LA PAINTER NANCY BAKER CAHILL SPEAKS ON NOTIONS OF GENDER
An interview with Jessica Wimbley
LA painter Nancy Baker Cahill addresses notions of gender and psychological space in her latest body of work included in the group show Coping Mechanisms at Tinlark Gallery. While staying true to the show's theme, which addresses the complex physiological states within the wake of American nihilism, Baker Cahill establishes a unique intersection on the codification of gender and physiological space through the absence of the human figure.
WIMBLEY: I think the transition from the presence of the female body; to the complete absence of the human figure is a great statement and leap with in the work. How do you think this had affected the dialogue within your work about gender? What are some of the new visual codes that you are creating, and how do they imply or evoke ideas of gender?
BAKER CAHILL: It's true that a much earlier incarnation of this series included drawings of a female (fighter) prototype, in which I quickly lost interest in favor of a gender-neutral beast.Those drawings ultimately developed into this current series, which remains focused on issues of domesticity, but expresses them differently. I began to anthropomorphize objects, and then surround them with set pieces, as if on a stage. The shopping carts, even fraught with so much meaning, from rampant consumerism to homelessness to the tedium of modern hunting and gathering, somehow embodied, for me, a type of "women's work." The impact of that work, and the invisibility of certain repetitive domestic or artistic tasks are part of what I attempt to represent in these paintings. Handmade lace and needlepoint are typically associated with women, and while needlepoint, for example, enjoys the whiff of leisure, lace may be made under sweatshop conditions. Who appreciates them? Through etching and painting I have recreated lace doilies and needlepoint details and integrated them into the piece. Patterns, whether adapted from wallpaper or from traditional motifs, also symbolize the anesthetizing, repetitive nature of both domestic tasks and the world to which many women of a certain class are relegated, which is to say, that of professional fundraiser, soccer mom, or interior decorator (to name but a few). So the idea of gendered work interests me greatly, which is why I have begun to torque alternate methods of acquisition and consumption via an iconography of fishhooks and hunting targets precisely because they have long occupied a traditionally male domain. In terms of codifying animals, the choices I've made for each bird or insect is deliberate. The sage grouse I painted, for example, appears in the heat of aggression. He is literally puffed up— and at his most dangerous he appears most feminine with his huge air sacs swollen like breasts. I hung a fishhook over his head because I appreciated how vulnerable he was in his state of excitement. I also chose dragonflies because they are excellent hunters, like birds of prey, and I enjoy putting women in this position because we are so rarely represented that way without being vilified.
WIMBLEY: We also spoke about the creation of psychological space- Do you feel that the psychological space is gendered as well, or perhaps a hybrid of both male and female- how does this creation of psychological space inform your ideas about gender?
BAKER CAHILL: In as much as we culturally associate linearity and order with masculinity and chaotic freeform with femininity, then yes, I would say the psychological space, formally speaking, is one of blended genders. These contradictory forces exist in all of us. We have our controlled public face, we have what roils and prances beneath it, and beneath that, we have a primal consciousness. I will say that as a woman raised to be well mannered and concerned with matters of class I am acutely aware of my own duplicity in my struggle to successfully integrate those outer and inner lives. I don't accept the idea that there is a single masculine or feminine psychological space.
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In addition to Jessica Wimbley's role as Associate Director of Tinlark
Gallery in Hollywood, CA, Wimbley is also a practicing artist and
scholar who has exhibited and lectured throughout the US and abroad.
Wimbley received her BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of
Design and her MFA in visual arts from University of California,
Davis. Wimbley lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.