Exploring the Female Figure Through Art. {Boulder Event} ~ Lara Fairbanks

Via elephant journal
on Mar 12, 2013
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Marilyn Entering Closet, 1952 from the portfolio “Halsman/Marilyn”
Marilyn Entering Closet, 1952 from the portfolio “Halsman/Marilyn”

Everything holds an opportunity to find new depth.

From the graceful photographs of Linda Conner to the upfront, vigorous images of Phillippe Halsman, the “Primal Seen” exhibit at the University of Colorado Art Museum renders a photographic experience of the female figure that is sure to alter one’s instinctual thought processes, shaking loose their once so closely gripped ideas and allowing new meaning to arise.

Before entering the doors to the exhibit, I felt an urge to remain calm. Often, while viewing exposed, raw images of the female figure a fiery and passionate disposition arises in me, but this time I wanted to transform this and try to see something new. Taking a step back would allow me to have a simple observation of the material and I could watch my emotions rise and fall.

As I opened the door and proceeded to the huge white walls with their small photographs, the inner worlds began to speak.

I was reminded that art, no matter the size, is palpable and has great depth that can change us—that it is possible to let go of our immediate, surface reactions to an art piece and let a new understanding arise.

The first images by Phillippe Halsman, an American photographer who was well known in the 1950s for photographing the “wilder” side of women, capture an elongated image of Marilyn Monroe, “Listening to Music” (1952), who appears to be in a state of ecstatic bliss in a rather formal bedroom. The divided backdrop of the image, a dark straight wall and bookshelf behind the curved central figure, Marilyn, who exudes full-lipped sexual energy, make a mix-matched statement of promiscuity and strength. Marilyn, who is capable of representing strength, seems to do it for a promiscuous reason—perhaps this is a commentary on women.

I remembered to breathe and then discovered that beyond the meaning of the photograph, there seems to be a tangible chemistry between the model and artist, which allows for a profound depth of the work, the image vibrates and shakes.

What looks to be a simple act from the outside: walking around a square room, viewing a small photograph is actually beginning to poke and tap at my insides. The stirring had begun. Some artists or viewers of works of art might say that this nudging and stirring is one of the gifts of art. It can break through our settled dusty covering and reach the fundamental views that we hold about the nature of our life.

All of the photographs in the exhibit so far seemed to collectively display many unique sides of the female figure and her bare-boned moods, strengths and capabilities as an artist.

The more perspective we can gain through art and the female figure, the more understanding we can draw from life itself.

My next vision was that of the work of Louis Clyde Stoumen, a ‘naturalist’ of the photographic world. Stoumen, also a famous American filmmaker and photographer, who was well known for directing the film “Harold and Maude,” was also featured in the exhibit with a grouping of take-it-as-it-is photographs from the 1930s-1970s. According to the museum curator, Stoumen could “reaveal an uncanny ability to release the personalities of his subjects, from the wry smile of ‘Woman for Hire,’ in Puerto Rico, to the penetrating gaze of the ‘Woman in Her Kitchen,’ in Calcutta.”

Moving in another direction from the posed images of Halsman, Stoumen’s images are raw, left to their natural ways and not posed to create a certain effect. The only aspects of these photos that seem to be premeditated are the angles and lighting. As in Stoumen’s book of photography, Ordinary Miracles, the photos displayed in the exhibit enrapture a sense of taking an ordinary scene in a square frame and allowing one to see and taste all of the true beauty in it. The reality of emotions, play of light and unaltered environment in these photos give rise to the feeling of “Carpe Diem,” by Horace who says, “remember you are mortal, seize the day.”

Turning the corner to one of the images by Linda Conner, “Benares,” one immediately feels transported to Masaccio’s fresco, “Holy Trinity,” painted in 1424 to embody the crucifixion of Christ. As Conner bridges heaven and earth, spirit with human and the ultimate with the mundane using texture and mystical lighting, this image has the ability to set one’s heart dancing to the beat of an Arabian drum, like a whirling dervish. In the image, a darkened archway is illuminated with a large white, flowing shroud that is precariously hung out to dry. The shroud’s arms outspread like Christ’s arms on the crucifix. Where the white touches the dark in the photo, a moment of illumination is born.

As I paced from the experience of Conner’s image to the next one on display, hanging onto any last moments of the experience, I again remembered my breath. As the exhibit came to an end, it seemed that these impressions, touches of the human soul expressed through light presented an opportunity to seize. That if one has the ability to let go of their immediate reaction to the female figure, her art work and their own opinion, that a new level of understanding can be reached. I had been stretched by the images of Halsman, impressed by Stoumen and deeply inspired by Conner. As I walked out of the museum and turned the corner, I asked myself, “Am I calm?” and remembered that everything holds an opportunity to find new depth.


Primal Seen: September 7, 2012 – June 22, 2013

For more information on the exhibit visit: cuartmuseum.colorado.edu 


Lara FairbanksLara is currently a Studio Arts major at the University of Colorado. She appreciates using the tools of yoga to inspire her understandings of art and the experiences of life. She feels that art gives her an opportunity to view different understandings of life experiences, energy and the search for greater truth all in one. She has been inspired by zen calligraphy, Rumi and the Impressionists just to name a few.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel


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