The western art canon is a parade of famous female nudes, almost all of which have been painted by men. Emma Currie’s new show with TDF Collect, Venus in Repose, creates a dialogue with this tradition, connecting an archetypal femininity with a lyrical pastel palette to introduce a new, contemporary visual language with which to view these familiar female forms.
Grappling with the classical ideals of feminine beauty, these works acknowledge their traditional roots, while creating space for conflict and questioning. Emma commands agency for her lounging bodies, many of which are direct references from classical art history: Modigliani’s Nu couché, Matisse’s Blue Nude II, Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, and Manet’s Olympia. Her soft new coda represents the contradictions of contemporary womanhood.
We chatted with Emma to learn a little more about the making of Venus in Repose!
Last time we caught up we were in an eerily different, yet very similar time. What has changed for you over the last year?
It does feel eerily similar to last year when we were in lockdown getting ready for my debut show! So in that sense it feels like not a lot has changed at all. It’s definitely been a weird time. I’ve just been surviving as best I can. Still feeling very lucky to be here, painting in my little studio at home, relatively untouched by the pandemic.
How has your art practice/processes evolved over the last year?
My way of working has become a bit more efficient over the last year, so I’ve had a little extra time to explore and research and find inspiration. I’ve also had more space for reflection which is a big part of artistic practice and evolution. Having that space has really allowed me to question and reflect on my subject matter and thats basically where this series of work stems from.
Can you tell us about Venus In Repose? What kind of headspace were you in while creating this body of work?
I’ve been in a pretty conflicted headspace while creating these pieces to be honest. As a woman, it’s important to me to not perpetuate the passive consumption of the female body. But it’s also what I love to do, paint the body. There is a specific type of resistance that is automatically implied being a woman who paints the female nude. The gaze is somewhat more equalised, less objectifying. But the basis of any portrayal of the female nude in art still stems from a centuries old visual language that affects how we view and interpret what makes an ‘acceptable’ nude today.
Venus in Repose as a collection acknowledges its roots in this classical language, as the many reclining, sitting or lounging figures relate distinctly to any number of nudes painted throughout history. Many of the artworks are in fact direct references to some of the most famous and memorable nudes of the 19th and 20th century. Modigliani’s Nu couché, Matisse’s Blue Nude II, Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, and Manet’s Olympia to name a few.
In making these paintings and acknowledging the role of those classical ideals of feminine beauty, I’ve been able to engage in a dialogue with tradition, making allowances for the contradictions and conflicts I feel as a women working within the conventions of an aspect of art history that is deeply problematic. Though not necessarily attempting to subvert the male gaze through any new form of representation, I am rather co opting this classical language in order to gain a sense of agency over it.
What are you feeling inspired by right now?
I’m actually finding inspiration a little tough at the moment with everything going on. With each lockdown I tend to slip into a unmotivated slump for a little while. I’ve started a small collection of lovely art books lately though and I turn to them for inspiration frequently. I’ve also been loving The Great Women Artists podcast and Instagram page for discovering artists to get inspired by.
What else is on the horizon for you in 2021?
Hopefully moving into a bigger studio! I’ve been feeling pretty squashed lately. Also I have a few collabs on the horizon. I’ve been working on a collaboration with local upcoming fashion label Honeymoon Studios which I’m excited about and will be coming out pretty soon!
Venus in Repose by Emma Currie
An exhibition presented by TDF Collect