LA-based artist Vanessa Prager, the self-taught painter who has captivated the art scene with her large scale, thickly-layered abstract oil paintings, is a multi-faceted force to be reckoned with, much like her enigmatic new body of work, “In the Pink,” which is on display at The Hole NYC until March 4th.
Lush and decadently dense, textured almost to the point of sculpture, her impasto oil paintings seduce the eye with rich color and graceful movement, revealing faces and figures embedded deeply beneath the swirling surface, secret worlds hidden between the folds of each voluptuous brushstroke. Evocative and visceral, smeared with frothy layers that never seem to fully dry, her work blurs the boundaries between softly sensual and boldly voyeuristic.
In the past, Prager’s work has been provocative, hinting at peepholes and pornography, all the clandestine ways the female body is looked at, and “In the Pink,” breaks that theme wide open, inspired by the #MeToo movement and “other hopeful signs of the declining patriarchy.” The works in this exhibit maintain her signature larger than life quality, and all the paintings feature nude female figures, examining the dichotomy between soft and feminine and erotic and empowered. The women she paints are not passively being watched but rather exposing themselves overtly, reveling in their nudity, frolicking in nature, surrounded by vivid colors and other women.
She is taking back the nude female body from the culture that has exposed and exploited it and obscuring it with fleshy layers of paint, merging it with the artwork itself. There is a blissful and bucolic feeling to these nudes, intimate and vulnerable, painted in sweeping shades of fragrant pastel, peach and purple and pink. Yet, as with all of Prager’s work, the saccharine surface unravels to reveal dark complexities.
“In the Pink” portrays a brazen and empowered female energy, celebrating the female body in all of its softness and sensuality, yet something is off, a hint of something rotting amidst swirling waves of perfume. The effect of the male gaze is still present, sneaking into her work in the form of ambiguous consent, causing us to question the context, shapeshifting the beautiful into the obscene, the natural into the performative. Prager’s powerful work is more than just a love letter to the female form – by exposing the societal forces that repeatedly expose and exploit women, she is simultaneously depicting both the resiliency of womanhood and the constant oppressiveness of the male gaze, forcing us to reckon with the duality of of eroticism and examine the full spectrum of what it means to be a woman.
“In the Pink” is on display until March 4th at The Hole NYC, located at 312 Bowery, New York, NY 10012. Don’t miss it!