Figure Forward offers a sharp departure from the way the female figure traditionally has been depicted in art. The exhibition in the Haley Gallery from June 27 until Oct 12, 2019 features works by Atlanta artists Jill Frank, William Downs, and Jaime Bull.
Frank’s photography explores relationships between individuals and their social groups, between subject and camera, and the intricate layers of authenticity and performance that shift, dissolve and reemerge in such interactions.
Her work often operates as portraiture, but the focus of the portrait is prone to extend beyond the body to its immediate context. The subject is frequently shown caught up in a moment of negotiation between internal self-awareness and external presentation. Frank also focuses on youth and adolescence as a time when tensions between internal and external self, performance and verity are fluid, yet fiercely negotiated.
The series on view, titled The Creek, was produced in the spring of 2018 for Figure Forward. Frank photographed her subjects swimming in a creek in the Hudson Valley of New York. The photos are printed on silk, allowing gentle disturbances in the air made by visitors to create movement.
Downs brings extensive experience drawing the figure from life together with references to art history to create drawings that feel dreamlike and outside of time.
The figures in his work defy straightforward interpretation. They are in motion, yet they are suspended in precise compositions reminiscent of art historical heavyweights such as Hironymous Bosch, Philip Guston and Paul Cézanne.
Androgynous, sensual, and elusive, the characters that populate Downs’ work balance on a fine line that intersects figure study and psychological allegory. In his work, energy and adversity coexist alongside jubilation and libido.
Bull’s artwork approaches bodies—specifically, women’s bodies—with affectionate humor and a celebratory, feminist perspective. In her sculpture, she utilizes materials such as bright spandex, second-hand one-piece bathing suits, and workout attire, often stuffed with plastic shopping bags to create lumpy, curvaceous, slouching figures. Other sculptures, such as Daphne and Alanis, use an expanded palette of thrift-store bought items and found objects.
Bull’s recurring use of the one-piece bathing suit calls attention to that garment’s association with modesty and the aging, or otherwise de-eroticized, beach body. Her loving treatment of one-pieces and the bodies that fill them redeems those associations, asserting these bodies as unencumbered—freer somehow than their immobility would suggest.
Poignance and pathos are present beneath the absurdity and humor of Bull’s work. Her titles emphasize the personification of the materials, suggesting that the self can be contained and represented by these partial bodies and their flamboyant wrappers. Headless and limbless, the swimsuits, workout-wear and sequined gowns must do the work of communicating the figures’ personalities. Truncated as they are, and therefore unable to swim or jog, they can only lounge—leaning on one another. Their absurd, entangled predicament emphasizes and questions the relationships between them.