by Rachel Stephens
Jane Radstrom’s work quietly dances the line between pinup and portrait. At less than 30 years of age, Jane has a strong sense of self that allows her to tackle this fine line that art history has made so brittle. Working with the female figure, especially nude or even partially nude, is a subject that has been fighting objectification and beauty stereotyping for centuries.
“This subject matter does come with a lot of baggage. I certainly do not want to paint a lot of sexy pin-ups, and my work has a lot in common with those images. So, I am constantly assessing the line between art and objectification. I believe that it is possible to paint nude women without objectifying them. I look for the individuality of each model in their personality, body language and shape. The poses that I like best reflect the person’s natural mannerisms rather than posturing for the viewer. I think that this emphasis on the individual separates authentic portrayals of women from objectified portrayals.”
Before taking pastel to paper, Jane extensively photographs her subjects and then carefully reviews the hundreds of images to find the few that seem to best convey the models personality and mood through body language. She has found the most effective way to get her models to forget the camera and be themselves is to have them perform routine actions over and over. “By the twentieth time of putting socks on and off, they have stopped thinking about the action and have begun to do it naturally, just as if they were at home.” It is these quiet, ordinary moments that Jane portrays so well.
“Her work is at once a mirror and a window, at once routine and scandalous.”
Though Jane’s technique is quite different, she relates to Degas’ pastel revival of the 19th century and his depictions of women completing everyday tasks like drying themselves with towels, brushing their hair and bathing. In Degas’ time, this depiction of women performing private, routine tasks was incredibly scandalous. Jane’s work too has a hint of scandal, even today. The voyeuristic quality of witnessing another’s private moment, even if that moment is routine, has not lost its taboo. But that is what makes the work so captivating, seeing another human-being completely at ease in one’s own moment is an unusual experience. Our public actions are self-conscious; we all wear a mask of sorts when we are aware of the gaze of others. We project what we think others want to see or what we want them to see. In private, the masks fall away. It is this private, unfiltered identity that Jane strives to portray; “When you meet someone there are undercurrents you can’t seem to grasp. My work attempts to uncover them. With each piece, I ask myself, how much of one person can I get into one face?”
By layering multiple poses in one painting, Jane creates a double exposure effect that your eye interprets as movement. She chooses to emphasize some areas over others, creating a moment that appears real and fleeting. It is this careful selection of how much detail to render that allows the mind to instinctively fill in the blanks of these simple actions, which subconsciously connects the viewer to their own experience and allows them to identify with the subject. This connection is what changes the association of the piece from pinup to portrait, from objectivity to subjectivity. “A friend once told me that I was creating self-portraits of other women,” says Jane, “and that comment stopped me in my tracks, he was totally right. I had never thought about it in that way before.”
Jane’s solo show “Multitudes” will be at Wally Workman Gallery in November. The title is drawn from an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” This not only refers to the double figure in the painting but also the reflection of self that the viewer associates with the piece, just as Jane sees herself in these portraits of other women. Her work is at once a mirror and a window, at once routine and scandalous.