Venus Redux–Exploring a Series

For the past year, I have been developing new work for my upcoming show at Dacia Gallery in NYC.  Dacia is a small gallery on the Lower East Side, and the intimate size gave me the opportunity to put together a body of work with a narrowly focused theme. Often realist exhibits show the range of a painter's explorations and include work in various genres, but I wanted to do an entire body of oil painting artwork on a central theme. Like the recent post on my second version of Pandora, I wanted to revisit other paintings that I felt had more room for exploration.

In 2011, I made the oil painting Venus Awakes, for the "Myths & Individuals" show at The Forbes Galleries. I had never made a painting quite like it before, and I wanted do more with the basic idea of the composition, and dig deeper into the language of the body and the visual symbolism of the painting. 

Venus Awakes by Patricia Watwood, 2011, oil on canvas, 38 x 34.
Venus Awakes by Patricia Watwood,
2011, oil on canvas, 38 x 34.

Venus Awakes is a classic "grand manner" nude, in a pose that is reminiscent of Correggio. (You know I'm obsessed with looking at Old Master work and reinterpreting the imagery!)  I love the sensuality of the body, and am definitely exploring the line between the "naked" and the "nude," and the "ideal" and the "real." The top down view gave me the opportunity to treat the entire background not as a deep pictorial space, but as a flat field that I could compose pictorially on a flat picture plane, and cram full of objects with symbolic references.

Sleeping Venus by Patricia Watwood, 2013, oil on canvas, 40 x 40.
Sleeping Venus by Patricia Watwood, 2013, oil on canvas, 40 x 40.

After completing this, I wanted to try a version with a lighter key. The first one I made all dark–so the nude emerges from a murky and somnambulant world. The second, I wanted to have the background in a mid-range tonal value, based on greys. I used one basic color–warm and cool greys–as the predominant tone, and then used saturated color notes to pull your eye from one detail to another. The yellow canary is the little star, its saturated brightness draws your attention as one of the primary narrative keys to the painting. Like Venus Awakes and Pandora, my bird is a symbol of awakening and hope. Here, the canary (in the coal mine) is emphasizing the call to awaken from mindless consumption and commercialism and cherish fragile beauty and the human spirit.    

Drawing for Sleeping Venus by Patricia Watwood, 2012, pencil and gold watercolor on toned paper, 22 x 15.
Drawing for Sleeping Venus by Patricia Watwood, 2012, pencil and gold watercolor on toned paper, 22 x 15.

There have been several steps along the way in exploring Venus's pose. The idea of it allows for variation–should the arms be this way or that? Turn the head this way or that? The variations all suggest a figure in relaxed slumber. The drawing here was done after I had finished the first oil painting, but before the second. I used gold watercolor washes to create the feeling of the swirl of stuff around her. In the second painting, I switched her arms, and also turned her head away from the light. This gave me a different angle on the nose and chin, and the face turning into the shadow suggests more a feeling of "still asleep."  I was gratified that such small shifts in the pose could evoke different feelings and expressions.

Now that I have finished this second version, it is easy to imagine exploring more variations on the composition, adapting the pose, background, and details. Each painting can become an improvisation on the concept, and the combined images create a stronger message for the viewer to understand my point of view. 


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Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.