“If you looked at my paintings, you’d think I was the biggest perv on the planet,” Brooklyn-based artist Angela Dufresne exclaimed in the middle of her artist talk on Wednesday, Feb. 24 in Goldman-Schwartz Arts Studios. This comment was made based on her repertoire of work; of the various paintings and videos that she showed in her PowerPoint presentation, many included naked figures in sexualized postures. Most often, her work showcases the female anatomy in all its glory. She has even gone so far as to star in some of her own videos without a stitch of clothing. Though some might simplify her art as nothing more than the result of a troubled psyche, there’s so much more to it than that, as she described her work as “a translation that fails” and “not pure, it’s a bastard.”
The absurdity of the image is something that deeply fascinates Dufresne; it transfixes her so much that she attempts to parody herself and her surroundings to the point of humiliation. She finds herself constantly trying to test the boundaries, though there does not seem to be a boundary that Dufresne is incapable—or unwilling—to break down. Even so, I would hesitate to call it true “humiliation” because Dufresne doesn’t seem to view it that way. She is not abashedly distraught with her own antics, but more of what society would view as such.
After earning her MFA from the Tyler School of Art and her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute, Dufresne has been developing her artistic finesse for many years, which is apparent when comparing her work through the years. Many of her paintings are difficult to parse and seem incredibly random—kind of like a strange dream that, in retrospect, makes little sense. In a way, that is Dufresne’s aim: to puzzle, intrigue and engage the audience.
Her 2014 creation “Dwarf, Goat, Woman, Man and Head” showcases a woman, standing awkwardly straddling a goat in a blue and red bikini; alongside her is a naked dwarf whose genitalia inelegantly hangs as he stares at the folds of her bikini bottom. If nothing else but performative art, the downright bizarre nature of her paintings, with their combination of random objects and the naked human form, aren’t necessarily supposed to unlock some grand, hidden, underlying meaning. To think that they are kind of defeats the point.
Oftentimes mocking the idea that there are certain things that should not be said if they aren’t “politically correct,” Dufresne would mutter as an afterthought, “Did I just say that? Sorry, not sorry.” A woman who is outstandingly unapologetic of her work, she described it as “charmed and affectionate transgression” that she needs in order to remain in the studio. In another startling image, “Flip Bitch with Wolf,” the main focus of the painting is a naked female figure whose body is upside down, legs sprawled wide open, and whose hand is touching herself. A wolf head looms near her vagina, and the painting overall displays large, sweeping brush strokes and the immersion of splayed colors in the background. It retains an abstract, illusory feeling with various unrealistic elements, especially because the background remains undefined and wholly vacant.
Contrary to the commonly held conception that everything in a painting is intentional, Dufresne explained that although she may have a specific intention at the onset of her painting, it doesn’t always turn out the way she intends. When this happens, instead of fighting the way that her work comes out, she explained that, “It just happens and I accept it.” Other times she says that she doesn’t know exactly how a painting will come out, so she lets it come to her during the painting process. In another painting, two girls squat together and pee on the floor. As Dufresne described it, she had no idea when she first started painting the girls that would be what they were doing—it came to her while she was painting, so she went through with it and created one of her grandest works.
The 47-year-old artist has so far led a very extensive career, having been in a multitude of gallery shows to showcase her work both individually and with others. She has earned eight major awards in the art realm since 1992. She is like a chameleon in the sense that she paints, draws using charcoal, sings, creates videos and has a teaching career underneath her belt. Dufresne is currently an assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Dufresne retains a degree of fearlessness that is noteworthy and that continues to make her extremely relevant in the artistic realm. Her future works will only continue to add to this wonderful legacy.