Emma Amos, Bailey Doogan, Angela Dufresne, Brenda Goodman, Clarity Haynes, Mala Iqbal, Hung Liu, Beverly McIver, Samantha Nye, Joan Semmel, and May Stevens
Can You See Me Now? Painting the Aging Body
September 14, 2023 - October 21, 2023
RYAN LEE is pleased to present Can You See Me Now? Painting the Aging Body, a group exhibition co-curated by Jeffrey Lee and artist Clarity Haynes. Featuring select works from an expansive and esteemed roster of painters who are women-identifying, the show represents a shared exploration of the aging body across generations. From Samantha Nye’s sexy portrait series of four older women at their most bodacious, to Beverly McIver’s intimate self-portrait holding a doll, the artworks both individually and collectively celebrate the immense grace, grandeur and fortitude of aging.
We exist in an era that values women for their reproductive capacities while at the same time limiting them; an era that defines beauty as the province of the young and systematizes the visibility of proto-youthful attributes; an era in which women and people in general are held to the one-way standards of the male gaze.
Amidst a global climate in which both bodily autonomy and corporeal dignity are increasingly threatened for women and LGBTQIA people, this exhibition allows and applauds their many tones and figures, recognizing and appreciating their innate diversity. Through the choice to focus on the medium of painting, the curators are deliberately addressing the monumentality and permanence of this perspective. Inspired by Emma Amos’s and May Stevens’s stances on painting as a political act and mechanism for forging visibility, Can You See Me Now? foregrounds the significance and excellence of aging women through their own lenses and narratives, praising the overt visibility of the complexity, stamina and energy of their existence.
At the crux of the exhibition is May Stevens, whose series around her aging mother was what first spurred the curators into an exploration of art’s depictions of the aging body. This series is often eclipsed by the rest of Stevens’s robust œuvre, which touches on subjects of landscape and the natural world, characterizations of bigots in the acclaimed Big Daddy series, and the Ordinary/Extraordinary series about Rosa Luxemburg, the persecuted Marxist activist whose identity Stevens often uses as a contrast and parallel to artworks and depictions of her own mother. Why, the curators posed, was the subject matter of aging not granted more consideration within the contexts of this artist’s work overall? Where, in the fine arts, is the aging body given its due pedestal? The works on view present paintings that portray this subject, honoring that everyone ages, everyone’s body is different and distinct, expressive, special, and emotive in its own right; we are meant to be not only visible, but seen.
Through her work, Haynes, a queer feminist artist, has expanded boundaries of how we consider the body and its representation. Her ongoing series of torso portraits features a variety of subjects, body forms, gender expressions, ages, and accessorization. Acting as a second conceptual pillar for the show, Haynes’s curatorial and artistic stance reflect an embrace of the vastness of femme, trans and nonbinary bodies, and the requisite honor they deserve.
Haynes’s and Stevens’s art engages with other work in the exhibition, including the vivid, narrative portrait Shelia Pepe by Angela Dufresne; work by textural painter Brenda Goodman, whose large-scale nude image of her with her partner, Double Portrait, evokes a lesbian American Gothic. Emma Amos’s kinetic and explosively colorful collage-painting, My Mother was the Greatest Dancer; Joan Semmel’s powerful self-portraiture of her own aging, yet astute and agile, body in Skin Patterns; Samantha Nye’s series of small-scale paintings on the glamor and owned sensuality of being an older woman; Mala Iqbal’s up-close and personal To Ponder, an androgynous, contemplative, gently expressive portrait; Finding Comfort, a painting by Beverly McIver of herself and a mammy-style doll gifted to her by a friend, capturing a vulnerable moment; artist Hung Liu’s stately painting Grandma, and Bailey Doogan’s nuanced, tactile portrait Breast, Age 59.
In its holistic and expansive appreciation of aging bodies, this exhibition is a narrative constructed of stories that subvert and usurp the persistent male gaze through their reclamation of perspective. Can You See Me Now? poses its questions to its audience, but also the art industry at large. Collaboratively and intentionally intergenerational, the exhibition celebrates and exalts the body, aging and changing, and uses the exchanges between a diverse set of preeminent artists to explore its ranges of romanticism and solemnity alike – and the agency, power, dignity and beauty inherent to it.
Alongside the exhibition, RYAN LEE is publishing a catalogue of writing pertaining to the themes explored in Can You See Me Now?, including an essay by Jillian McManemin. This public resource will endure as a compilation reinforcing the visibility of aging women, trans and nonbinary people in the arts and culture at large.
Emma Amos (b. 1937, Atlanta, GA – d. 2020 Bedford, NH) was a dynamic painter and masterful colorist whose commitment to interrogating the art-historical status quo yielded a body of vibrant and intellectually rigorous work. Influenced by modern Western European art, Abstract Expressionism, the Civil Rights Movement, and feminism, Amos was drawn to exploring the politics of culture and issues of racism, sexism and ethnocentrism in her art. Amos was the youngest and only woman member of Spiral, the historic African American collective founded in 1963, as well as a member of the feminist collective and publication Heresies, established in the 1980s. Amos received a BA from Antioch University, OH and the London Central School of Art, UK before receiving her MA from New York University, NY. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the British Museum, UK; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Georgia Museum of Art, GA; National Portrait Gallery, DC; Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Brazil; Tate Modern, UK; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; and de Young Museum, CA, among others. Her work is held in over 40 museum collections, including the British Museum, UK; Museo de las Artes, Mexico; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Art, DC; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, among others.
Bailey Doogan (b. 1941, Philadelphia, PA – d. 2022, Tucson, AZ) was an American artist best known for her feminist paintings and drawings that offer an unflinching look at the aging, female body and tackle cultural issues like the equation of beauty with youth. She received her BFA from Moore College of Art, PA and MA from UCLA, CA. Doogan’s work has been exhibited at the Alternative Museum, NY; Altos de Chavón, Dominican Republic; Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Drawing Center, NY; Fresno Art Museum, CA; ICA San José, CA; Knoxville Museum of Art, TN; New Museum, NY; Phoenix Art Museum, AZ; Rutgers University, NJ; San Antonio Museum of Art, CA; Speed Art Museum, KY; Tucson Museum of Art, AZ; and Utah Museum of Fine Arts, UT, among others. Her artwork is featured in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, NY; DiRosa Museum, CA; Rutgers University, NJ; Tucson Museum of Art, AZ; San Jose State University, CA; and University of Arizona Museum of Art, among others. Doogan’s artwork has been reviewed and featured in numerous publications, including Art in America, The Nation, Art Journal, Ms., ARTnews, New Art Examiner, and Harper’s Magazine.
Angela Dufresne (b. 1969, Hartford, CT) explores the experience of American womanhood through painting, drawing, printmaking, performance, and community-building. A contemporary lesbian painter committed to championing non-hierarchical narratives, Dufresne references other artists and films in her paintings, drawing connections between history and her own personal experiences and associations as a queer woman. She sees painting as a co-creative process, often prompting her subjects to interact with the painting process through dictation of the backdrop and deciding when the work is finished. Dufresne holds a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute, MO and an MFA from Tyler School of Art, PA. Dufresne has been included in solo and group exhibitions at the Aldrich Art Museum, CT; Brooklyn Academy of Music, NY; Cleveland Institute of Art, OH; deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, MA; Hammer Museum, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA&D, ME; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, MO; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, NY; MoMA PS1, NY; RISD Museum, RI; Rose Museum, MA; and Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, Poland, among others. Her work is in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, OH; Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, NH; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, MO; Middlebury College Art Museum, VT; Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art, PR; and RISD Museum, RI, among others. In 2016, Dufresne was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship. Currently, she is Associate Professor of Painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, RI and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Brenda Goodman (b. 1943, Detroit, MI) has relentlessly explored the physical and psychological limits of abstraction and figuration throughout her illustrious career. Regarded as a “painter’s painter” for her inventive handling of paint, Goodman’s paintings range from thick impasto to thin veils of color, creating deep, interior spaces of personal confrontation and reflection. Between 1994 and 2007, Goodman created a series of ground-breaking self-portraits which critic John Yau called “one of the most powerful and disturbing achievements of portraiture in modern art.” The series combines her expressionist tendencies with figuration to reveal the innate vulnerability and power within one’s own mortality. Goodman received her BFA from the College for Creative Studies, MI, from which she also holds an honorary doctorate. Goodman has exhibited at the Cranbrook Art Museum, MI; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Grand Rapids Art Museum, MI; Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, VA; Jacksonville Art Museum, FL; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL; Museum of New Art, MI; Rutgers University, NJ; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, among others. Her work is in the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art, PA; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL; and Museum of Modern Art, NY, among others. Goodman is based in New York, NY.
Clarity Haynes (b. 1971, McAllen, TX) is known for her long-standing explorations of the torso as a site for painted portraiture. Works in her Breast Portrait project, always painted from life and usually monumental in scale, have focused on themes of healing, trauma, and self-determination. While the bodies tell the intimate stories of other people, a recent series of altars are self-portraits of sorts, made up of mementos and power objects collected by the artist over decades. Feminist and queer craft practices are often honored in her work. Bright colors, lively compositions and multiple narratives conjoin in her depictions of both bodies and altars. Haynes received her MFA from Brooklyn College, NY and CFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA. Her work has been exhibited widely, including at the Ackland Art Museum, NC; Art Museum of South Texas, TX; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, MO; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, NY; Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, NV; National Portrait Gallery, DC; Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, PA; Tacoma Art Museum, WA; and Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, MA, among others. Her work has been discussed in publications like The New York Times, Hyperallergic, Art in America, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Artforum, Juxtapoz Magazine, and Beautiful/Decay Magazine. Haynes is based in New York, NY.
Mala Iqbal (b. 1973, The Bronx, NY) grew up in a Pakistani-German household in The Bronx where three cultures and four languages intersected. Iqbal’s paintings and works on paper are similarly wide-ranging and polyglot; she draws inspiration from a myriad of visual sources, taking cues from Western landscape painting, Indian miniatures, Japanese ukiyo-e, kitsch, science-fiction book covers, graffiti, cartoons, and things in plain sight. Her practice seeks to add depth and ambiguity to otherwise one-dimensional subjects. Iqbal received her BFA from Columbia University, NY before receiving her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, RI. In 2008, she received a Fellowship in Painting from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Iqbal’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States as well as in Australia, China, Europe and India. Her work has been reviewed in various publications including The New York Times, Village Voice, and The New Yorker. Iqbal is based in Queens, NY.
Hung Liu (b. 1948, Changchun, China – d. 2021, Oakland, CA) grew up in China under Mao’s regime, where her artmaking was initially constrained to Socialist Realist and mural painting. In 1984, Liu left China to attend graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, where she began implementing fluid materiality and surrealist visual strategies in her art. Her later works often dissolve historical Chinese photographs of overlooked subjects—prostitutes, refugees, street performers, soldiers, laborers, and prisoners—suggesting the passage of memory into history. Liu’s works have been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, DC; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, MO; Muscarelle Museum of Art, VA; National Portrait Gallery, DC; New Museum, NY; San Antonio Museum of Art, TX; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Tokyo Photographic Museum, Japan; and Winter Palace of Beijing, China, among others. Her work is in the collections of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Art, DC; National Museum of Women in the Arts, DC; National Portrait Gallery, DC; San Jose Museum of Art, CA; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; and de Young Museum, CA, among others.
Beverly McIver (b. 1962, Greensboro, NC) is widely acknowledged as a significant presence in contemporary American painting, charting new directions as an African American woman artist committed to examining racial, gender, social and occupational identity through self-portraits and images of her family. McIver received an MFA from Penn State University, PA and BA and honorary doctorate from North Carolina Central University, NC. Her work has been featured in group and solo exhibitions at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY; Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, CO; Coral Gables Art Museum, FL; Mint Museum, NC; New York Academy of Art, NY; North Carolina Museum of Art, NC; Greenhill Art Center, NC; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ; Shemer Art Center, AZ; and Weatherspoon Center of Art, NC, among others. McIver’s work has been acquired by the Asheville Museum of Art, NC; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Cameron Art Museum, NC; Crocker Art Museum, CA; David C. Driskell Center, MD; High Museum of Art, GA; Mint Museum, NC; Nasher Museum of Art, NC; National Portrait Gallery, DC; Nelson Fine Arts Center Art at Arizona State University, AZ; North Carolina Museum of Art, NC; and Philadelphia Academy of Art, PA, among others. She is currently based in Durham, NC where she is the Ebenshade Professor of the Practice in Studio Arts at Duke University.
Samantha Nye (b. 1980, Hollywood, FL) is a painter and video, performance, and installation artist concerned with capturing the beauty of aging. Through the lenses of pop culture, camp, and stylized erotica, Nye’s paintings and video art invent utopias where intergenerational exchanges between womxn in trans-inclusive spaces expand the parameters of love, sex, agency, and belonging. A native of Hollywood, FL, Nye’s first introduction to performance was as a self-described, relatively unsuccessful child model. Her early lessons about performance and identity have directed her studio practice—in painting, video, and installation—towards investigations of “seduction through reenactment.” Nye received her BA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, MA. In 2021, she was the focus of My Heart’s In a Whirl, a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that explored beauty across generations. Nye has also been featured in museum exhibitions at the Lehman College Art Gallery, NY; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, NY; Museum Arnhem, the Netherlands; and Columbia University’s Wallach Gallery, among countless gallery exhibitions. Nye currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.
Joan Semmel (b. 1932, New York, NY) began her painting career in the 1960s while living in Madrid as an Abstract Expressionist, exhibiting in Spain and South America. Returning to New York in 1970, she moved to figuration in response to pornography and concerns around representation of women in culture. Since the late-1980s, Semmel has meditated on the aging female physique. Recent paintings continue the artist’s exploration of self-portraiture and female identity, representing the artist’s body doubled, fragmented, and in-motion. Dissolving the space between artist and model, viewer and subject, the paintings are notable for their celebration of color and flesh. Semmel received her BFA from the Pratt Institute, NY. Her work has been exhibited at Dallas Contemporary, TX; Jewish Museum, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Museum of Scotland, UK; National Portrait Gallery, DC; Paul Modersohn-Becker Museum, Germany; Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken, Germany; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, among others. Semmel’s paintings can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Blanton Museum of Art, TX; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Institute of Contemporary Art, MA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Parrish Art Museum, NY; and Tate Modern, UK, among others. Semmel is based in New York, NY.
May Stevens (b. 1924, Boston, MA – d. 2019, Santa Fe, NM) was a painter and printmaker whose work was shaped by the various political and social movements she participated in; an ardent, lifelong activist, Stevens was committed to employing art in her fight for women’s liberation, civil rights, and anti-war activism. A founding member of Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics and the Guerilla Girls, Stevens is known for her politically charged paintings that challenge the patriarchal power dynamics of American society. While her political commitment drove her earlier work, her later works tend to be more lyrical, her Ordinary/Extraordinary series highlighting the simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary potential of women through pictures of her late mother, Alice Stevens, and the important Polish-German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg. Stevens received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art, MA. Stevens’s work has been exhibited at the British Museum, UK; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Jewish Museum, NY; MassArt Art Museum, MA; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; SITE Santa Fe, NM; Smithsonian American Art Museum, DC; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, among others. Her work has been acquired by the Brooklyn Museum, NY; deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; New Museum, NY; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.