In her newest paintings, Angela Fraleigh reexamines the classical female nudes from Baroque and Rococo paintings. Specifically, she reconsiders the gaze and thoughts of the posing models by resituating them in new compositions. Fraleigh, a feminist artist, removes the nudes from their original roles as objects of desire, icons, and ornamentation and places them in a new context where they are self-assured, empowered and the central characters. Their bodies are draped and shielded by lush vegetation, saturated color and gold or silver foils. They are lost in their own private thoughts and engage with the women in the painting, unconcerned with the artist or the viewer. She releases these figures from their prescriptive roles in mythological and historical narratives and frees them to be more intriguing characters that are a little mysterious, sometimes whimsical, and often introspective. Essentially, Fraleigh transitions these women from being “in character”—using theatre parlance—to creating their own character and identity. She demonstrates in these paintings that context matters and changes how one is viewed, setting the stage as to how women are, or at least should be, considered and approached. There is still an aspect of voyeurism in these paintings, in keeping with the essence of the Baroque and Rococo masterpieces. Yet, something seems different now, it seems less acceptable, as though a boundary has been crossed. The viewer sees these historical Baroque figures differently as they use the agency of their new positions to shift the balance of power for women, away from being objects of male desire to a state of impartiality, satisfying themselves without remorse and taking what is theirs without asking permission—at least not from a man.
Angela Fraleigh, Through the Half Drowned Stars, 2015, Oil on canvas, 66 x 90"
Fraleigh’s paintings are beautifully executed and capture the extravagance, lushness and voluptuousness of the Baroque and Rococo paintings of 17th and 18th century Europe, like those originally created by masters such as Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Francois Boucher (1703-1770), Francesco Furini (1603-1646) and Pietro Liberi (1605-1687). However, Fraleigh deploys a few new techniques and devices to achieve her objectives. In one body of large-scale paintings she applies layers of stains, glazes and saturated hues that provide lush depths and rich colors from which the figures seem to emerge. In the other collection of large paintings, she provides layers of gold or silver foil in a variety of shapes ranging from palmate leaves and tree branches to pure abstractions with the figures on top of, behind and between the many layers. Both devices provide the cloaking and draping of the female figures that takes the attention away from them as seductive objects. They also provide depth to the compositions and richness that only comes from layers of color and forms. More important, these devices provide a level of abstraction and a new context from which to view the figures that beg questions about who they are, where they come from, and what they are doing. The focus shifts from the broader narrative to them individually, their relationships one to the other and unique identities. These abstract devices make Fraleigh’s paintings very fresh and contemporary, bringing them and the imagery into this century and supporting the important conceptual underpinning.
Angela Fraleigh, Saturn's Moons, 2015, Oil, alkyd and metal leaf on canvas, 36 x 48"
The introduction of abstraction into Fraleigh’s latest figurative paintings not only brings them forward in terms of modernity and the evolution of art history, but with all of the artist’s devices and approaches, there is much more than meets the eye. Fraleigh is thoughtful in every detail. The abstract elements derived from gold and silver foil come from the turn of the century designs by Candace Wheeler. Wheeler was an activist for women and promoted that they should be financially independent; she was one of the first women to earn a living from her own work. Conceptually, this addition validates the independence of women. Formally, the abstraction operates to not only cloak and shield the female bodies as noted above, but more important, to create a dream-like setting where the figures are floating and not grounded. This dream state allows a revisioning of how the world and women’s fates can be different, creating a path away from history of the female body as a sexual object, toward women being empowered and appreciated for intellectual, cultural and social contributions. These future accomplishments become a realization by using and celebrating the successes of women like Wheeler who have and continue to pave the way for others.
These newest paintings by Angela Fraleigh are featured in the current exhibition, “(Un)Real”, at David Richard Gallery. Curated by New York-based curators, Mary Dinaburg and Howard Rutkowski, the exhibition also features paintings by Michele Bubacco, David Humphrey, Martin Mull and Claire Oliver.
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View Angela Fraleigh’s paintings at: