I re-imagine portraits of women by many of the great masters of the art historical canon; each painting has been altered with the addition of an animal. They originate from collages in a performance project; a fictional art history. The source works range in date from 1450 - 1870 and are reproductions of reproductions, copied with traditional methods and materials. Though they span 400 years and are from different parts of Europe and the United States, when viewed together there are striking similarities: all the women have similar smiles; they have similar postures and sit in three quarter view; the placement of their hands and the way they hold themselves are all clearly within a code of poses for female portraiture.
They are all similar in size; a few are the same as their source paintings though most are diminished from their looming inspirations. This creates the effect of curating a collection of masterpieces. References within the group are primary, rather than references to their sources. Both in size and method, they reference reproductions, rather than the sources. This points to the mediation and objectification of the source image, like their sitters.
The animals are inserted to act as the spirit guides and alter egos of the sitters. Mirroring and at times mimicking expressions, colors, and demeanors, they represent what has been carefully omitted from the idealized portrayal of these "ladies." In the original portraits, the women serve as objects of status for their wealthy husbands. In the altered versions, though still dignified, the women's improprieties are exposed: they have an ally who protects, befriends, enlivens, and belies their innermost secrets, akin to a power animal which pervades shamanic traditions. The animals are painted in a slightly different style from the portraits: even though they are treated with a similar style, palette, and paint application, they are painted from photographs. They are commentators, located somewhere between the viewer and the sitter, mediating the experience of each one. The titles of the paintings are narrative, often humorous, reflecting the commentary of the animal. They add further insight into the animal's purpose and lift the spirits of the women who are heavily laden with jewels, fabric, posture, and status.
Rather than being another critique of the male gaze, the work is post-feminist. The sitters look back at history and out at us questioning tradition while existing within it. The animals aid in their sitter's celebratory use of fashion and critique their oppression by it. In repainting the source paintings, I have a newfound respect for these women of status and wealth, their burdens and painstaking efforts to portray an ideal for the sake of securing their position.
Currently, I am using a traditional shamanic drum journeying method to choose a power animal for each portrait that is reproduced. The source portraits have been chosen for their beauty, humor, and need for healing or alteration. The portraits are grouped in threes, according to self-imposed historically based guide-lines and formal relationships. The relationships within each work are related to the narrative between all of the women and animals in the body of work. There are also works on paper in the style of old master’s drawings, studies in retrospect. I have also been taking commissions to alter pre-existing 19th century copies of earlier portraits. I work with collectors, using the shamanic process, to add animals that reflect the collector and historical works.