My google searches and tumbling for artwork featuring Greek sphinxes keeps bringing me back to the work of Leonor Fini, a 20th century female surrealist, and I am left feeling ignorant because I have never read about her, heard her mentioned in a class or viewed her work before. Of course I am not an art historian and my education has been far from exhaustive, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but yet I am.
She was incredibly prolific and multi talented(stage designer, painter, illustrator, writer), but I am drawn more to photographs of her than her own work. There is so much theater and poise, much like her sphinxes. Much like her cats. Even her paintings that feature herself tend to appeal to me the most, which is odd. I feel very uncomfortable, almost annoyed, when looking at a female artists work that tends to concentrate on the artists own image. It has more to do with me than the artist, I’m sure. I think I am uneasy about the fact that women are taught to be looked at, to want to be looked at, to share their face and appearance for others pleasure, and to take pleasure in others pleasure in their image. It’s an exercise in culturally taught narcissism. It’s beautiful and sick. I’m part of it too, though I don’t often paint myself. Perhaps I would too if I thought my image would appeal to the art buying public. A prettier way to interpret what I said above is that women are socialized to want to share themselves, be it their thoughts, feelings or face, with others, and that the narrative self portrait is a natural step.
Off hand I immediately am reminded of William Blake, Bosch and in the colors and allegory some Klimt. She was a contemporary of the better known, and male, surrealists. She was not one of their wives or sisters and seemed to be an extremely independent and strong willed artist. In fact she didn’t identify as one of them(surrealist), but art history needs to categorize things and that is where she falls. There is sexuality in her paintings, but it feels remote and not necessarily for the male gaze. Many of her figures are sculptural yet also ghostlike. They have both the solidity and coolness of a marble sculpture, yet look like they could float away like a spirit, or they are operating on a different plane than us, and we can only see them shimmering momentarily(specifically her lithographs). Wow. I should stop there before I embarrass myself.