The modern-day women of Kelly Reemtsen use it all—dishrags to wrenches to chainsaws, objects that range from domestic to menacing. They undertake household chores and traditionally masculine tasks but remain adorned in fashionable designer dresses and runway-worthy accessories. They boldly exhibit strength, capabilities and versatility and they do so while wearing their femininity with pride. They feel no need to dilute or dissolve their inner identity. They keep alive whatever in them is soft and delicate, colourful and beautiful. The sharp juxtapositions in the images also represent the elusive nature of women, many of whom may comfortably contain seemingly contradictory traits—and can forever be a source of puzzlement to the men around them.
What is the proper role of the contemporary woman? The artist asks through her work. Her answer is quite simple – anything!
The audience may immediately come up with two questions upon examining these paintings. Why are the faces/heads hidden? Second, why are the clothes so retro, almost 1950s? Kelly keeps the torsos anonymous because she wants the female viewer to be able to see herself in the painting. The incompleteness of the frame is an invitation – as in, come on in, finish the narrative the way you want.
On the other issue, the artist writes: “I think what started it was a specific ad I saw which really started the women holding the tools. It was this ad from a 1950s Better Homes & Gardens. It was a photo of this woman wearing a beautiful dress and jewelry and she was holding a garden hose very gracefully. It was a survey. The survey asked, ‘Should women be able to water the lawn?’ They surveyed men and women and, of course, most of the men said no and all the women said yes. I just thought the idea of, ‘Should a woman be able to water the lawn?’ was such a funny story or theme and it made me laugh so I started thinking, ‘Should a woman be able to cut down a tree? Should a woman be able to trim the hedges?’ It goes into, ‘Should a woman be able to – whatever?’”
Kelly Reemtsen lives and works in Los Angeles. She attended Central Michigan University and California State University for degrees in fashion and subsequently studied painting and printmaking in several workshops and studios in Pasadena, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. She is represented by David Klein Gallery (Birmingham, Michigan) and Lyndsey Ingram (London, UK). Her list of favourite artists includes names like Jenny Saville, Cindy Sherman, Claus Oldenburg, Robert Frame, Chuck Close, Wayne Thiebaud, Mike Tracy, Alice Neel, Kara Walker, Edgar Dégas, Euan Uglow, Patrick Caulfield, Will Cotton…
Images used with permission.