Saturday, November 3, 2012

Colleen Asper

Colleen is a Renaissance woman!!! Seriously, is there anything she can't do?! I was blown away by her gorgeous painting. I love all the references to the old masters she employs. The way she left the left side in shadow and less modeled than the right is such a Rembrandt move! Her adroit handling of the paint and the glowing luminescence of the flesh is reminiscent of Vermeer. In addition to referencing De Stijl with the sleekly painted geometric forms,  her portrait is also a nod to those incredible Vilhelm Hammershøi paintings of interiors that typically portray the female subject seated with her back turned to the viewer. 
Aside form being stunning paintings in and of themselves,  the paintings are also conceptually rich and laden with Colleen's encyclopedic knowledge of theory and philosophy. Much of her current work addresses Colleen's background in dance. She explained how different the perspective of a dancer is from that of a painter. It's the difference between finding personal expression in following predetermined, choreographed moves and having full control in orchestrating the entire work of art from start to finish. 
Colleen manages to paint the anti-self-portrait, self-portrait, in that the identity and ego of the artist is obscured. However, anytime a woman is depicted in an oil painting, the subject of the male gaze cannot be avoided. There's a definite defiance and independence in turning her back to the viewer, and by depicting herself in such an athletic pose, Colleen is taking ownership of her body and how it is portrayed. The pose Colleen chooses is a stark contrast to those vapid, docile odalisques of Titian and Renoir whose only role is to passively wait for the Great Male narcissist phallocrat to pounce on them! DFW actually coined the term "Great Male Narcissist" when he was writing some serious smack about John Updike in his reviewCertainly the End of Something or OtherOne Would Sort of Have to Think. 
At first, I found these pieces to be quite comical, but the more time I spent with them, I realized that it was a nervous reaction, the same sort of reaction that comes from seeing a Beckett play. There is a relationship to Theater of The Absurd in Colleen's work both in terms of content and presentation. The black talk bubbles are actually rich, black velvet, which is difficult to see in the photograph. The figures cloaked in the pillow cases are interchangeable as well as the words in the black void of whatever it is they are communicating. They could be anyone, saying anything. Their situation does seem more straight forward than that of Vladimir and Estragon, since they are not waiting for anyone or anything, although whether they are aware of their predicament is another question. As a couple, they are defined by their solitude and are forever separated by the space in between them.  

This is Colleen's portrait of the protester. She explained that the protester could be simultaneously protesting everything or nothing. It's intriguing how a minimal drawing such as this can paradoxically evoke the exact opposite idea of vastness. 

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