The Female Form Re-Imagined

Rachel Roth

April 27 – May 1

Artist Statement

“There was something both compelling and moving, I felt, in the way certain male artists portrayed women: a kind of longing that was not just an expression of the erotic… a desire to be the other as well as to view her, and at the same time an acknowledgement of irrevocable separation.”

This quote by the scholar Wanda Lesser, from her book “His Other Half,” reveals what I believe to be a paradoxical and undeniable truth. Male artists, through the portrayal of women, demonstrate a desire for the unattainable – to become woman itself. Male artists historically abuse the female form, tying it under the male gaze, in an attempt to control and harness the power of woman as creator.

My work focuses on this idea, particularly through the lens of Viennese Secession artist Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Through appropriating their renderings of the female form, I question the boundaries of representing the female body. I challenge the historical oppression of the female form, reclaiming and repositioning the bodies of my sisters. I offer a new and fresh perspective on the body, stripping it of context and reducing the body to basic line and shape. Stark and bold, the female bodies in my work confront the viewer with splayed genitals and unapologetic positions.

As  a woman artist painting women’s bodies, I give those originally objectified forms new meaning and free them from their original intent. I examine the connection between women’s bodies and decorations, turning the shapes and lines of the female body into a pattern revealing the historically oppressive and decorative use of the female form.

My art is purposefully uncomfortable, unsettling, and unashamed. I desire to evoke a visceral and emotional response – forcing the viewer to gaze on the naked female body, to accept it, to feel its power.

Juxtaposed with pastel colors and incorporating mixed media, my subject matter offers a multi-layered and stratified reading for the viewer, in accordance with the richness of the female form. Using slashes and cuts in the canvas, I challenge the picture plane and reveal the stretcher bars and walls behind the work, symbolically referencing the inherent patriarchal structures behind traditional paintings of the female body. I focus on several renderings of the female form intensely, including an image of a woman hunched over with her back towards the viewer. This image is painful, self-conscious, fragile, and exposed, commenting on the difference between woman as “nude” and woman as “naked.” I imply the viewer’s own guilt, and place the viewer in the position of voyeur.

Although my work is inspired by Viennese artists, I bring to light the eternal struggle of freedom for the female body, relevant historically as well as in present day.


About the Artist

Rachel Roth is a senior Studio Art major with minors in Religion and German studies. She is primarily interested in looking at feminist issues from an art historical perspective, and re-appropriating the works of Austrian Secession artists, such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. She had the pleasure to study abroad in Austria, as well as conduct art research in Vienna with a Richter undergraduate research grant in the Summer of 2014. Her research was recently selected to be presented at the 2015 ACC  Meeting of the Minds Undergraduate Research Conference. Her work has been shown in many group exhibitions including: Federation University in Australia,   Plymouth Rock Gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, as well as in numerous exhibitions at Wake Forest University. 

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