All of these works—paintings, sculptures, prints—appear to be self-portraits. The forms are too generalized to represent just one specific person, but they have much in common with the artist herself. None of the women depicted are African, Asian or Hispanic. None of them appear to be under twelve or over fifty or emaciated or overweight. None of them look stupid or damaged. They all seem to be resilient, healthy, curious about the world, and not especially concerned with whether people approve of them. All of them could become artists.
There is a strong sense of psychological reality about each one. Like the stylized Fayum portraits from the Coptic period of Egypt, these human images feel present, close and alive. Unlike those early Christian paintings however, all faces are staring off to one side. None of their eyes meet yours. They feel less determined, less confident, and often, like split personalities, they are fractured into multiple sets of eyes, noses and lips. It’s an apt portrayal of a modern, urban, educated young person—drawn in so many directions by a daily barrage of information and multicultural production, past and present. What might be gained is a breadth of understanding and variety of expression. What might be lost is a sense of purpose, conviction and integrity.
The young women presented are more gritty than beautiful and more puzzled than sexy—indeed they’re not sexy at all. These women are not lovers or mothers. Breasts, hips or thighs are hardly ever shown, even in the full body sculpture. The only voluptuous part of their bodies is their mouths, but perhaps that is unavoidable when lips are not pulled tight with anxiety or determination. These women are not owners, or leaders, or teachers, or technicians, or caregivers. They haven’t yet found their roles in the world; they’re all still discovering themselves.
In the paintings, there is no strong design in color, space or volume. But there is an enduring attraction to the depiction of sane, quiet people. The longer you look, the more you notice the careful compositional arrangement, often built around an eye. There is no upfront visual excitement in the paintings, and even less in the sculptures. But the lithe statuettes are a comfortable fit for the human hand, as if they were meant to be held rather than seen. If our civilization had a temple for becoming a woman, these might well serve as votive figures that girls would carry as they approached the altar of the Goddess.
The most enjoyable visuality is found in the collographs. With that printing technique, the artist plays with various patterns as they obstruct or reveal the features of the face peeking through them. The results often feel both haunting and precise.
It’s hard not to root for all seventy-one of the young women presented in these pieces. You want them to stay true to themselves and never feel crushed by the world around them. They are in the most important, dangerous, lonely, and transformative period of their lives. I want them to grow up, to deal with their sexuality, and become as reliable, creative, assertive, and productive as the artist herself. (Chris Miller)
Corinna Button’s “Interfaces” shows through July 30 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell.