Wendy DesChene | Art is so much more than a pretty picture
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Art is so much more than a pretty picture

Since 1970 Joan Semmel has lived and worked in SoHo, Manhattan. The heart of the New York art scene, which over the decades she has seen develop and gentrify along with the rest of the city. There has been no gentrification from Semmel though. Throughout the years she maintains her artistic vision and it is a potent power, allied to her personal commitment to feminism.

Joan Semmel’s work centers around her own body. Which she renders larger than life, starker than reality. On occasion the color she uses look more like bruises. Depictions of her back look more like flesh that has been whipped. Which of course could be pain or pleasure. But the angle of the torso and the dejection of the head tells us this is about pain. It is about suppression and it will not go away.

Ms. Semmel’s art does not glamorize and it certainly does not romanticize. She sees herself in a harsher light than we do. She is harder on the parts of the body that some would call a flaw. She paints it large, she paints it bold and she leaves nothing to the imagination. Her colors are not those of the Romantics. No perfect bloom on the skin. No tender peaches and cream complexions.

If Art – with a big A is to do anything for us, we need this integrity of image, we need to have our illusions shattered and Joan Semmel is leading the way.

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