NEW BAROQUE

Pasatiempo - - LISTEN UP -

hen you look at the myth- and his­tory-themed paint­ings of the Old Masters, the com­po­si­tions of­ten con­flate sev­eral as­pects of a story into a sin­gle scene, ar­rang­ing the nar­ra­tive as a tableau. Such is the case with Diana and Her Nymphs, for in­stance, painted by Dutch artist Ja­cob van Loo (1614-1670) iin 1654. The scene de­picts Diana, god­dess of the hunt in Greek mythol­ogy, uun­dress­ing to bathe with her entourage. Diana, off-cen­ter in the fore­ground, rreceives the great­est light, while back­ground and side­line fig­ures are more ob­scured by shadow. An art his­to­rian could tell view­ers, per­haps, who each fig­ure rep­re­sents, but one’s at­ten­tion is drawn to the god­dess. In­ter­ac­tions aabound among the other char­ac­ters, but sel­dom do we have a sense of what they may be whis­per­ing to one an­other, of what con­spir­a­to­rial se­crets they ppos­sess. New York-based artist An­gela Fraleigh ze­roes in on these scaled-down, iin­ti­mate mo­ments to cap­ture some nar­ra­tive sense of the hushed con­ver­sa­tions aa­mong women in art, seek­ing to make the bit parts they play in mythic and

I've al­ways been in­ter­ested in nar­ra­tive and how mean­ing gets made — think­ing about so­cial con­structs, how power dy­nam­ics play out, and how the sto­ries we tell are shaped by our ex­pe­ri­ences.— artist An­gela Fraleigh

his­tor­i­cal dra­mas the cen­tral fo­cus in her own work. “You re­ally don’t see women en­gag­ing in a lot of these tales,” Fraleigh told Pasatiempo. “But in Diana and the nymphs you see it over and over again.”

The sub­ject of Diana was a pop­u­lar one for Re­nais­sance and Baroque-era artists. Domenichino (1581-1641) painted Diana and Her Nymphs in 1616, and Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) com­pleted Acteon

and Diana With Nymphs in 1565. Fraleigh looks at, and in some cases, ap­pro­pri­ates these mar­ginal fig­ures for her paint­ings. “If the painting is about the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween two char­ac­ters and a scene might be tak­ing place on the side­lines and the back­ground of a painting, and I’m re­ally try­ing to high­light it, then I’m lit­er­ally pluck­ing it from the orig­i­nal painting,” she said. Fraleigh is one of a hand­ful of artists whose work ap­pears in the ex­hi­bi­tion New Baroque: The Im­per­fect

Pearl, cur­rently on view at David Richard Gallery. The show also in­cludes works by Monte Cole­man, Chris Collins, Laila Far­cas-Ionescu, Erik Gellert, Catherine Howe, Ted Pim, and Vadim Stepanov. New Baroque fea­tures paint­ings, sculp­ture, and gilded found ob­jects that re­flect a con­tin­u­ing in­ter­est in Baroque themes and sub­jects, which were of­ten dy­namic, sug­gest­ing move­ment, and de­signed to be read like a story in vis­ual form.

Fraleigh’s new and re­cent works are al­most ex­clu­sively of women, and de­vel­oped out of a com­bi­na­tion of her in­ter­ests in myth and folk­lore and art his­tory. In 2013, dur­ing a sab­bat­i­cal from teach­ing art at Mo­ra­vian Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia, she be­gan re­search into the roles of fe­male pro­tag­o­nists in the tra­di­tions of the past. “I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in nar­ra­tive and how mean­ing gets made — think­ing about so­cial con­structs, how power dy­nam­ics play out, and how the sto­ries we tell are what shapes our ex­pe­ri­ences,” she said. “I was think­ing about what could be the big­gest nar­ra­tive I could imag­ine. What’s some­thing univer­sal enough that any­one could plug into it? That led me to Joseph Camp­bell and his idea of the hero’s jour­ney.” Camp­bell (1904-1987) was a pro­lific writer on the sub­jects of mythol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy who iden­ti­fied ma­jor univer­sal mo­tifs in tra­di­tions the world over, in­clud­ing the mo­tif of the hero’s jour­ney. “As I was re­search­ing it more and more, I re­al­ized there was re­ally no fe­male ver­sion of the hero’s jour­ney,” she said. “It started mak­ing me think and won­der and prod into other ar­eas. That led me to t his au­thor named Ma­rina Warner. She wrote a book called From the Beast to

the Blonde, and it doc­u­ments and un­cov­ers how women have moved through story.” Warner, ac­cord­ing to Fraleigh, sourced broad­sheets from the 1600s that showed how Baroque-era so­cial and po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments ac­tively dis­cour­aged women from con­gre­gat­ing. “The un­der­ly­ing mes­sage there is that women’s words have power and that women, when they get to­gether, will share knowl­edge — and t hat’s a dan­ger­ous t hing,” said Fraleigh. “Even some­thing like the word ‘gos­sips’ — look­ing at the his­tory of the word and the mean­ing of it — is used as an op­por­tu­nity to con­de­scend and shame women away from shar­ing knowl­edge. This led me to start think­ing, ‘ What if we could change the present by chang­ing the way we view the past?’ ” Her paint­ings, such as The Breezes at Dawn Have

Sto­ries to Tell and Watch­ing the Moon Move, both from 2015, draw from spe­cific sources. In the case of The Breezes at Dawn Have Sto­ries to Tell, she en­vi­sions the Three Graces, god­desses of charm and beauty who were also pop­u­lar sub­jects dur­ing the Baroque pe­riod, but her ti­tle sug­gests am­bi­gu­ity rather than the spe­cific, un­chang­ing virtues as­so­ci­ated with the mythic fig­ures. “The hero’s jour­ney for the tra­di­tional male fig­ure was to strike out on one’s own, you know, to go fight the dragon on your own,” she said. “You’ll be tempted by wa­ter nymphs or some­thing like that and then you come home. You do a 360. That’s the tra­jec­tory. For the tra­di­tional fe­male char­ac­ter, there’s a gath­er­ing of the team, a gath­er­ing force to col­lec­tiv­ity. If you look at any pro­gres­sive grass­roots move­ment, that’s how that func­tions. I was plug­ging into that with these paint­ings, too. I was think­ing of the col­lec­tive na­ture of progress for the fe­male char­ac­ter.”

Other paint­ings come closer to por­trai­ture than nar­ra­tive scenes, but Fraleigh in­vests them with sub­text by the man­ner in which they are painted. Shine, for ex­am­ple, shows a young woman with ab­stracted flow­ers in her hair and a bare sug­ges­tion of land­scape. Hol­low Moon, an­other por­trait, also com­bines ab­strac­tion and fig­u­ra­tion to obliquely sug­gest nar­ra­tive. “How do I de­pict the essence of nar­ra­tive, or tell a story with the most min­i­mal bare bones? By pair­ing the ab­strac­tion with the fig­u­ra­tion, it tells the viewer that I’m not de­pict­ing a re­al­ity. I’m de­pict­ing an al­ter­nate re­al­ity. It in­tro­duces a psy­cho­log­i­cal space in­stead of the un­der­stood ‘ real’ space.”

Fraleigh also looks to the late Baroque or Ro­coco era for sub­ject mat­ter. Her vi­brant use of color and the ef­fu­sive flo­ral en­vi­rons in which she places some fig­ures, as in her painting Through the Half Drowned

Stars, is rem­i­nis­cent of paint­ings from that pe­riod, but with a more con­tem­po­rary, ex­pres­sion­is­tic ap­pli­ca­tion of paint. “I was look­ing at the Ro­coco move­ment and think­ing about who the big­gest pa­trons for those artists were. Ro­coco artists are of­ten tossed un­der the rug of art his­tory as be­ing too fem­i­nine and too friv­o­lous. At the same time, the pri­mary per­son fund­ing those artists was Madame de Pom­padour, who was the mistress of Louis XV. What are the el­e­ments she’s un­cov­er­ing or see­ing in these paint­ings that are help­ing pro­pel her agenda?”

Fraleigh, who has con­sid­ered her­self a fem­i­nist since she was a teenager, has been think­ing about the power re­la­tion­ships be­tween artists and art pa­trons as well as power dy­nam­ics among women through­out time. “I’m not afraid of the messi­ness of that. Can we just de­cide to see women as pow­er­ful just by look­ing at them dif­fer­ently? Can we just de­cide that these fig­ures are in­tel­li­gent hu­man be­ings with­out mak­ing them take on the more dy­namic mas­cu­line traits like en­gag­ing in war or some­thing like that? Can we see them con­spir­ing? My re­la­tion­ship with art his­tory is a long one. I went to Bos­ton Univer­sity as an un­der­grad, which has an aca­demic, re­ally tra­di­tional pro­gram where you’re work­ing from life, draw­ing and painting. My real love of mak­ing came from that prac­tice. It’s where I spend my time look­ing, at these Old Masters. It took me a long time to give my­self per­mis­sion to use these fig­ures. I had a real strong urge to do it, but some­times you don’t make the con­nec­tion un­til af­ter you do it.”

Left, An­gela Fraleigh: Through the Half Drowned Stars, 2015, oil on can­vas; above, Chris Collins: Knot #2, 2016, cop­perc and gilded steel

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