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Holly Trostle Brigham: Sisters and Goddesses

February 20 - May 29, 2016

 

A new exhibition, Holly Trostle Brigham: Sisters and Goddesses, opened at the James A. Michener Art Museum on Saturday, February 20, 2016. Featuring the paintings of Philadelphia-based artist Holly Trostle Brigham, the exhibition will be on view in the Bette and Nelson Pfundt Gallery through May 29, 2016. (right: Holly Trostle Brigham (b. 1965), Sophonsiba and Her Painted Ladies, 2008, watercolor on paper, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches. Collection of the artist, photograph by Kenneth Ek.)

Through the self-portraits on display in Sisters and Goddesses, Holly Trostle Brigham calls attention to the challenges women artists have faced through history, illuminating the legacies of strong women on the past by blending them with her own identity and personal experiences of what it is like to be a woman and an artist today.

"Holly's work is as thought-provoking as it is visually striking," said Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator at the Michener Art Museum, who curated the exhibition. "Her strong engagement with women's history and women's art history makes her work compelling, but her technique and medium are equally powerful. Holly's work -- predominantly watercolor, large in scale and rich in color -- provides a fitting backdrop for the historical themes she presents."

Holly Trostle Brigham is a Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts-trained figurative painter who creates mythical allegories of contemporary historical subjects. Her paintings have won awards at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Lancaster Art Association, and for watercolor at the Harrisburg Art Association. The evolution of her work can be seen in self-portraits displayed within the Sisters and Goddesses exhibition: Cybele on Her Birthing Throne and Isis: Regeneration are explorations of mythologies and stories about strong women in goddess-form, while Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me depicts a reoccurring dream in which Brigham appears as Amelia Earhart -- who never crashes.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Michener Art Museum will also host an artist conversation on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, with the artist and Dr. Leo Mazow, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Arkansas (and former curator of American Art at the Palmer Museum, Penn State). For more details about the exhibition and the discussion, visit MichenerArtMuseum.org.

 

Wall text from the exhibition

Nearly fifty years ago, Linda Nochlin published her now-famous essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" which queried an art historical narrative that ignored the contributions of women such as Artemesia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo, and Tamara de Limpicka. Rather than be beaten by the past, Nochlin encouraged women to "face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation without making excuses or puffing mediocrity." Since then, we have seen women taking space for themselves in the art world, but obstacles remain.

In her paintings, all self-portraits, Holly Trostle Brigham investigates the legacy of strong women of the past and blends them with her own experiences of what it is like to be a woman and an artist today. In assuming the guise of artists of the past -- Kahlo, Gentileschi, and de Lempicka -- Brigham remind us of the important stories of women in the arts. In these portraits, Brigham also looks to her academic past as a student at Smith College, one of the "seven sisters" colleges for women, and connects those collegiate sisters, her own life, and her artistic sisters throughout history.

Three other self-portraits demonstrate the evolution of Brigham's work. Cybele on Her Birthing Throne and Isis: Regeneration are explorations of mythologies and stories about strong women. Isis is the ancient Egyptian goddess who returned her dead husband Osiris back to life. Cybele is the Ancient Roman goddess of birth and fecundity and was celebrated annually with parades for the return of spring. Zephyr, Angel, Wings and Me depicts a reoccurring dream in which Brigham appears as Amelia Earhart -- who never crashes. The painting marks Brigham's journey into historical women as subject matter, but also explores aspects of her own story: she holds her infant son Noble, represented as a pupa who will one day grow his own wings to fly.

 

Extended object labels from the exhibition

 
Elisabeth and Julie as Juno and Flora, 2011
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Collection of the artist
 
Here Brigham imagines herself as the prominent French 18th century artist, Elizabeth Vigée LeBrun (1755-1842), who was a close associate of Marie Antoinette. Madame LeBrun painted more than 600 portraits, a number of which were self-portraits with her daughter, Julie. Brigham's own daughter, Flora, appears here as Julie. The portrait has another iconographic meaning, as mother and daughter assume a double role as the mythological figures Juno and Flora. According to Ovid, it was Flora who helps Juno become pregnant with Mars after Jupiter gives birth to Minerva on his own. Flora, the flower goddess, tells Juno of magical plant that will cause any woman who touches it to become pregnant.
 
 
Tamara de Lempicka on Autopilot, 2009
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Collection of the artist
 
Brigham is obsessed with flight (hence her recurring dreams as Amelia Earhart), in this portrait, she blends her dream persona with that of the 20th century artist Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980), who was an extraordinary woman and artist known today primarily through her portraits of European and American celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s. Fantastically wealthy and adventurous, at one point she moved to Hollywood where she hung out with film stars and was known for her equally staggering collection of cars and jewelry. Here, Brigham imagines de Lempicka as a pilot wearing jewelry the artist actually owned.
 
 
Artemesia: Blood for Blood, 2000
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Private collection
 
Artemesia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1656), is today considered one of the most accomplished painters of the Italian Baroque, and the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disengo in Florence. Gentileschi painted pictures of strong female figures from the Bible and mythology, and is best known for her painting Judith Slaying Holofernes, with its striking image of Judith cutting off the head of the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes, from the apocryphal Old Testament Book of Judith. Gentileschi, who had been raped by her mentor, Agostino Tassi, who was tried in court for the crime. Here, Brigham takes on the role of a powerful female figure -- both professionally and personally -- and shows her in the act of revenge, taking blood for blood.
 
 
Freeing the Frida in Me, 2003
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Collection of the artist
 
In her dedication to self-portraiture in fused with multiple layers of meaning, Brigham has most in common with Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). Kahlo was a Mexican artist known for her magical self-portraits and iconography, which frequently dealt with physical and psychological wounds. "I never painted dreams," Kaho once remarked, "I painted my own reality." Here Brigham inhabits that reality in a portrait that explores the mystery of life and death.
 
 
Judith and Flora, 2003
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Private collection
 
One of the most maligned female artists in history, Judith Leyster (1609-1660) was an artist during the Dutch Golden Age, and her entire oeuvre was attributed to Frans Hals until the 1890s, when a leading Dutch collector and art historian, traced the monogram "JL" to Leyster. Like Brigham, Leyster was a working mother, who struggled to balance her family responsibilities with her professional goals and artists desires.
 
 
Maria Sibylla Merian: Metamorphosis, 2010
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Private collection
 
Brigham is an accomplished lepidopterist (she studies butterflies and incorporates them into many of the paintings in this gallery), and in this painting she becomes Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a German naturalist and scientific illustrator. Merian was a leading entomologist of her era, discovering new facts about insects, which she published in widely-read treatises. She is best known for her book Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1705), in which she documented the metamorphosis of butterflies. A scientist-artist, she is a perfect persona for Brigham.
 
 
Sofonisba and Her Painted Ladies, 2008
Watercolor on paper
29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
Collection of the artist
 
Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532-1625) was an Italian Renaissance painter born into a noble family in Cremona, who was given a classical education as well as apprenticeship with local painters. Like many of the artists whose guise Brigham adopts, she had been all but vanished from history until feminist art historians like Linda Nochlin began to resurrect their careers in the 1970s. Her most distinctive paintings were self-portraits and portraits of family members, although she also became an artist associated with the Spanish court, where she painted formal state portraits. Here, Brigham's architectural iconography establishes Anguissola's Italian roots, particularly Palermo, Pisa, and Genoa, where she painted and became an important arts patron.
 
 
Isis: Regeneration, 1997
Oil on panel
50 x 40 inches
Collection of the artist
 
 
Cybele on Her Birthing Throne, 2000
Watercolor on paper
60 x 40 inches
Collection of the artist
 
 
Zephyr, Angel, Wings, and Me, 2002
Oil on panel
19 x 19 inches
Collection of the artist

 


(above: Holly Trostle Brigham (b. 1965), Tamara de Lempicka: On Autopilot, 2009, watercolor on paper, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches, Courtesy of the artist.)

 

(above: Holly Trostle Brigham (b. 1965), Judith and Flora, 2003, watercolor on paper, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches. Private collection, photograph by Kenneth Ek.)

 

(above: Holly Trostle Brigham (b. 1965), Isis: Regeneration, 1997, oil on panel, 50 x 40 inches. Collection of the artist, photograph by Kenneth Ek.)

 

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