A happy housewife greets you as you enter the main aisle of the gallery. She has a 1950s Cinderella outfit on, golden fairy tale hair, a slightly impish wink. Then you notice she is also carrying a chainsaw, color coordinated with her pinafore.
Around the corner, a second housewife celebrates the glories of her new electric iron. When your eye scans lower on the composition, you notice that this time the happy scene is blemished because, alas, she has one leg Debbie Reynolds-balanced in an elegant pump; the other leg ends in a bloody stump.
Mmmm… has that chainsaw been at work? And why?
Those intriguing images emerge from the work of Adam Chambers, and other artists, in “Represented,” the new show at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s Sumner McKnight Crosby Jr. Gallery.
Longtime curator Debbie Hesse has assembled 38 works — paintings, prints, and mixed media — by artists for the purpose of “exploring the personal and cultural approaches to depicting women in art.”
The theme emerged, Hesse said, not only because March is set aside as national Women’s History Month, but also because in her interactions with advising and assisting artists in the Greater New Haven area with their careers — part of Hesse’s portfolio — she said she has noticed a lot of people depicting women.
The show runs through April 14, with a reception this Thursday night from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Council’s second-floor gallery on Audubon Street. The public is invited.
Hesse said that what sets apart “Represented” from, say, “Nasty Women” at the Institute Library gallery is that she wanted a show with “images of women, not [necessarily] by women,” she said during an interview in the run-up to the show’s Thursday opening.
The five artists in the show — three are men — are not beginners, though they don’t show frequently around town. “You could call them re-emerging,” said Hesse.
Hesse said that one of the pleasures and responsibilities of her job is to to be able to offer the democratic precincts of the council’s Sumner McKnight Crosby Jr. Gallery to artists who may have produced a lot of work, but are perhaps just too busy in their lives or too shy to show.
The small show covers a lot of ground in showing the full range of the depiction of women. Chambers’s large format, oil on canvas portraits cover the devilish side with charm and deft aplomb, with his figures’ winking irony and whatever-you-think-I’m-up-to-you’re probably-wrong glances.
Facing his canvases in the entryway are the prints and framed clay reliefs of of Allen Scott. An art teacher at the Wexler/Grant school, Scott’s compositions along with their titles — “The Dancer,” “New Life,” “Yes,” and “The Prayer,” for example — provide a kind of visual correlative of the poetry of Maya Angelou, whom he cites as one of his inspirations.
Scott is not alone in leaning toward a more ideal portrayal of women. If his work idealizes black women, Rosa Ibarra, in her depictions with oil, sea glass, and other materials beautifully put on canvas, evokes Latin women, in the Mexican muralist tradition of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
The show also gives us a row of psychological portraits of women, most in three-quarters pose, looking over your shoulder, as if to say, as portraits do: this is a window to my soul, not the soul itself.
I particularly liked the Salvador Dali-esque collages of Teresa Fortsch.
Yes, her mixed-media collages “Hot Seat” and “I Dream in Color” have some piercing-eyed females with skeleton’s teeth and other wonderful touches, like a sign near the nun at the bottom of “Hot Seat” that reads: “Remember you get married for the first time only once.” Near it are collaged photos of what appear to be early suffragists carrying a sign that says: “Want Fair Treatment? Organize!” But if these lively and layered works weren’t in a show about representations of women, you wouldn’t necessarily go looking for central imagery in consonance with that theme. Whatever work Fortsch’s collages do in advancing female representation during Women’s History Month, they are also giddily busy with the non-gendered energy and fun stuff of life as well.