Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi 1865 – 1887 Oil on Canvas, 36”x 36”
First woman doctor in India. First Indian woman to study and graduate with a degree in western medicine in the US.
Contemporary portraiture occupies a discursive space within visual representation. Lucien Freud, Cindy Sherman, Alice Neel, Chuck Close, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Catherine Opie, Nan Goldin and multiple others deconstructed and regenerated portraiture as a complex idea of the body itself to consider psychological, social, political and cultural meanings. Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits of ordinary and extraordinary people, including President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama continues to amplify the portrait and its multiple meanings.
Kansas City artist Patricia Streeper’s painted portraits, taken from photographs of historically significant women are in her words, “visual biographies,” her goal being “to encourage the viewer to go further and learn more and to inspire conversation about the contributions of all women.” The 10 portraits on view at the Shirley Stiles Gallery, Westwood City Hall include Harriet Tubman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Edna Lewis, Makota Fujishiro Huthwaite, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and other significant, accomplished women.
Streeper’s painting style is realistic with an insistent deployment of a grid pattern in the paintings, which is sometimes subtle and other times overt and dominating, capitalizing on tension between illusion and a flat surface. Grids imply control and precision, perhaps suggesting the focus that the women brought to their own ambitions and achievements.
In relatively thin layers of paint, Streeper portrays the women mostly from the waist or shoulders up, except for RBG and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, abolitionist, prison scholar and professor. Gilmore’s fantastical full-length portrait is the outlier; her grey dreadlocks cascade over her shoulders and envelop her body. Here, the ubiquitous grid devolves into a mass of myriad geometric shapes, suggesting that she exists in a complex conceptual and literal space.
Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, the first African American woman to become a medical doctor, is enveloped by swaths of white fabric, abstractly echoing her physician’s coat.
In other portraits, an aggressive grid disrupts the sitter’s face, or as in the portrait of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, completely dominates the painting as the portrait becomes a shadowy secondary element. Similarly, the grid in Mokoto Fujishiro Huthwaite’s portrait comprises the entire background, invading the sitter’s body and face, as if she is pixelating.
Whether the portraits trade on theatricality or quietude, Streeper asks us to consider the contributions of these women who are represented as individual agents of change and as monolithic archetypes.
“Patricia Streeper: Women’s Work, Portraits of Strength and Contribution” continues at the Shirley Stiles Gallery, Westwood City Hall, 4700 Rainbow Blvd. Westwood, Kan., through September. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information 913.362.1550 or www.westwoodks.org/stilesgallery.