February 2, 2009

Daring Dutch Damsels

Today while continuing the process of archiving my work I came across my large paintings of steatopygous nudes. They were painted in the mid-80's while I was living in Holland and ostensibly working for the overseas division of the University of Maryland - I say ostensibly working for the University of Maryland because there were very few calls for art courses on the American Military bases where the university offered an ala carte menu of college education. There was more use for the English courses that my husband offered, so we made our way in Europe off of the military’s need to know how to read and write rather than make pictures. Understandably so.
To kill time while looking for more reliable work (I never did find any in Holland), I painted in the upstairs bathroom of our small apartment in Nieuwenhagen, a small suburb of Heerlen. Why a small space would engender the need to do large paintings I cannot say. Perhaps it was a protest over the constraints of that time and place. Contrary to the image painted in the American press, Holland was a conservative country - especially with regard to women’s rights.
Perhaps things have changed by now. I certainly hope so.
These paintings represented a reaction to frustration. No exits. No possibilities other than what imagination would bear. I did obtain some solace by painting these large fiery matrons of madness. I recall that I was reading Germain Greer’s The Obstacle Course at the time which only fueled a sense of intimidation about a future as a woman artist. Although these feminist writings were useful in challenging the status quo, I sometimes wonder how many women simply threw in the towel after reading them. Difficult odds one can steel oneself up for, but impossible ones can make even the most sanguine shrug and say "Why bother then?" So as my art cubicle was physically and theoretically defined as quite small, it only created the urge to paint these monsters of women seven to ten feet long.
These daring damsels were seen by very few people before they were destroyed, but at least they were seen. The first spectator was an old friend from our China days who visited us in Holland. Tony Grayling, as chance would have it, took a restroom break in our upstairs bathroom/studio so was treated to this art exhibition. I recall that he liked one not pictured here that had a less wooly and more sculptural finish. It comes as an odd bit of satisfaction that although the art no longer exists, the eyes that looked upon them do and that these eyes represent the vision of a now venerable philosopher in London.
The other few people who witnessed these mad Dutch ladies, were a group of men in Maastricht and a group of men and one woman in Belgium. With the exception of the woman, both groups were horrified. Understandably so. The paintings depicted women with rear ends that could wipe out Limburg province and possibly adjacent southern Belgium just by sitting on that piece of topography.
Now, years later, I have a larger space in which to paint but I paint in very modest dimensions- even miniature. I like small for myself. I paint large now only when I have a commission to do so because I slowly learned that I will end up having to stare interminably at large things that are consigned to nowhere but my own living quarters. But although I paint what I can live with, there is still that urge to bring the Dutch damsels back to life in some shape or form.

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