As I peruse the internet, I often come across various images that are appealing to me or speak to me on some level. It is a habit to save these images into a folder to ponder and investigate a bit further, especially if the artist is unfamiliar to me.
I’ve recently been intrigued by a series of paintings by a diverse group of artists featuring solitary women set in interior spaces. In a Hopper-esque way, the figures are depicted in quiet, contemplative moments, turned away or with their backs to us looking out windows or into space. To me, they seem detached, as if caught in deep concentration, as if they are soul searching, trying to figure out their place in the world and how they relate to it.
Women Hold up Half the Sky
As I study these images, the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” comes to mind. It is a poetic phrase, I think, giving credit to women and their accomplishments. The intricate functioning of the universe depends on the yin yang equal partnership of men and women to work in unity to balance nature’s forces.
I did a little digging around and discovered that the slogan actually originated in the Mao Zedong era and connected to the women’s liberation movement led by the Chinese Communist Party.
Since the slogan was first coined in the early 20th century, there have been various interpretations of this expression, but the most satisfactory in my mind is that it provides inspiration for many females seeking self-renewal of spirit and a better understanding of themselves and the gifts they bring into the world.
In each of the following paintings—there is a story waiting to be revealed or perhaps even a woman to be re-invented. It is up to the viewer to supply his own narrative.
Sally Storch (20th century American artist)
The driving force in Sally Storch’s paintings is her ability as a storyteller. Her work offers a pure vision of ordinary people unsentimentally portrayed. Her paintings are made up of intricate scenarios, each person living their own tale. She allows them to go about their private lives, while we, as viewers, unravel the narrative—the artist site Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton as sources of great inspirations.
Darek Grabus (born 1973)
Darek Grabus, a Polish artist, also takes inspiration from Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, and David Hockney. As in Hopper’s paintings, we frequently find men and women who are walled off from the outside world in Darek’s work.
Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916)
Hammershøi is a Danish painter and his early works, with their simplicity and recording of the “banality of everyday life,” enjoyed critical acclaim. He was sought out by artists and literary figures of the time, Emil Nolde and Rainer Maria Rilke, who both remarked on his retiring manner and reluctance to talk. Hammershøi’s paintings are best described as muted in tone. He refrained from employing bright colors, always opting for a limited palette consisting of greys and desaturated yellows, greens, and other dark hues. His tableaux of figures turned away from the viewer project an air of slight tension and mystery.
New England contemporary artist Paul Schulenburg captures images of the working waterfront and addresses a range of subject matter, from the intimacy of bedrooms to the drama of city streets. With light and shadow, color, and composition, Schulenburg creates atmospheric moments — invitations to the viewer to complete the narrative. His figurative work digs below the surface to manifest personalities and emotions.
So what do you think? When you look at these paintings, what is your response? Can you relate, do you find the inner thoughts of these women appealing? Can you sense an inner conflict, dilemma, or moment of revelation? What do you think they are contemplating and where will they go from here?