There is a long history of art’s relationship to the human form, examples of which can be seen in practically any art museum throughout the world. While that relationship to the human form is not inherently feminine, the way the female body has been presented through art has been both prominent and often symptomatic of the way feminine bodies have been viewed as a whole. Elizabeth Malaska’s artwork uses her vast knowledge of art history and artistic techniques to bring a contemporary and critical eye to figure painting and the representation of the female body on canvas. Not only aiming to reclaim the objectified representations of the past, her work looks to the future, and presents viewers with the job of reconsidering what it means to experience the contemporary world.
Malaska’s solo exhibition: Sacrifice, is currently on display in the Schneider’s Main Gallery. Unlike some of the more aggressive or possessive figures of her past works, the paintings on display in this exhibition show viewers figures in various states of leisure. Malaska combines many different techniques in her paintings which create images that feel both spontaneous and highly thought out. Her works are filled with contrasting textures and patterns which give them a liveliness that asks to be looked at from many different angles. The figures sit on the canvas in worlds with warped perspectives filled with both flat and fluid lines. There is no use for hyper realism in Malaska’s work, her figures tell viewers about the world through a lens of reflected absurdity which somehow strikes upon a cord of truth which would not be possible any other way.
The women in her paintings are not created the same way twice and they lay in positions that could be perceived as awkward or uncomfortable by traditional standards. For example, in her work We Will Remain Separate, four different figures fill the canvas, coexisting, but each with such a powerful presence they demand to be looked at. A breastfeeding mother is the centerpiece of this giant painting, looking straight at the viewer, unwavering. It is this commanding unapologetic nature of Malaska’s work that seeks to reclaim the way feminine bodies have been portrayed for centuries, and present viewers with her vision of the present and future of commanding women who have autonomy over the way they are seen.
Also on display, her painting Couple is the first time Malaska has shown a painting with a male body. Similarly warped and blended with the background of the work, this figure possesses a certain softness and curvature which carries on her theme of reclamation. That even when presenting male bodies, she challenges the status quo and gives viewers an opportunity to consider how representation matters and how the autonomy of the human body relies more on honesty and the often uncomfortable instead of what has been classically displayed in art.
The Fall Exhibitions Elizabeth Malaska: Sacrifice, and Daniel Duford: John Brown’s Vision From the Scaffold, Part 2 will be on display in the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, OR until December 10th, 2020.
Tyler Noland is a senior Creative Writing major at Southern Oregon University. She is originally from the Bay Area, and this is her third year at the Schneider Museum of Art. While not working on her writing she enjoys making collages with vintage magazines.