By Tessa Raebeck
The woman is staring at the camera with a strong gaze and powerful posture, paying no mind to the snake wrapped around her neck staring at her.
“She’s so in control,” said Eve Gianni Corio, director of the RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor, which is showing the piece, Katie O’Hagan’s “Constriction” as part of its latest exhibition, “Transcendental Feminine Fantasy,” opening Saturday, May 31.
A look at femininity and the mysticism surrounding it, the show consists of images of women by upcoming and mid-career artists. It includes work by artists of both genders, including Teresa Elliot, Pam Hawkes, Haley Hasler, Kadir Nelson, Margo Selski, and Pamela Wilson.
The idea to present an exhibition dedicated to women came about after the success of the gallery’s “Women Painting Women” show last September. The RJD Gallery hosted the show along with eight other galleries across the world.
From Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” to the pages of Maxim, the female form is arguably the most depicted figure of all time and was an easy image to find in the repertoire of many artists.
“When we were going through our roster and imagery, there just seems to be—even if it’s a male artist, he’s promoting these very powerful female visions,” said Ms. Gianni Corio.
“So many images capture the very fantastical ideas of women, all these different roles, so it seems well suited,” she added.
Not all the images depict women in all their powerful glory; many show the softer—and often harsher—side to being a woman.
In “Agua-Fria” by Teresa Elliot, a woman, the bottom half of her face and top of her head covered in mud, stares sideways off camera with a look of sadness, her hand clutching her chest.
In “Bend,” also by Ms. Elliot, a beautiful female figure is facing away, the back of her naked body facing the camera. Although her figure is mesmerizing, her pose is far from powerful, her shoulders bent over and her hands up, in an almost nervous way.
Kadir Nelson’s piece, “Red Bone,” has a woman “looking like she’s from another time,” said Ms. Gianni Corio.
Her eyes are raised up, focusing on the horizon in a dream-like stare.
“That’s an empowering piece,” she added.
A frequent presence on the gallery’s walls, Margo Selski shows the gray in everything, focusing on the balance both in the world’s ways but also in the balancing act required of the modern woman.
A mother of three, Ms. Selski often paints her children in her paintings.
The portraits are reminiscent of those hanging on the walls at Versailles and other palaces, but instead of a scepter, the woman could be holding a giant fork and wearing a globe.
“She found that to be empowering for her children, to dress up in these scenes where they’re in control of situations,” Ms. Gianni Corio said. “She really likes the idea of timeless space, where things are kind of morphing.”
“There’s no right and wrong, there’s no real, there’s no surreal, and she constantly bounces from current day to a timeless space in the Victorian Era that she paints. She’s a nice bit of realistic, very old Renaissance world technique paired with magic,” she added.
Ms. Selski, Ms. Gianni Corio said, focuses on the idea of women in today’s society trying to balance being a mother, a painter and a business owner and all the other hats they wear.
Featured artist Pam Hawkes also showcases the balancing act required of women, but with a focus on the reverse effects and relationship of physical beauty on the outside and the metaphysical inside.
“Her works are really about what these women are thinking, who’s behind the façade of pure beauty or looked at beauty and how that feels,” Ms. Gianni Corio said.
“Golden Years” features a woman who is radiant and golden, yet wilts forlornly with downcast eyes. The artist’s newest piece, a large work called “Faded,” features a girl with pearls draped around her, dripping across her dress, and flying, unsettled hair.
“From her façade of beauty, her person is almost fading into the background,” said Ms. Gianni Corio, adding, “She has a very interesting message in her works, which are so beautiful that you’re stricken at first, then all of a sudden you start to feel what’s really the depth of the person and what’s really there.”
With various takes on the feminist mystique, be it downtrodden or radiant, covered in mud or glowing in gold, butt naked or wearing a globe, all the works depict the undeniable spirit that accompanies femininity.
“Transcendental Feminine Fantasy” opens Saturday, May 31, with a reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the RJD Gallery, 90 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-1161 or visit the website, RJDgallery.com.