David Richard Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition of paintings and collages by artist Dee Shapiro. The presentation debuts Shapiro’s newest body of work, her first ever figurative painting that examines female nudes in art history, but through the artist’s unique lens of patterns and feminist discourse. Also, included are earlier geometric paintings from the 1980s of antique Persian rugs that provide both cultural and historical context for the women figures as well as connecting the figures to Shapiro’s love of patterns, textiles and sewing that influenced her career and work for five decades. The artist’s exquisitely detailed paintings on paper of male and female genitalia shift the attention away from objectifying and essentializing the female body to more of a focus on playful and decorative depictions of genitalia as the functional and organic structures they are, with of course, a dose of innuendo. Collectively, these three bodies of work not only span and define Shapiro’s long and thoughtful approach to art making, but provide a cultural context for reconsidering the female body through art. By appropriating and reconsidering female nudes from art history and recontextualizing and re-presenting her own artworks, Shapiro has Snatched and Reworked both hers and the work of others into a masterful and historical feminist discussion.
The presentation, Snatched and Reworked, was inspired by and curated based upon Dee Shapiro’s newest, large-scale figurative paintings (which are entirely new in her oeuvre of pattern work) that she created during a residency at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York this past spring. The figures are her interpretations of classic female nudes that she appropriated from several masters from art history, including: Odalisque in Red Culottes, 1921 by Henri Matisse, Olympia, 1863 by Edouard Manet and Birth of Venus, 1485-86 by Botticelli (see images below). She began each painting with her process of letting ink run on large format paper and then literally filling in and around the resulting forms using her unique approach of painting and drawing patterns combined and juxtaposed with collaged elements until the figures emerged, while also maintaining an appropriate level of abstraction and mystery through the layers of pattern. Shapiro’s studio is filled with an intermingling of her many series of paintings and collages, much like a salon with artworks filling the walls, resting in stacks on the floor and leaning against the walls, with smaller pieces nested on shelves for ready viewing. The balance of the exhibition was curated organically by spotting and adding works via a natural mixing of related imagery that quickly unfolded into the feminist narrative in similar and complementing palettes.
While viewing the new figurative paintings, several of Shapiro’s early 1980s geometric acrylic, gouache and watercolor paintings on canvas and paper comprised of Persian rugs were hanging nearby and seemed quite appropriate along-side these historical figures. Not only do they extend the use of geometric and decorative systemic patterns observed historically in clothing and salon furnishings, they are elegant and befitting of the classical periods and women in the original paintings. They also speak to long-running influences in Shapiro’s work noted below.
Also within our site line, while curating the exhibition, were spectacular watercolor (and ink) paintings on paper that Shapiro created in 2011 and 2012 for an exhibition entitled, Sexing The Polymorphs. In each painting she celebrated male and female genitalia in her own style of fastidious patterns, voluptuous biomorphic forms, sensual colors with a bit of humor and use of double entendre, both in image and title. Not only do these voluptuous forms speak to the female figures in the classical paintings, but also relate to Shapiro’s own history. She emerged in her professional career in the early 1970s along-side the Feminist art movement that focused on women’s bodies with Womanhouse and work by Miriam Schapiro, Judy Chicago and Carolee Schneemann. That period had a long-lasting impact on Shapiro, in addition to growing up with sewing, knitting, counting and mathematics (essential in pattern work), and designing textiles, which all fed her interest in pattern and craft and how it relates to women and women’s artwork throughout history.