Seasons of Beauty Through the Ages

Saison de Beauté (Season of Beauty) is an exhibit that explores the concept of ideal beauty through interpretations of various mediums. What is “ideal beauty”, you ask? Well, in the context of femininity and art, the concept of ideal beauty is something that has been explored, depicted, and reinterpreted in a variety of mediums for centuries and centuries. It is, at the risk of sounding vague, the ways in which society as a majority depicts and views how a woman should look, dress, present herself, etc., and the manner in which that is then manifested in artistic forms. This said, “ideals” have changed drastically and frequently over the years and are specific to culture and time. Yet, many of the ideals persist and are still interpreted - albeit with different intent - today.

What is considered beautiful by the majority is something so culturally, temporally, and socially specific that we can barely begin to touch on the subject… however, in this exhibition, we strove to take this widely explored concept and curate a show that features the work of a handful of Sozo’s talented artists whom highlight their own idea of feminine beauty, today.

Yet, in curating the show, it was fascinating to find the parallels between Sozo’s artists’ varying interpretations and some of art history’s shining stars. Therefore, I (Sara Frances) thought it would be a fun (and also nerdy) task to explore these comparisons of Sozo’s talent pool and the “Old Masters.” Making these historical connections is something that is exhilarating to me, and helps to place contemporary art in a greater historical context.

The Venus of Willendorf dates all the way back to 30,000 BCE and, with its exaggerated feminine features, is thought to be representative of fertility or mother goddess. Seeing as this figurine is dated back to Prehistoric ages, it is seemingly fitting that the emphasis on fertility would be ideal.

Fast forward 32,000+ years and Sozo’s artist Denny Gerwin is portraying a similar figurine… however, the origins of Denny’s BBW Venus Figures have a different inspiration yet still highlight the beauty and power of the female form…

Initially inspired by a chance encounter with a “Big Beautiful Women” social group as an undergrad, I started making pottery about this subject in 2003. When the pots stopped getting better, I decided to study the figure more deliberately in 2012. The challenge is to capture an ideal of beauty from within a culture that has issues with women’s health and body image. My intention is to honor the subject and celebrate women’s bodies more universally than popular depictions of beauty do.

Aphrodite of Knidos, sculpted by Praxiteles in 4th Century BC Greece, is famous for being one of the few, if not the first, female nude sculptures in a sea of Grecian male nudes. The figure is representative of the tale of Aphrodite before she takes her ritual bath which restores her purity - an attribute highly regarded for women. Though she is nude, her hand covers her most private regions, maintaining her modesty while still highlighting the beauty of the female form. This is a nice juxtaposition to the highly regarded and celebrated male form during the Grecian empire.

Inslee Fariss’ figurative works offer a contemporary interpretation of the long depicted female form. Inslee manages to allude to the classics, the figure appears to be preparing for her bath just like Aphrodite of Knidos, yet doing so through a refreshing pose and softer medium - watercolor on paper.

In the gap from Praxiteles to 19th century France, the female nude as depicted over and over again… in a variety of fashions and mediums. Yet, the world was shocked when Êdouard Manet debuted his infamous piece Olympia in 1863. The figure’s nudity was not what struck viewers the most, it was her straight forward, voyeur- challenging gaze that caused such a stir. This was a direct challenge to the - dare I say - prudish values placed on women in 19th Century Europe. To present a female nude in such a way in which she was so overtly sexual rather than depicted as the “fertility goddess” or “Madonna” archetype, sent shockwaves through society at the time. With Olympia, Manet challenged the context in which the female figure was considered beautiful and ideal, setting the stage for his contemporaries that followed.

Bre Barnett Crowell, Sozo’s talented pastelist, celebrates the beauty and diversity of the female form through her varying depictions and poses of female nudes. Straight Shooter is a particular piece whose figure’s gaze alludes to Olympia’s - staring, straight forward, as if to say “Here I am, in all my glory. Take it or leave it. I am fine either way.”

John Singer Sargent is one of the most celebrated portraiture artists of the 19th Century. His larger than life portraits are so beautifully rendered, they can easily take your breath away. Portrait of Madame X 1884, is a portrait of a French socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was infamous for her social escapades and renowned beauty. Sargent depicts Gautreau in a way which skillfully highlights her beauty and status but also alludes to her unconventional ways. The stark contrast of her alabaster skin and the black gown paired with the graceful pose of her elongated neck and the fallen strap of her gown show the conflicting ideals of poise and status and promiscuity and infamy.

Julian Cardinal’s Pearls is a piece of striking beauty in its own right. Similarly, this portrait highlights what seems to be an elegant and poised socialite in her pearls, white gloves and ball gown. Cardinal has chosen, however, not to include the face of this figure - placing the emphasis not on the person itself but, instead, on the beauty of fashion - the figure and how she wears the dress.

Flipping beauty ideals on its head, cubist interpretations of the female form, such as Pablo Picasso’s Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier), 1910, show the figure depicted in a deconstructed, geometrical, and much more abstracted manner than ever before. Picasso’s figure maintains a likeness to the classical form while offering a new interpretation on what is considered and revered as beautiful.

In the same likeness as Picasso, Mary-Ann Prack’s figurative ceramic sculptures offer a geometric interpretation of the female form. A refreshing interpretation amongst a multitude of realistic interpretations.

“I am a painter and sculptor mostly known for my clay works  inspired by the human figure. My interpretation of the human experience  on a physical, emotional and spiritual level is revealed in each of the sculptures I create. Their shapes are elegant and organic, with  geometric surfaces of primarily colorful glazes and incised lines. When my sculptures are experienced in person they reveal a distinctive  presence, personality and energy, each conveying real human qualities and emotion. It is my intuitive process of turning clay into something  tangible and meaningful that has intrigued me over the past thirty years.”

Hair. Always a point of discussion when it comes to what is considered beautiful and feminine. Frida Kahlo took this idea of hair holding feminine power and beauty and made a statement in her 1940 painting Self Portrait with Cropped Hair. Kahlo had recently divorced her infamous husband, Diego Rivera, who openly loved and adored her long dark hair… therefore, Kahlo depicts herself seated in one of her ex-husbands suits with strands of her beloved long locks littered on the floor. A blunt statement on the severing of their relationship - yet her straight forward gaze suggests her confidence in herself as an independent and capable woman and artist.

Page Morris is a mixed media artist who is fascinated by this trope of hair as representative of female power and beauty and depicts her faceless figures and busts with turbans, hair wraps, and even head pieces made of flowers in a beautiful fashion.

“It is not uncommon to hear women discussing their hair.  Have you cut your hair, who is your hairstylist? Your color is fantastic.”It’s my belief that thick healthy hair is a marker for femininity in our society.  And we as women embrace the notion. My paintings often reflect women and their hair as an entity. One and the same. A subject to be discussed. You can see in my paintings that hair can be a bit complicated. And feminine. Not unlike women themselves. “

Well, wasn’t that fun? In curating Saison de Beauté, it was important to consider how far we have come in interpretations of the female form and to celebrate the beauty that is the diversity of what is considered beautiful. With the works on display by our selected artists, we aimed to highlight a range of interpretations that all touched on different beauty ideals, all while honoring the idea that what is considered beautiful is up to the beholder.

Saison de Beaute will be on view at Sozo Gallery until April 26. Be sure to stop by and behold all the beauty that is on display.