I went to my friend and fellow contributor Camilla Fallon’s Open Studio this weekend. Her new work is mostly large paintings, nude self-portraits. Some of the figures are looking in a mirror, though the faces are obscured or perfunctory. The poses—a reclining, languid odalisque is the most common—are familiar. One painting has the words “homage a Velázquez” floating near the top; he’s only one of the many artists who come to mind.

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Language is a new component in Fallon’s work, though the stenciled letters derive from her earlier stenciled filigree layered over paint. As a writer, I’m frequently uncomfortable with the use of language in visual art because I feel the artists expect too much meaning from too few words. One lone phrase or sentence is limited and ambiguous. “Ceci n’est ce pas une pipe,” is hard to equal.

CamillaNarcissism

In the case of these paintings, the only words that bothered me were “My extreme narcissism” on the bottom of one particularly lovely painting. Camilla said those were the words going around in her head while she painted. I was surprised because the female nude is such a classic subject, but because she’s a woman and it’s a self-portrait, she expects it to be seen differently than if the same painting had been done by a man.

Although it’s entirely possible I’ve been conditioned by 10,000 years of art history and by growing up in the last millennium, it seems to me that the female body is eminently more paintable than the male. I understand her desire to paint it, and I understand her choice to not use a model because who wants another person around when you’re working?

When I got a digital camera a few years ago, I got carried away taking nude portraits of myself, or bits of myself, often from peculiar angles, and after getting bored with the shape of my own flesh, briefly considered using a model. Setting aside the fact that I was just starting to take pictures and didn’t think of myself as a visual artist, I knew I wouldn’t feel at ease even with a model who was at ease. I’m used to working alone. I’m used to inanimate materials, or at least something that won’t talk back. That’s why I now take pictures of cats.

In any case, her work was quite beautiful, sensuous and bold, with loose sweeping brushstrokes. She uses a palette of pink-peach-lavender flesh tones, warm grays and browns. Some of the paintings were clearly unfinished; the others were possibly finished or almost finished. She talked about the power of an artwork that seems incomplete—how it draws you in, seduces you with its own need. You can’t pick up a brush and finish it if it’s not your own work, but you can imagine how you would do so.

I’m not going to tell you what I wanted to do to Camilla’s paintings. I’d just ruin them anyway. Mostly I want to look again in a little while. It’s such a pleasure to see figurative paintings that aren’t cartoonish or ironic, and that don’t seem intimidated by their illustrious forebears.

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