Is it discomfort, or excitement, that you feel when you watch these women languidly roust, or subtly drift asleep? Do you happily play the voyeur, seduced by their beauty and the opulence of their surroundings? Do you feel that nagging tug from your mind that you are being watched, as well? Angela Fraleigh has spent her career exploring narrative art’s hierarchical patterns. Keenly observing how images and roles from Western art history intersect with contemporary representation and attitudes, Fraleigh uncovers why certain tropes remain relevant, who they benefit, and how.
Hirschl & Adler Modern is proud to present Fluttering still, the artist’s debut solo exhibition with the gallery. In these ten new paintings, Fraleigh depicts women in liminal states between wakefulness and sleep to perfectly encapsulate today’s social and political dynamics. The women in Fluttering still are not here to satisfy any outdated notion of their role nor the viewer’s predatory desire. Fraleigh has awoken them within a new context, wherein their agency exists for their own, and each other’s, sake. In rearranging the images of the past, the artist changes how we see ourselves in the present.
Fraleigh, deftly and subtly, empowers her subjects through a variety of strategies. Removing the original art historical context from these figures removes any “traditional” value-based judgments of femininity. In the void, Fraleigh injects additional conceptual layers. In Shaking to sound the silent skies and A pang of livid light, the swirling, abstract patterning surrounding the figures comes from the fin de siècle illustrations rendered by Gerda Wegener and Ethel Reed, two female design pioneers who upended the social norms of their era. Their graphics offer Fraleigh’s figures a haven as well as a lineage. Another key element to Fraleigh’s paintings is her depiction of women together. The “sleeping woman” trope has always been about power, existing to satisfy the voyeuristic viewer. Fraleigh subverts this motif by rendering one woman noticing the other either through her gaze or through contact. This interaction closes a loop wherein there is no room for the viewer. These women are here for each other, and as a result they hold the power. Even routine formal decisions benefit the artist’s concept. While the paintings included in Fluttering still range from the intimate (24 x 18 inches) to the grand (90 x 66 inches), Fraleigh’s figures are always life-sized or larger. Treated this way, no woman is diminished.