When looking at figure paintings we assume the role of spectator. We, as viewers, peer into the lives and private spaces of others. Indeed, the very nature of a painting hung on a wall implies that the viewer holds a license to scrutinize the painted subject at will. Figure painting, also by its very nature, acknowledges the relationship between the artist and her subject. However, the role expected of the viewer can be ambiguous. The expectation of an unknown third party onlooker may or may not reveal itself within the painted image.

Portraits are clearly crafted for the public's gaze, a public that may transcend several generations. In portraiture both the artist and the subject collaborate in the creation of an image suitable for public scrutiny. Yet, in other forms of figurative imagery the viewer's role becomes somewhat precarious. In looking at art we expect to have unlimited access to gaze upon the subject. However, we do not expect to be confronted with our own action. What happens when the viewer's spectatorship is directly acknowledged? What happens when our analytical gaze is intercepted and returned by the subject? Do we experience discomfort or pleasure? We, as viewers, become part of the painting, become exposed to the same scrutiny that the figure in the painting is subjected to. Are we, as viewers, the subject or the spectator of the art, the surveyor or the surveyed? These are the issues that I explore through this series of oil paintings.

--- Catherine Christiano


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