Lisa Yuskavage shared the inspiration behind her paintings featured in her Rose Art Museum exhibition “The Brood,” and gave advice to budding artists when she spoke to over 100 Brandeis community members at the Pollack Fine Arts Teaching Center on Saturday, Sept. 26.
An artist known for her paintings of the female body, Yuskavage is a defining force in figurative painting, according to Christopher Bedford, director of the Rose. “If you think about the figurative tradition, painting in the ’90s, it would be unimaginable without her,” said Bedford.
“In this painting, ‘The Gifts,’ I was intentionally playing the role of a misogynist because I thought it was an interesting thing to explore, rather than run away from,” Yuskavage said when “The Gifts,” was projected onto the screen in the auditorium. “The Gifts” is a painting that shows a topless woman.
“The Gifts,” among Yuskavage’s other paintings of the female nude, is a form of trope in the history of art, especially when the painter is a woman, said Bedford. “When the figures are garish, voicetress, aggressive, very, very present, borrowed from all sorts of different high and low vocabularies. I think they are very challenging to look at. I think they demand to be looked at.”
Yuskavage provided further insight into the creation of her paintings when she spoke about her creation, “Bad Baby 1.” “I remember drawing that triangle between her legs, making her legs sort of spread like that in this very rude way, and these little angry hands, and I really just summoned her out of both my subconscious and the page,” she said.
“Bad Baby 1,” in addition to her other work, brings up the concept of pornography in discussion about her work, according to Bedford. When the topic arose during her presentation, Yuskavage made it clear that she could not imagine how, nor did she intend for, her work to be seen as pornographic.
Near the end of her presentation, Yuskavage encouraged art students to not be concerned with what people think of their work. “I was basically just making paintings without worrying about whether or not people thought they were stupid or crazy or terrible,” said Yuskavage.
Other pieces Yuskavage spoke about included “Brood,” “Day,” “Night,” “Blond Brunette and Redhead” and “Rorschach Blot.”
“From the early ’90s to the present, Lisa has been a defining force in figurative painting, and when history is written hundreds of years from now, when it comes to figurative in particular, she’ll be front and center,” said Bedford.
Bedford works to bring anywhere from 10 to 15 artists to campus per year, eight of whom will have their exhibits displayed in the Rose. “I do want [students], particularly art students, to realize that artists aren’t this sort of aloof, elite, removed species—they’re people, and those people produce works of art,” said Bedford.
According to Bedford, the Rose has an incredible history of monographic, groundbreaking exhibitions and attempts to bring artists to campus who are socially challenging, socially relevant and scholarly.
“I always think about formal invention and social relevance as the two keystones of the work we do. So if the artist is investing in a way I think is interesting, relevant to the history of art, and the way that they work has a relationship to the world that we all occupy, then those are two benchmarks for I think a productive visit to campus,” said Bedford.
Bedford aims for the Rose to serve as a center for social discourse and conversation about popular culture and pertinent social issues. “If you’ve any involvement in the social world, I would say that a museum should be your first port of call. I mean, much more so than going to a movie or going to a performance.”
He encourages members of the Brandeis community to take advantage of the Rose, especially non-arts students. “Art is as much for everyone as music is,” said Bedford.
Leonie Koch, a senior who attended the event, said listening to Yuskavage speak helped her understand more about the role an artist plays in how society metabolizes social issues. “She was clear to not label her work as “feminist” or “not feminist” although her paintings are mostly of female bodies, which made me think about the ways that a viewer or critic can be a feminist in their interpretation of art without pushing the role of activist onto the artist,” said Koch.
Yuskavage’s “The Brood” will be on exhibit in the Rose through Dec. 13.