Femininity / by J B Wiskey

While I had my tremendous studio in Stroud I was able to get back to painting on a grand scale. In 2002 I conceived a new painting that would be thirty feet wide and ten feet high. This was to be a fierce painting, portraying a group of men and women all staring strongly at the viewer with a look of deep existential questioning; 'why are you alive?'

After calling upon the help of a number of yoga friends to be my naked models, I made the photographs I would then paint from. It was while looking through the contact sheets from this session though, that I noticed one particular shot of my friend LH that changed the original concept in an instant.

The initial idea had been that these fiercely demanding characters should all be standing straight on, facing the viewer in a confrontational way. But this one shot of LH had her with her knee crooked, accentuating her hip. I was interested to see that my male and female subjects, who had all felt quite gender-neutral while standing tall, could so easily be transformed with the smallest relaxing of my imposed postures. LH with her crooked knee, was suddenly the essence of femininity. My initial idea of the fierce painting was replaced with the need to paint femininity. A painting from which one would be impressed with and feel the feminine presence. 

I began working at both preparing the huge canvas and getting as many women as I could, to take their clothes off and be photographed for this painting. Many fascinating conversations ensued as well, about the nature of femininity and what its place in the world is, and so the scope and importance of such a project began to reveal itself.

With sadness, my studio tenure in Stroud ran out while I was still in the early stages of preparing the whole work, and the canvases have remained unpainted until now, for lack of a studio large enough to work on such a scale.