Kenyon Class of ’15, Studio Art & Economy double major
My work is my opportunity to transcend time and space, connecting artist and audience through common life experience. As such, I begin my artistic process by asking how I want an audience to react to my work. Focusing on this idea of conversing across time, this series centers on the stories of women of different generations, all connected by their common experience as undergraduate students studying at Kenyon. Inspired by prospective Kenyon students in the admissions process whose inquiries began with: “ Considering Kenyon’s history as an all male institution, have you ever felt inferior as a woman?”, I found myself pondering how my college experience differed from the experiences of my predecessors. This question became the central theme of consequent discussions with 20 women. Ten women are physically represented in the series, while the voices of the remaining ten are represented through text.
Sketching each woman over the course of our conversations, I was determined to capture essence in addition to personality. Utilizing a natural color palette, I wanted the yellow background to symbolize gender neutrality and strength, and celebrate the fact that each of these women ultimately ignored t he expectations of our inherently gendered society. The arrangement of the portraits also alludes to this overarching theme of conversation – specifically, how women talk with each other and about each other, and the way in which we are constantly given – and giving – advice. In cropping my subjects to focus primarily on their facial features, I hope viewers are caught examining these women rather than engaging with them; much like we do in everyday conversation. Finally, the text details the personal journeys of these women, in addition to their hopes for the next generation of women. Connecting their words with their portraits, I want viewers to come to know these extraordinary women as well as I have.
While inspired by Kenyon’s history, the series is ultimately a commentary on modern society’s perception of women. My graduating class has an overwhelming number of female art students, and yet, professional women artists are overwhelmingly underrepresented in galleries and museums worldwide. Although women have made art for centuries, we are still recognized first and foremost as subjects. Representing women through traditional and contemporary portraiture, I hope audiences question what can be learned by closely examining facial features as opposed to merely acknowledging physical presence on canvas. Above all, I hope my work honors the first women to study at this formerly all male institution, while simultaneously revealing that there is still much work to be done in regards to gender equality even here on our liberal campus. My work is ultimately about portraying identity and story when words alone are inadequate or not powerful enough. It shows how human experience can change and – unless we are careful – remain exactly the same.
–Grace Janzow, ‘15