There is a sense of introspection in her emotionally rich figures who are beautiful, but multifaceted too. “32,” a self-portrait, features the subject in profile with her face cloaked in shadow. Bergeron struggled with the piece, scraping the paint and putting it back again. “I always establish the colors, values, and edges first, and then destroy it. I try to decide what doesn’t need to be there. It’s like having a conversation with your painting instead of telling it what to do.”