“In This Sacred Space” 30×40, oil on canvas

A couple weeks ago a husband and wife came into the gallery and looked around. The wife was interested in the painting that starts this post, but the husband said paintings of women had to be of someone specific that he knew for him to like them. It couldn’t just be “anyone.” Who is she, he wanted to know. I responded with, “Well, maybe she is you.” He looked at me like I’d told a joke he didn’t find very funny. Some pleasantries and they were gone.

But it wasn’t a joke; I meant it. Instead of seeing something immediately foreign and unrelatable, I was asking that he instead look for himself in the image. Does he have dreams and imaginings? Do the sacred spaces he’s witnessed in the wild of the physical world ever seem to resonate so deeply precisely because they speak to something similar within his own heart? 

I want these paintings to ask the viewer to see the figures not as objects to be desired, pursued, or contemplated but as the subjects doing the desiring, pursuing, the contemplating. 

I don’t paint women because I want only women to relate to them or see their unique (strange, foreign, ineffable) selves reflected back to them. I paint them because there’s no reason they should not be the tellers of human stories and the sources of creativity, longing, hope.

My buyers are mostly women by a long shot. My readers, too. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you if you don’t care for my work. What I care about is the power art has to ask us to see ourselves in people we wouldn’t normally. And if this concept feels foreign, especially when facing a subject that does not feel immediately relatable to you, perhaps that’s Opportunity. And maybe she’s knocking.



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Written by Denise Hopkins

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