March 16 2011 11:29 AM

Women revealing themselves through art

Nicole Waszak's "Missing"

A woman's self-portrait is an intimate thing. We who identify as the fairer sex, after all, are still rumored to be more self-conscious than our male counterparts. So, when we put ourselves out there, it must be for a good reason, right?

I talked to six San Diego artists, all women, about their self-portraits and got six very different stories. Many brought up the challenge of being a mom and an artist—crying children even interrupted a few conversations—and a few talked about challenges in the feminist content of their work, but nothing amounted to any sort of theme.

There's the motorcycle-riding gringa who lives alone in Tijuana while contemplating and researching the meaning of personal conquest. And the woman whose work was recently deemed too sexy for public space. And the lady who runs a construction company and thinks rejection letters from galleries are actually kind of nice. I found that when you set out to write about women for the sake of writing about women, they'll take you in unexpected directions. All they need is a stage—or a page.

Nicole Waszak, “Missing…”

stumbled across Nicole Waszak's self-portrait after exchanging e-mails
about an ArtWalk rejection show she wanted to organize. Waszak believes
her work, especially her self-portrait (pictured above), wasn't accepted for
the annual art fair because of its content rather than quality.

“People think paintings of bathrooms are weird, I guess,” she says. “But I think the bathroom is kind of a sanctuary in a way.”

self-portrait reflects a point in her life when she was spending a lot
of time in bathrooms taking pregnancy tests and yearning for a child she
thought would never come. Her daughter, Nora, did eventually arrive,
and whatever void was there when Waszak painted the piece, she says is
now mostly filled. She gets the rest of what she needs in late-night
painting sessions as she works on her new Toilette Series while her
partner and baby are asleep.

And even though her work might be a harder sell than most, she still thinks the bathroom is a fascinating subject.

a place to sew a button on, paint your nails, read a book, drink a
glass of wine,” Waszak writes in a statement about her new work. “All of
those actions have deep meaning and compose glimpses of what it is to
be a woman in contemporary society—strong, intellectual, and
independent, while simultaneously retaining our historical identities as
family-oriented, emotionally vulnerable and beautiful people.”    

Waszak's work is on view in Raw Sugar, an all-female show opening at
the San Diego Art Department from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, March 19.

Anna Stump, “Bonita Bedroom”

“I don't get San Diego,” Anna Stump says, glancing at her large, unfinished painting of a nude woman. “I feel like my work, it is about the body, but I don't feel like it's provocative.”

Stump just got word that her big solo show had been cancelled. Her large-scale nudes were deemed inappropriate for the Martha Pace Swift Gallery, a public-space gallery located in the hallways, lobby and stairwell of a building at the Naval Training Center Promenade in Point Loma's Liberty Station.

“They're really academic nudes,” Stump says, “much more about form and color and paint marking and the body moving in space—not about sex.”

And while Stump is scantily clad in her self-portrait, she says that piece isn't sexual, either. The painting was one of the first in a series depicting people in their more intimate spaces.

Anna Stump

“I was trying to get this narrative of how people really are in their bedrooms; sort of psychological portraits,” Stump explains. “I was just thinking, Where's appropriate to be naked or relaxed in our culture, because we're just so puritanical here.”

Two years ago, Stump started a group for women artists, the Feminist Image Group of San Diego. She says a support group, even these days, is absolutely necessary because so few female artists find success.

“We definitely get derailed by the having-a-family thing; I know I definitely did,” she says. “Raising kids takes that same sort of energy that being an artist does, and if you do both, people sometimes look at you like you're not paying enough attention to your kids or you're being too selfish. People don't say those things to men.”

Anna Stump's work will be on view at What Women Want, a group show opening at the Lyceum Theatre Gallery in Horton Plaza from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 1, with a panel discussion at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 10.

Iana Quesnell, “Pancho Villa and Ruben”

Iana Quesnell's detailed drawings are more like maps. They're images of her immediate surroundings—the landscapes she's occupied throughout her ongoing quest to embrace the idea of manifest destiny.

“The western culture,” she says, “it's not grounded; it's the opposite of grounded. It's the taking of and continuously moving into territory and occupying spaces that we can't occupy or that don't belong to us necessarily.”

Quesnell is an adventurous, motorcycle-riding Tijuana resident with Sicilian roots. Rather than critique herself and her culture's desire for conquest, she'd rather research, explore and document while the rest of us stand back and watch.

Because of the ongoing narrative in her work, almost everything Quesnell does could be considered a self-portrait. “Pancho Villa and Ruben” is one of many drawings depicting her on those infamous Tijuana zebra-donkeys. In each drawing, she's replaced the normal cart and street-side backdrop with the mythological landscape surrounding the Aztec “Princess and the Warrior” folktale.

“Both of those images—the donkey and the ‘Princess and the Warrior,'” she explains, “they're all over Tijuana, but they really have nothing to do with the city they're meant to represent. And then there's me, taking on this role of someone who belongs in a city I don't belong in. I'm always an outsider, always a tourist…. I'm thinking of the tourist and the burro as the contemporary ‘Princess and the Warrior' in a way.”

Iana Quesnell

Recently, Quesnell got a new U.S. passport and was inspired by the inside back-cover illustration of the Pioneer 10 NASA space probe. It started her on a drawing depicting mankind attempting to inhabit the newest frontier.

“We're still in this mode of manifest destiny, only our destination since we reached the Pacific is to lift completely off the face of the Earth and occupy outer space.”

One of Iana Quesnell's drawings is currently showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (1100 Kettner Blvd., Downtown).

Jackie Dunn Smith, “Untitled”

Jackie Dunn Smith was lucky. She met a tattoo artist who took a chance and gave her a highly sought-after apprenticeship. After a year of doing his dirty work, she struck out on her own, and she's been tattooing at Flying Panther in Golden Hill for about four years now (although she did take a year off after her kid, Mugsy, was born).

But don't ask Smith to ink you up just because she's a woman. Look at her portfolio. Appreciate her vintage-inspired, bold style. Then ask her to give you a tattoo.

Jackie Dunn Smith

“There are only a handful of women tattooers in the area,” Smith says. “The ratio in any city—there's usually a pretty wide gap—but I don't normally really think about it. I don't like when people want to get tattooed by me just because I'm a girl.”

Smith loves her job, and, in fact, it was her tattooing that has informed her painting, instead of the other way around. Her self-portrait was actually her first-ever experiment in combining her tattoo style with fine art. She's pleased with the effect but a little shy about showing it.

“Portraits are kind of strange, because I feel like you're putting yourself on paper so people can see how you view yourself,” Smith says. “And what's frightening is you don't really know how you look in other people's eyes.”

Jackie Dunn Smith's work will be on view at an exhibition opening from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, March 18, at Flying Panther Tattoo (2323 Broadway, Suite 101, in Golden Hill). Her work is also on view at Two Roses Inc. (2181 Logan Ave. in Barrio Logan) through April.

Lori Lipsman, a section of “Self Portrait 06”

Artists get rejected all the time. Most don't enjoy it. But Lori Lipsman thinks rejection letters can be kind of nice. 

“I constantly hear artists complaining about being rejected,” Lipsman says. “It never really bothered me. I was more honored that they even took the time to look at my work.”

She eventually rounded up all the letters, crossed out some of the more negative or generic lines, circled the positive parts, added a few positive affirmations of her own and presented them together as what she considers to be a self-portrait.

“I've only done a few [self-portraits] in my career because I'm not a figurative artist. I'm much more conceptual. But I did want to investigate it and this is what I came up with.”

Lori Lipsman

Lipsman's work is so conceptual that it's often hard for her to find the right venue to show her work. She's always held day jobs to help support her career as an artist. These days, she runs a construction company with her husband and works at IKEA part time. She and her husband also own an apartment complex in North Park, and when a space in the building becomes available, she uses it to show her art and to invite other artists to show their work. It's called the “Vacancy” project, and she's held three big exhibitions so far.

“There are only so many traditional venues out there,” Lipsman says, “but there's always other alternative ways to get your art out there.”

Anna Zappoli, “Unnatural Ways”

Anna Zappoli sort of exudes art. She can often be seen at openings around town wearing an interesting hat over her long, wavy, jet-black hair and discussing something art-related, her Italian accent adding to the aura.

“When you're an artist, you're an artist—you just do the work,” she says, asked whether being a woman affects her paintings at all.

One thing that bothers Zappoli is when people see her as a wife or a mother first rather than as an artist. She's married to painter Dan Adams and mother to musician Pall Jenkins, frontman for The Black Heart Procession and Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects, so she's got some competition when it comes to being recognized for her work.
“But I love that,” Zappoli says. “I love the challenge and the competition.”

Zappoli's art is mostly abstract-figurative oil or acrylic on canvas. She likes to paint people—especially faces—but she's not big on putting herself into her work.

Anna Zappoli

“This painting, it started as all black,” Zappoli says of her self-portrait. “I wanted to go back to the dark mood of my way of painting because I always liked to use black—pure black. It was not my intention to do a self-portrait. I knew it was going to figurative, but I had no idea who it was going to be. It kind of evolved into this face that, at the end of the painting, people said it reminded them of me.

Works by Lori Lipsman and Anna Zappoli work will be on view at What Women Want, a group show opening at the Lyceum Theatre Gallery in Horton Plaza from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 1, with a panel discussion at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 10.


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