Joan Semmel in All of Her Octogenarian Glory
Joan Semmel, iconic feminist painter, continues to bare her aging physical assets in her recent show at Alexander Gray Associates. Semmel has previously stated, "Art has idealized the body, the subject, and the sexualized image for so long", and in response Semmel captures her own body, the aging body, a specific body. A body not idealized. Now in her '80s, 84 to be exact, Semmel unabashedly reveals every curve, crevice, and fold of her older physique. Depicted in lush, warm, sensual tones the body is glorious yet contemplative as seen in 'Embrace' and 'Aura'. This marks her fourth solo exhibit with the Chelsea gallery and is simply titled 'Joan Semmel: New Work', comprised of about 16 oil-based self-portraits produced this year, and follows her five-decade retrospective held at the same gallery in 2015.
Sexuality and the female body have long reigned in Semmel's subject matter. Semmel pioneered reclaiming the gaze and manifested her agency to project sexual confidence. This began with her 'Erotic' and 'Sex Paintings' from the early '70s, where she presented passionate scenes between heterosexual couples engaging in intense sexual acts, showcasing a beautiful tenderness in male to female penetration. Semmel dove into her figurative, sexually powerful work upon her return to New York in 1970, after having lived in Madrid for seven years, and was further fueled by the fervent activism surrounding post Civil Rights, Women's Liberation, and Gay Rights. Savoring a fifty-year career as a painter and feminist/activist, her intent has been and continues to be to subvert patriarchal standards and empower the traditional female nude.
Semmel was born in 1932 in New York City, holds a BFA and MFA from Pratt Institute, as well as earlier training at Cooper Union and Art Students League of New York. She is a Professor Emeritus of Painting at Rutgers. She is represented by Alexander Gray Associates and has recently exhibited at the Whitney Museum, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum of Art, among others.