‘Virgo’ features women artists dealing with the female form in new ways

Riffing on the astrological sign, these painters and photographers tackle art historical traditions.

There’s a thrilling streak of lady power fomenting in pop culture at the moment. “The Woman King” is selling out theaters, its fierce female African warriors led by Viola Davis gouging out eyeballs with the most lethal manicures ever devised. On Netflix the thriller “Lou” features Allison Janney as a tough-as-nails middle-aged woman taking down bad guys to save a kidnapped child. These are not visions of female power and agency we’ve seen very often, and it’s hard not to be a little giddy over women shown in this radical new light.

Credit: Courtesy of Wolfgang Gallery

Credit: Courtesy of Wolfgang Gallery

The seven artists featured in the group show “Virgo” at Wolfgang Gallery channel a similar vive la difference showing how utterly new art can look when women are in the driver’s seat. Though they work in different media, including painting and photography, there is the distinct sensation in “Virgo” of women well-schooled in the cliches and conventions of art history who’ve decided to render a monumental wedgie to business-as-usual.

Women painted by women are a different animal entirely. It’s hard to stand in front of Natalie Strait’s “Lumberjack” and not feel a little, oh, empowered. In this bad girl rendering of a classic painting trope, where half-dressed female subjects pose against landscapes, Strait has taken a very different fork in the road. Her topless lass is taking no prisoners, her bare breasts more a sign of “don’t mess with me” self-actualization than coquettishness. She hefts an ax over her right shoulder and appears prepared to use it, the sky behind her burns sulphur yellow and bonfire red. This is the woman you want on your team when the apocalypse goes down.

The two young owners of Wolfgang Gallery, Benjamin Deaton and Anna Scott King have assembled their own dream team of New York, Los Angeles and further flung artists for “Virgo.” The show is loosely organized around the idea of the astrological sign “Virgo” with its imagery of comely maidens. But there is a cheekiness in the juxtaposition and selection of artists they’ve chosen, many of whom play with the notion that women unclothed lack agency and the tropes of muse and master that have characterized oil painting of yore. These may be the least naked unclothed women you’ve ever seen, with their armor of fierceness and self-assurance including photographer Andrea Mary Marshall whose nude Polaroid self-portraits suggest what it might have looked like if Helmut Newton’s models had wrested his camera away and controlled their own image.

Credit: Courtesy of Wolfgang Gallery

Credit: Courtesy of Wolfgang Gallery

Jay Miriam offers a saucy, often amusing take on a similar concept. In her revisionist idylls two women sip wine, enjoy an al fresco picnic, all while nude and outdoors. But here these painterly vignettes have an amusing, revisionist tang and the women’s bodies fill the frame and command space in a powerful, endearing way.

Artist Hayley Quentin creates vaporous, evanescent, profoundly lovely drawings in colored pencil that cloak the female form in the pixilation of her pencil marks. in her otherworldly “After Saeculum” her female subject is an enigmatic siren, vague but bewitching as her form emerges from the fog. In Quentin’s two “Earthling” images two identical women are seen from behind in an oval frame. It’s a romantic image but a melancholy one too, like the inverse of a cameo because each woman’s face is unseen. The drawings have a heaviness about them, despite Quentin’s ethereal mark making, that suggests an artist communicating something vanishing.

There’s a related dream-time vibe in works by other “Virgo” artists, many of whom offer the insight of women painters occupying the flesh of their subjects and painting from the inside out rather than simply capturing surfaces.

Credit: Courtesy of Wolfgang Gallery

Credit: Courtesy of Wolfgang Gallery

Lewinale Havette’s “Light” feels slight at first glance: a study of a woman covered in a duvet sleeping. But the painting is dripping atmosphere, from the shadow of two cats adrift on billowy waves of eiderdown to the enveloping blue light and suggestive softness and comfort of the bed. You realize the images of languor in history’s endless parade of supine Venuses and grand odalisques are frauds. Here, rather than a body arranged for us to savor, there is true peace, calm and comfort.


ART REVIEW

“Virgo”

Through Nov. 5. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; free. Wolfgang Gallery, 1240 Old Chattahoochee Ave. NW, Suite H, Atlanta. 404-549-3297, wolfganggallery.com.

Bottom line: The female nude is seen from a very different, refreshingly insightful new vantage in these paintings and photographs from women artists.