The exhibition featured the works of Joan Semmel, including recent paintings and mixed media collages from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Together, the paintings and works on paper demonstrate Semmel’s consistent formal and compositional point of view, providing insight into her experimental representation of the female body.
Joan Semmel’s self-portraits featured the artist in multiple positions, fragmented and in-motion. A departure from her early 2000s paintings in which she exposes the camera and mirror, these new paintings investigate color and flesh in explorative, intimate compositions. A common theme of veiling resonates in these works; Semmel holds multiple positions, each thinly overlaid by the next. Semmel’s training in abstraction is apparent in the diluted transitions from one hue to the next; her subtle use of color adds depth and enhances the sense of emotional as well as formal dynamism. Semmel’s argument for female autonomy through the body challenges the voyeuristic culture of depicting women, redefining the role of the passive female nude in art history through radical explorations of the aging process.
The mixed media collages utilize many of the same techniques apparent in Semmel’s recent paintings, including the use of overlay to create complex compositions. Juxtaposing photographic self portraits with gestural pastel figure studies, Semmel explores color and line—the combination reinforcing her commitment to figuration and art historical precedents. Created after her Erotic Series of the early 1970s, these drawings are not depictions of female sexuality and pleasure; instead, these collages serve as early instances of Semmel taking hold of the female gaze, commanding control over her own body’s representation.
Concurrent with the exhibition at Alexander Gray Associates, Joan Semmel: A Lucid Eye was on view at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Her work was featured in the Gallery’s group presentation at Frieze New York 2013 art fair. Semmel’s work in the Art Basel 2013 Feature section is a micro-retrospective presentation, her first solo presentation in Europe since the 1960s.