What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?
In this series, I’m working with women’s bodies in a way that I hope undermines some of our cultural norms of feminine beauty. I’m trying to love the flesh—as it really is—and not as it’s been packaged and modeled for us.
What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women?
I took the title for this series of paintings from a passage in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved:”
“She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it. ‘Here,’ she said, ‘in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.’”
I was thinking about what it might mean to “imagine the grace” in our flesh. What would it be like to love the flesh? What would it look like to love, without shame, the weeping, laughing, dancing, drooping, aging flesh?
Morrison isn’t suggesting that we imagine “beautiful flesh.” She’s suggesting that if we can’t see the grace in actual flesh, we’re going to miss the true beauty.
So these paintings are about loving real flesh—flesh that hardly ever takes the shape and form we’d like or expect—and loving it “hard.”
When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?
When I can see the beauty in this particular body and when the painting begins to breathe: that’s a great feeling. When the canvas comes to life, I feel like Jesus calling Lazarus out of the grave. And that feels good!
Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
I’ve spent a lot of my life judging my own body harshly, so for me the conversation about flesh and beauty is also personal. I’d like to arrive at a place where the shape of our bodies and their differences and changes over time is as fascinating and gorgeous as the trunks of trees. I can’t say that I’ve gotten there, but every once in a while I can almost see it.
Tell us about your current series of work and how it may different from the work submitted for the show?
I’m still working on a series of scenes from everyday life in south India. I’m really happy with these portraits of women walking, praying and washing clothes. And these are women who seem absolutely regal in their ordinariness.