Review: Exploring the Female Perspective

Katie Ferriell

The nude female body, mapped and explored, has been paired with the strength of the feminist portrait.

Artwork by artists Erin Carlyle and Leslie Nichols, illustrative of the contemporary female experience, is now on display at the Capitol Arts Center’s Houchens Gallery.

Though both artists investigate and articulate women’s issues, Carlyle and Nichols do so with intriguingly different approaches, contributing to the impact of the Capitol’s exhibition.

Carlyle, a 2010 WKU graduate, is currently pursuing a Graduate Certificate of Women’s Studies. Utilizing her printmaking expertise, the artist composes her works with a variety of layered media including ink, watercolor, gesso, pen and wood panels.

Much of Carlyle’s work exudes the paradoxical power and vulnerability of the female form. “Map of the Body,” a mixed media drawing on wood panel, depicts an exposed, tender, unidentifiable female figure curled up in subtle defense. Lying against what appears to be a map, the female body becomes transformed into territory to be explored and dominated. The figure’s hidden face, absent of identity, comes to represent the collective female identity.

According to the artist, the figure is the viewer — the viewer is the artist. Projecting the female condition and identity upon the creator and the viewer connects Carlyle’s art to serious cultural concerns regarding objectification, domination, vulnerability and power.

In both contrast and likeness, Nichols, local artist and recipient of a Career Development Grant from the American Association of University Women, composes works highlighting the history of oppression of women and current attitudes toward the U.S. feminist movement. The artist’s “Textual Portraits” combines depictions of contemporary women with text that was and is influential to the modern feminist perspective. In an effort to respond to social justice issues, Nichols portrays her sitters through the lens of admiration and respect.

“Jeanne (Pizan 1405; Spencer 1913),” a piece consisting of stamped oil-based ink and graphite on paper, illustrates the noble nature of Pizan’s and Spencer’s writings, as well as the intellectual strength of the feminist perspective. The female subject, strong and poised, stands in unity with socially progressive text.

Though other works in the exhibition display the use of various approaches and materials, the artist consistently presents the feminist perspective in visual and literal shades of black, white and grey.

The anthology of artwork by Carlyle and Nichols creates an exciting exhibition promoting awareness and activism.

Significantly, the compilation of artwork by both artists enhances the community’s understanding of the feminist perspective in contemporary art.

Carlyle and Nichols’ exhibition at the Capitol Arts Center is viewable to the public until April 20. The Houchens Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free.

Katie Ferriell is a senior and art history major at WKU.