Friday, March 22, 2013

I’m Every Woman

A celebration of women at B2 Gallery

The Weekly Volcano, March 21, 2013
"Caffeine Queen" by Jill Neal
It’s hard to seriously consider Jill Neal’s pictures art. As printed images on coffee cups and greeting cards and wine labels and tote bags they are witty, joyful, delightful, inventive and just a heck of a lot of fun. But serious art they’re not. 

In celebration of International Women’s Month B2 Gallery is hosting a show of Neal’s women. They have the mugs and the cards and tote bags, and even Neal’s own wine labels. Plus a lot of her original artwork, mostly watercolors.

Neal celebrates women in all their exuberant glory, and she paints them in every conceivable place and situation — always the same woman, whether it’s a single figure or a dozen of her. She’s big and boisterous. You can almost hear her shouting for joy from within the silent confines of a watercolor painting. She has big red lips and a mouth full of blindingly white teeth. She has a Gaston LaChaise figure (if you do not get the reference Google LaChaise; you owe I to yourself). Her breasts are big; her hips and buttocks are gigantic, her arms and legs taper to elegant points; and often as not she is pictured either in fun costumes or naked as the day she was born—totally flaunting her voluptuous femininity, unabashedly naked but not salacious.
Of course LaChaise’s women are monumental and rendered in marble and bronze and Neil’s are small and rendered in watercolor, so they don’t carry quite the impact. Rather, they carry the impact of, say, a Gary Larson cartoon.

Here are descriptions of some of my favorite among her paintings:

“Opening Night” – a scene in an art gallery with a dozen women wearing elegant cocktail gowns and sipping wine. They mingle and view a mural-size painting of a woman who looks a lot like a cartoon version of one of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portraits.

“Boot Camp” – four women wearing cowboy boots decorated with tooled leather stars and stripes and landscapes. All are seen from a worm’s eye view looking up at them in such a way that their boots look gigantic and their bodies taper off to tiny heads.

“Premium Vintage” – a party girl in a black and white polkadot dress pops out of a wine bottle. This one is another homage to Marilyn, intentional or not. Her dress is blowing up and she’s holding it down in a pose identical to Marilyn’s in that famous scene from “The Seven Year Itch,” the one that inspired the monumental statue.

“Cave Woman” – a herd of naked women running in chase of a herd of horses. The horse’s rumps and the women’s rumps are almost identical in size and shape, and the horse’s legs taper to little hoofs like the women’s delicate little feet. (In a similar piece called “Chasing the Blues” a single woman runs after a herd of blue horses.)

“Uncorked” – an explosion of bubbly wine, cork and woman as all are forcefully ejected from a champagne bottle. This is one of the more delightful and happy images in a show full of joyful images.

Jill Neal’s watercolors do not measure up as fine art to the many outstanding works B2 has shown in the past, but I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. 

[B2 Fine Art Gallery, I’m Every Woman: Jill Neal, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 8 p.m. Third Thursdays, through April 27, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

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