As long as there is gender disparity in the art world, there will be art projects about gender disparity in the art world. In the past few months, we’ve seen Saatchi Gallery attempt to correct decades of gender imbalance with its first all-female art show; a similarly-minded show of 100 women artists at the Rubell Family Collection; and the Guerrilla Girls appear on Late Night with Stephen Colbert to discuss their maverick tactics. While it’s easy to pick apart various responses to the fraught issue, the hope is that they all do their part in resolving it.
The latest artist to address these issues is Rebecca Campbell, who paints portraits of female artists currently working in Los Angeles. Rendered in gestural brushstrokes of black, white, and gray acrylic against salmon pink, the portraits’ subjects all stare directly at the viewer. They range from multimedia visual artist Alexandra Grant to dancer Mpambo Wina to photographer Lia Halloran. Called You Are Here, 19 portraits from this ongoing series are now on view at the LA Louver Gallery.
This “visual index” addresses issues of representation very literally. “I wanted these women to be seen, so I painted their pictures,” Campbell tells Hyperallergic. “I wanted to see them reflected in the world around me, so I literally made them the world around me.” The portraits introduce viewers to women artists they might not have known, inducting them into a hall of fame of Campbell’s own making.
The particular “ass kickers” pictured, as Campbell calls them, aren’t necessarily underrepresented in the art world themselves. “These are very successful women. Many of them have awesome careers,” Campbell says. That’s part of the point, though. “This sort of index of what’s going on with women artists in LA lets you see this great breadth of amazing people. But when you literally look in the face of these intense talents, the question that still remains is why is there is not across the board gender equity? Many people in the art world will recognize these subjects and think, ‘She’s a hotshot’ — but then, why are only 5% of works in major collections by women?”
Campbell knows well that any statement, artistic or otherwise, about the loaded topics of gender inequality and feminism is bound to have its critics. “If you say anything on the topic [of feminism], you become a target for all different kinds of criticism, which in many cases just keeps people silent,” Campbell says. Sure, people might wonder why, for example, Campbell used the stereotypically girly color of pink as a backdrop, or whether her series will eventually include more trans women artists, and some might object to grouping artists by gender at all. But Campbell is the first to say that her paintings, like any artworks, are “rich with flaws.”
“It’s too bad when people who are basically on the same side [of a social debate] spend a lot of time criticizing our own, chattering about the nuances of how some project could be better,” Campbell says. “I’d rather say something flawed through an interesting and evolving project than not say anything at all.”
Rebecca Campbell: You Are Here continues at the LA Louver Gallery (45 North Venice Boulevard, Venice, California 90291) through February 13.