Arts

Galleries | Cate McQuaid

What we see when women look at themselves

Anne Harris’s “Red Robe.”
Anne Harris’s “Red Robe.”

CONCORD — “In Her Own Image: Self-Portraits by Women From 1900-2018,” organized by painter Amy Sudarsky at the Concord Center for the Visual Arts, comes as #MeToo prompts women to refute the male gaze and publicly claim their own experience. In this splendid exhibition, questions spiral about society and self-conception, and about tensions between self-revelation and self-protection. 

Joan Brown, known for nakedly emotional, vividly colored, pared-down self-portraits, painted “Untitled (Self-Portrait in Turban with Eskimo Dog Pin),” in 1972, at the height of Second Wave feminism. Her defiant gaze locks into ours — a stance, in this case, that appears naked but doesn’t let us in. Then there’s contemplative Maud Morgan, better known for color-tuned abstractions, who appears in a trance in “Woman in Tibetan Necklace” (1963). The humming scratches and streaks of the ground surrounding her are the true self-portrait, a picture of her inner life.

These are delicious paintings, but they dodge the candor we seek in self-portraits. Perhaps artists who focus more on technique than quandaries of identity have a better shot at disclosure. 

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Most pieces here are more recent. Diane Edison, better known for color-pencil drawings, has a silkily painted “Self-Portrait” — a close-cropped, full-frontal bust like Brown’s. But Edison’s eyes don’t confront; they focus slightly to one side, full of sadness and alarm. She lets us look at her, relate to her. Jenny Dubnau flinches in “Self-Portrait, Twisting,” mouth slightly open, eyes flashing up and to the side — a #MeToo portrait if ever there was one. 

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Anne Harris, who builds up paint in gorgeous translucent layers, presents herself as a troll, hair flying and face distorted, in the horrifying, comic, and sweet “Red Robe.” It’s anyone before morning coffee, grumpy and engulfed in a fog of sleep.

With #MeToo, the lens through which we view art is shifting along with everything else. We look at what has been there all along, and there’s so much more to see. I have to say, it’s a relief.

IN HER OWN IMAGE: Self-Portraits by Women from 1900-2018

At Concord Center for the Visual Arts, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through Nov. 25. 978-369-2578, www.concordart.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.