After centuries of male artists depicting the female body, it is interesting to witness the evolution of that theme in art with contemporary women painters such as Christiane Lyons who embraced it, in particular in her current series Some Women. In her paintings, she explores women’s objectification throughout art history and, by distorting the female body, creates a modern response to cubism.
The artists uses found images of multiple women’s bodies to create one female figure in each painting. She appropriates from image searches on social media or fashion photography because she believes that these representations of women have a universal influence on women worldwide. It is to be noted that “each painting in this series are named after influential female artists”.
Her practice has been influenced by her education at UC Berkley where she studied with art historians TJ Clark and Hal Foster and then at UCLA where she worked with renowned artists John Baldessari and Elizabeth Peyton. The importance of art history in her work can particularly be seen in some of her paintings of previous series where she appropriated images painted by Manet or Warhol for example. She is now based in the San Francisco Bay Area and is represented by Los Angeles Gallery Meliksetian|Briggs where she already had 3 solo shows. She shared about her path, dreams and upcoming projects. Thanks Christiane !
What is your artistic path?
I’ve had two experiences that have shaped how I view my societal role as an artist and how best to reflect such through my work.
I had a painting professor in my undergraduate studies, Craig Nagasawa. He expressed to us that art has great power to say something, and as artists we have an obligation to figure out what it is we want to say. As a young artist I had not yet thought about the potential of that moment between the viewer and the work of art and how it should never be wasted.
At graduate school I was fortunate enough to study with Laura Owens. During one of her critique classes she mentioned asking herself in her studio one day what she would paint if this was her last day on Earth. At the time, for whatever reason, most likely because I was a twenty-something graduate student and thought I knew everything already, I don’t think I realized how profound a question this was. It wasn’t until years later, after going through a period of about year in the studio where nothing was working that I seriously considered what would I paint if this was it and fortuitously it lead to my current series of work, Some Women.
What is your objective with your artwork and in particular with your recent series Some Women?
Some Women came about because I knew I wanted to go back to painting primarily the female figure, which I had last focused on in graduate school. I am particularly intrigued by the work of Wangechi Mutu and how she combines paint with collage from fashion imagery to create these amazing, powerful new figures.
For a long time I have been interested in women’s objectification in our visual culture and its subsequent effects on real women in our society, especially young women and girls. I started to think about how the opposite of objectification is subjectivity. I wondered if by increasing the subjectivity or humanness and individuality of my figures I could break through the objectification found in our visual culture. In an attempt to discover this new form of subjectivity, using visual sources from social media to fashion photography, I started to combine multiple images of women to create one female figure. I hope by increasing the objectification in my work through the use of multiple body parts I can break through its cycle to reveal the female figure as subject, not object.
Could you share the story behind a specific painting of yours?
For my series Some Women, it took me about a year to finally figure out how to combine images of different women into one figure that I felt worked and best expressed my ideas. The painting that solidified my method was “Laura: Arrangement in Silver and Intense Black.” I felt it only appropriate to name the painting after the artist that inspired me to realize what I really wanted to paint.
All of the paintings in this series are named after influential female artists.
My process consists of culling material through random image searches using key words that have typically represented women in visual culture and art history. These appropriated images are then manipulated and layered to comprise digital studies that I use when painting.
So “Laura” is actually a combination of three images of different women. Her forehead, ears, and neck are from one woman while the rest of her face is created from two other images, one actually being the very distinctive eye of Tilda Swinton, though I do not place importance on or meaning behind the real identities of the women who are combined to create the resulting new figure.
Art history is a source of inspiration for you. Which artists are closer to your heart and why?
In terms of technique, I tend to be drawn to figurative painters where their work, particularly their brushstrokes and use of color, look effortless, and as a viewer I don’t question any part of their painting. I find myself regularly reexamining the work of Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Marlene Dumas, and Elizabeth Peyton.
As far as thought process and concept: John Baldessari. He was my professor in graduate school and I worked for him for many years after graduation. His work is always a source of inspiration to me. His way of thinking greatly influences my work.
What would be your dream project?
I’ve actually never thought of one! I guess as a female artist, I feel it an unaffordable luxury to have one until women artists are represented and paid equally to male artists in our industry. Therefore, my dream is simply being able to continue my career as a contemporary artist and participate as a valued member of our community.
However, if I was to indulge in a dream project, I would love to collaborate with the artists’ workshop and print publisher, Gemini G.E.L. I worked there when I lived in Los Angeles in various capacities from simply answering phones (which is a pretty dream job when you hear Ellsworth Kelly’s voice on the other end!) to painting actual prints in their workshop. Co-founder Sidney Felsen was always supportive in finding me a job when I needed it and for that I will be forever grateful. I am in complete awe of what he and Stanley Grinstein created and it would be such an honor to be a part of their legacy.
What are your projects for the coming months?
I’m continuing my series Some Women. I’ve included photos of studies of the new work to give an idea of my process. I’m very excited about the new compositions! I plan on exhibiting the finished paintings sometime in 2020 at Meliksetian|Briggs in Los Angeles. It will be my fourth solo exhibition with the gallery.
To follow her on IG: @christianelyons