Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cynthia Westwood

Lying in Bath, 2007, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 132.1 cm

Cynthia Westwood


  1. I' of 2 minds about this one. I love it for the vibrant, strong realism, and the beauty of the woman, her aliveness touches me.

    But on the other hand, unless there is... more... that I can't really define, all the painting says is "this woman is pretty". Something about this piece feels as if a man could have painted it. She's lying there like candy in a candy dish. It's my own response of course, so viewer mileage may vary.

    But still very arresting and beautiful.

  2. It seems the painting only says that because it is all we learned to say in front of such images. There is a lot more, this is the expression of a feminine vision, you can't define it because it's still being explored, we all have concerns with the body that aren't necessarily sexual I think..

  3. Well, that's just it - I don't know what the painting says to me, and whether it's just a pretty consumable on display or not. I am not saying that this is all a female nude can do, but I am not sure whether it's all THIS female nude can do or not. Hence my being of 2 minds about it.

  4. I think even if we (the viewer) are responding to a painting with how we have learned to respond to a certain type of image, the artist still has a responsibility to be aware of how the painting is perceived and be sure that is her intention.

    Also, I think there is a way a painting can depend too much on the seductive qualities of the subject.

    I agree this painting is on the edge, but I chose it because the power and self awareness in the expression shows a tension: she is not just a consumable, although she is capable of presenting herself that way. It is she who is presenting herself that way, she has intention and all the conflicts we all feel with that intention. I feel this woman is definitely still a person.

    This is exactly why I made this blog, because we (artists and non-artists) have all been taught to evaluate women for their sexuality, and I think especially for women artists that brings a conflict to how we approach women as a subject.

  5. okay, now Sadie:D does the artist need to be aware of how it's perceived where the clients are, or also in Papua New Guinea and a remote village in China?

  6. Good point, of course we can't imagine every possible viewer of our art and tailor it to that person's reaction. In addition to being impractical, it's not generally the goal of the artist.

    All we can do is be responsible to our own selves. But for me to be responsible to my own self, I can't in good conscience perpetuate or exploit or internalize victimization, regardless of who I imagine my audience to be.

    Certainly there's the risk anyone will project anything onto anything the artist does, but also certainly the artist can have intentions and try to shape that interaction, and not just be a blank wall for the viewer to project on.

    I think there is validity to wielding symbols with intention and awareness.

    Otherwise it's just perpetuating the status quo. Which is perhaps impossible to escape doing anyway, being that we are of it ourselves, but certainly worth thinking about.

  7. Hmmmm... this is the polar opposite of Jenny Saville, on every level. I think it's very likely a photo-realistic painting OF a photograph, selected from a suite of photos taken of a very carefully selected buxom type of highly beautiful model (see CW's other work), who has received an unclear level of instruction on how to pose in a textbook "alluring" fashion from the photographer. The result is simple voyeurism, as far as I can tell. (And its level of 'sexual evaluation' based on physical beauty is not 'taught'. Fruit flies achieve this much without ever reading Vogue.) If the work wants to be seen as an example of a feminine eye or a feminist argument, I find it only does so VERY knowingly and cynically. The sex of the painter makes no impression on me, and I am not asked to feel anything much for the model. If it wants to be a stirring or beautiful bit of painting, I find its illusion journalistic and clinical, an exact ontological replica of a photo. Painting is usually asked to do more than that. So, to me, it's either 1) pretentiously oily eye-candy, or 2) self-consciously canny "eye-candy", or 3) both, which makes it either 1) Kitsch, or 2) Postmodern, or 3) Postmodern Kitsch.
    As to whether it is a pretty consumable... I am sure they sell like hotcakes. It practically screams "luxury goods!", imho

  8. That brings up an interesting question-- why would this be considered voyeurism? Only because a heterosexual male is looking at it.

    Cynthia's work is all about painting the skin-- perhaps the hardest surface to paint with all of its infinite gradiations of hues. Her work is not photorealistic-- if you see one in person the brushstrokes are very loose and prominent and there's a very painterly sense to how she lays down the colors in the skin.

    You're talking about an image of the painting and not the painting itself.

    Her work is actually about how to represent the skin, and she does it better than any other painter out there today.

    Because certain viewers have erotic reactions to the skin doesn't mean the work is exploitative-- in terms of political or emotional content her work seems to me to be more about privacy, tactility, and sensuality rather than an attempt to sexually arouse. Attacking the work because it has this effect on you seems to have a Puritan undertone.