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Gender Composite Portraits

“In my work I am currently developing gender composite portraits. These drawings are fictional; portraits of women naturally rendered into bodies of men. My intent is to create a naturalistic impression, using the same drawing technique in the face and the body, in hopes to blur otherwise incongruent male and female traits.

There is a long-standing tradition in classical figurative art of creating androgynous bodies. During the Renaissance, social controls over female modesty meant that it was inappropriate for women to model for artists. To get around this, artists often substituted male models for female models to create representations of women. This form of censorship manifested itself in the androgynous and idealized bodies of Renaissance tradition. Realistic female bodies were seen as unworthy of artistic description and/or too threatening to reveal. The artistic conventions of androgyny and idealization were implicit in a tradition of governing and censoring representations of the body and women. 

Artists as a result would draw, paint and sculpt masculine looking physiques with feminine faces and invented breasts and female parts. Many famous painters and sculptors from the Renaissance are thought to have done this - Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Rubens to name a few. These works of art permeated culture and became representations of what was desirable and aspirational.

In my exploration of beauty and androgyny as idealism, I have intended to seek out specificity in my portraits. I am interested in a Renaissance aesthetic of masculine femininity without idealization. The specificity of a face, the idiosyncrasies of a body and the psychological world these details can suggest, act against a tradition of censorship. I hope to question what defines a body or a gender and what qualities make that body appealing, approachable, threatening or political.

I am also deeply interested in the politicization of women’s bodies and non-binary individuals. In these drawings I wonder which features of a person inform our understanding of a body, what is deemed appropriate and what is perceived as beautiful.”

- Clio Newton

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