By Annette Hinkle
It’s probably not something that most art lovers think about or even notice. But in fact, in galleries around the country, male artists are typically represented in far greater numbers than their female counterparts.
It’s certainly something that painter Terry Strickland has been aware of for quite some time, which is why she became involved in Women Painting Women, a movement which began with a blog by artists Alia El-Bermani, Diane Feissel, and Sadie Jernigan Valeri.
“One of the reasons they started the blog was that Sadie had seen an art show where the subject was women,” says Ms. Strickland, “but all the artists were men.”
The goal of Women Painting Women was to highlight underrepresented female figurative artists who feature women subjects in their work. In 2009, Women Painting Women hosted an exhibition of 50 female artists from the United States and Europe at Robert Lange Studios in Charleston, S.C. In conjunction with the show, a one-week residency was offered for 14 female artists — Ms. Strickland, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., was one of them.
“The residency was really surprising on so many levels,” recalls Ms. Strickland. “We were all talking about the business of art and our craft and our experiences being a woman in the art world. That was something you don’t usually get when you’re around a lot of women. But because we were driven and had a passion for painting, that was the subject.”
“It was very refreshing to be around so many women painters,” she adds.
Since 2009, the Women Painting Women movement has been growing with an ever increasing number of galleries taking part by hosting annual exhibitions of their own. Among them is the Richard J. Demato Gallery in Sag Harbor which opens its second annual Women Painting Women exhibition on October 11. Nearly 300 women artists from around the globe submitted pieces for consideration with gallery own Richard J. Demato and his staff choosing 38 works by 30 of them — including Ms. Strickland — for the juried show. Six other galleries in Virginia, Tennessee, New Jersey and Scotland will also host Women Painting Women exhibits this fall.
Anyone familiar with the Demato Gallery knows that Mr. Demato is not someone who needs to be persuaded to feature women artists. His gallery is dominated by the figurative work of females, though for the record, he also represents four or five male artists in the gallery as well.
“It’s what your comfortable with and drawn to,” says Mr. Demato in explaining how he chooses artists for his gallery. “I’ve got five sisters and I’ve always been more comfortable with women. It just works.”
Mr. Demato finds that women artists tend to capture the female form differently than many of their male counterparts. His women artists, he notes, hint at deep emotion in their work or some may express their insecurities by painting themselves as being less attractive than they actually are.
“I think it’s a sensitivity thing, not a male/female thing,” explains Mr. Demato. “Being human we all have underlying subconscious inclinations and comfort levels. The men in our gallery are also very sensitive people. Other galleries have a totally different focus and perspective. I think you have to do what you love and the rest will follow.”
“Now we have 5,000 email addresses and people are very appreciative that we exist – both collectors and artists,” says Mr. Demato. “They recognize our interest in finding art that is more than just a pretty picture — art that will touch you and motivate you to be happy or to think.”
“It becomes a living thing,” he adds.
Ms. Strickland, whose painting “It’s a Man’s World” in the Demato Gallery show offers a humorous take on the notion of masculinity by depicting a woman using the end of her hair to form a mustache, feels that women artists can’t help but identify with their female subjects on a deeper level.
“It’s funny and whimsical, but there’s a deeper threat of poignancy in there,” says Ms. Strickland of her painting. “How is my life different because I’m not a man?”
“I think it’s a wider experience we’re touching on — things like motherhood, being a friend — and less about a straight depiction of female classical beauty as an ideal,” adds Ms. Strickland. “Especially the people who end up being in these shows, often it’s a narrative about their relationship with someone and deeper than the classical ideal of a beautiful form.”
“I’m not saying that men don’t paint those deeper thoughts,” she clarifies, “but when you have a whole show of Women Painting Women, there’s a higher sensitivity, sympathy and questioning about a women’s place that comes out in these works.”
It’s a movement that seems to have struck a chord and through Women Painting Women, Ms. Strickland has come to know many more female artists than she could have ever found on her own. Beyond the camaraderie that has developed and the ever growing number of Women Painting Women shows offered each year, Ms. Strickland finds that the movement has also increased her own awareness of female artists and the need to promote them whenever possible.
“If somebody mentions to me they’d like to bring in an artist to teach a workshop, before, I’d think of people who have more exposure — and lot of them are men,” says Ms. Strickland. “I now try to put forth a woman’s name.”
“Women Painting Women” opens with a reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.at the Richard J. Demato Gallery (90 Main Street, Sag Harbor) on Saturday, October 11. The show runs through November 11. For more information, call 725-1161 or visit rjdgallery.com.