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8 Female Artists Who Are Reconceiving Figurative Painting

Admired for its strong references to the real world, particularly human figures, figurative art became nearly passe as the form became enamored with abstraction in the mid–20th century. Though marked by the promotion of conceptual artwork both by critical attention and praise, artists never stopped producing human likeness, however, it could stand abreast of other artforms.

Today, some powerhouse females are embracing figuration, diversifying it, and making it interesting as ever attempting to strongly push the conversation around it forward. Let’s explore the top ten female artists who are working to make the current landscape of figurative paintings favorable with their masterful creations:

1. Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum

Driven by a strong fascination for scientific theories and ancient mythologies, Sunstrum often tries to tell stories wherein using the figure seems a natural and crucial way of responding to her drive. Her works span beautiful figurative paintings on paper, large-scale installations, and stop-motion animation and performance, all of which convey her evolving selfhood. Having lived in several continents across the world developed her alter-ego, hence most of her figurative paintings seem to address the development of transnational identities, human connections, and cross-border beliefs and rituals. Trained as a dancer and curious with the movements of the human body, Sunstrum prefers to use her own body as a means to explore the existential narratives, origins of time, geological concepts, advanced scientific and mathematical theories, and ideas about the universe. While modeling the figures of her artworks on herself, she also attempts to challenge the conceptions of how the female has been represented in art till now with her figures operating as carriers of her musings.

2. Becky Kolsrud

Newly represented by the popular contemporary art gallery, GA Tif Sigfrids in Los Angeles and featured at several prominent shows, Kolsrud is garnering attention for her own distinctive portrayal of female figures. The characters of her figurative paintings are primarily the inventions of her imagination or inspired from daily life, signage, clip art, media and even cosmetic packaging.  Most of her works attempt to comment on the challenges faced by females by obstructing their bodies as well as thoughts. Her recent works are meaningful creations taking an abstract stand on the three graces of charm, grace and beauty, she has depicted them as animated figures of  Dora the Explorer (a seven-year-old girl of Latin American from popular American television series),  Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (from Japanese series), and Walt Disney’s popular little mermaid Princess Ariel. If you are planning to buy paintings online, make sure to explore her most recent collection pictured behind crisscrossing gates.

3. Genieve Figgis

Figgis began drawing as a child and since then her main interests have been figures, hence all of her favorite artworks have figures in them. Her lush figurative paintings often focus on fictional aristocrats in lofty interiors mostly depicted using idiosyncratic swirls of different hues of paint that brilliantly melt together. Deriving inspiration from history, architecture, astronomy, nature as well as from the medium of paint itself, she loves to explore her ideas alone in her studio, feeling free. Some of her artworks appear dark and dystopian, while some are imbued with notes of humor and levity and some others give the feeling of elegance. Recently, characters of her paintings came alive lustrously in an animated film in collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera.

4. Sanam Khatibi

Interested in the male-female interaction, Khatibi strongly believes that a very thin line exists between the fears and desires. Working across diverse mediums of painting, sculpture, embroidery, and textile art of tapestry, she depicts scenes emphasizing the primal impulses and the everyday power struggles among humans. She is quite popular for her paintings where she captures the ambiguous relationship of women with power, violence, sensuality, as well as with one another. Her recent figurative paintings portray a group of white nude female figures in exotic landscapes, mingling together with wild animals (representing power and danger) with some riding alligators, others hunting rabbits while some enjoy draping snakes. The most interesting aspect of her recent creations that has attracted the attention of many is the portrayal of women as vulnerable and yet, predators at the same time.

5. Nina Chanel Abney

Though a cursory glance of Abney’s graphic colorful painting style might resemble the creations of modernist painter Stuart Davis, her subject is distinctively contemporary in every sense — swiftly tackling the loaded topics of racial conflicts, gender issues, addressing pop culture, and often politics. Her narrative paintings and collages feature scenes and playful compositions rooted in autobiography, current events, and traditional storytelling. Filled with a pulsating mix of vibrant hue, text, as well as figures, her works are a product of her dreams, personal life experience, and meaningful conversations and are capable of generating discussion, allowing viewers to think and come to their own unique conclusions. Often taking on social issues particularly police brutality and its impact on people of color, Abnay is considered one of the most important African American artists in the last three decades. In her recent ‘Always a Winner’ series, she prominently addresses the Black Lives Matter movement.

6. Alejandra Hernández

Hernández creates playful portraits moving swiftly between real life and her imaginative world. For one of her recent figurative painting series she has produced domestic narratives around fictional women characters while in another work, she brilliantly depicts live sitters in the nude. No matter if her characters are real or fictional, Hernández is extremely careful to ensure that her subjects are surrounded by objects that hold significance, and also incorporate small clues that hint at their personalities. Highly fond of the classic tradition of model painting in the studio, she takes a very approach to the same — in spite of being the mastermind or a control freak, she prefers engaging in conversations with the sitter and beautifully renders the interaction into a final piece.

7. Amy Sherald

Having her schooling in the American South with few other black children, Sherald has long been drawn to addressing the concept of race in her paintings, often responding to her personal experiences and narrative of the black history. In her portraits which are mostly inspired by people she encounters in her everyday life, the figures’ skin is done in shades of gray or painted in variations of black and naples yellow. However, her work after moving to Baltimore has gravitated towards the social issues and discourse of sections of the surrounding community. Her recent works seem to originate as a creation of a fairytale, represent an alternate existence as a strong reaction to the black history —  ‘Miss Everything’ (Unsuppressed Deliverance), 2013, which reaped her the National Portrait Gallery’s annual portrait competition, take fantasy as a point of departure, in this one it is Alice in Wonderland as the origin.

8. Jesse Mockrin

Mockrin fascination with figures can be traced from her early teens when she was obsessed French painter Bonnard and using bold colors painted her best friend over and over again in the bathroom, sometimes washing her face or in the tub. Later in high school, she ended up painting a picture of her legs on a field trip to do plein air landscape painting. She strongly feels that she has always been able to see the figure better than anything else and gravitated towards creating works built around the same even if it’s just a small piece of a body. Her paintings are marked by smooth planes of different color and  varied textures, from shiny fabrics to soft skin while capturing the themes of the truncation of the body, the slippery nature of different gender identities, and the construction of space. Even her recent figurative paintings depicting dreamy scenes occupied by well-dressed dandies and androgynous white arms and legs galloping out from cascading gowns, laid down in lush fabrics, strike a surreal balance between present-day men’s fashion pictorials and ancient 18th-century European painting style. If you are looking for stimulating figurative artworks and willing to buy paintings online, spend some time exploring Mockrin’s enticing paintings.

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