Noah Becker's whitehot magazine of contemporary art

May 2008, Painting, Playboy and the New Feminist

 Juliette Fretté, Enki, 2008, courtesy the artist

Painting, Playboy and the New Feminist
The Naked Truth about Juliette Fretté

“Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.”
- Ansel Adams

If this holds true, one would think Juliette Fretté’s canvases would produce more raised eyebrows than her Playboy pictorials. Wouldn’t they?

Yet despite nudity’s relevance as a common denominator between art, feminism and Mr. Hefner’s publication, it is this element which typically poses the most question marks. And while Juliette the Playmate enjoys an inaugural outing as Miss June 2008, Juliette the artist/writer/feminist is busy addressing issues that go far beyond the bunny ears:

Choice, morality, judgment, fear, objectification, body image…

But let’s rewind. This UCLA honors student was making waves well before her sorority put her on national probation for her involvement with Playboy’s legendary ‘Girls of the Pac 10’ issue.

“I was kind of an odd kid. In junior high and high school I was somewhat known for expressing my opinions, often in obnoxious ways. Before I graduated high school I was voted most likely to cause a teacher to be institutionalized, due to my incessant questions. For a short period of time I was a cheerleader as well as the school mascot, but for a significant chunk of my high school experience I had horrific cystic acne."

But as this young lady grew into a woman, it became clear that she was destined to be much more than simply an All-American tribute to Pro-Activ. By the time her Los Altos classmates were celebrating their sweet-sixteen, Juliette was traveling to Botswana and India with a non-profit organization called GLEAN (Global Education and Action Network)

On these two sponsorship-funded experiential learning trips, she learnt about Botswana’s Kalahari Bushmen and subsequently, the culture of Ladakh, a region on the Northern Himalayas’ near the Tibetan border.

 Juliette Fretté, CACHINA MOTHER, 2007, 24” by 36”,
 Watercolour/Gouache on canvas, courtesy the artist

“During my adventures with GLEAN, my eyes were profoundly opened to how beautiful this planet is. I made a commitment to myself to not only find a way to positively impact the world, but also to never settle for anything less than the incredible.

When I got to UCLA I was somehow talked into joining a sorority, for which I served on the executive board for two years. I was also the financial coordinator for the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (the collegiate counterpart of Feminist Majority Foundation), helping to raise funds so that a delegation of UCLA feminists could attend the March for Women's Lives on April 25, 2004. I eventually declared a major in Women's Studies and an Environmental Studies minor with most of my remaining courses being in theatre.”

“I was a walking hippie; a sorority girl walking hippie. Hard to explain…”

“The year after, I decided that posing for Playboy (so I could write about it for my feminist honors thesis) would be a wacko but cool idea, so I jumped on that bandwagon”

The resulting thesis entitled, Posing for Playboy from a Feminist Perspective: How Media Images Impact Women's Empowerment, has not only become the foundation for a narrative book but more importantly, has defined the heart of Juliette’s message.

But don’t be thrown by her views or her vivacious beauty. This centerfold is neither the cookie-cutter bimbette nor the angry, angsty activist. In fact, it’s quite conceivable that she has broken more stereotypes than hearts.

And dammit, she can write, as well! An accomplished wordsmith, Juliette has been contributing to Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, practically from its inception.

“I started working with Whitehot Magazine last year as one of their Los Angeles writers. I attended the launch party in New York for a number of reasons. Namely, I wanted to finally meet everyone who was making this amazing art magazine possible and I wanted to see New York through an artsy-fartsy perspective, having never been there before.”

Write what you know. Write what you love. That’s the golden rule. And for a woman of many hats, the artist beret proves an attractive fit.

“My art is really hard to describe. It doesn’t really fall into any particular category. In this way, it defies description! Yay!”

“…if you really want an idea, I suppose (my art) is otherworldly, colorful, spiritual, passionate, and often projecting a sort of earth-based or goddess energy.”

“Many of my pieces have been created with a watercolor / gouache combo while my latest works are in acrylic. As for formal art training, I never really had any, with the exception of an occasional art class in elementary and high school. I come from a family of artists and writers, actually, so it must run in our blood! My cousin Matt Olson is a genius pop artist, for example, but he went to art school to perfect his abilities, while my cousin Jenny has a darker artistic style, oftentimes involving skeletons. My grandmother was also an artist, working mostly with watercolor. My great aunt Maggie, on the other hand, is a writer and supposedly my family are descendants of Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben Hur.”

 Juliette Fretté, THE JOKER, 2008, 22” by 28”, Acrylic on canvas,
 courtesy the artist

Although the shimmering gene pool from which she so sultrily emerged is both talented and illustrious, Juliette lacks the requisite pretension so often associated with the naturally-gifted. Truthfully, her self-effacing frankness is startlingly refreshing.

“I'm sort of a late bloomer with regard to launching myself as an artist. Even though I sketched, and loved drawing and painting as a kid, I took a major hiatus until my early twenties, when I became re-addicted to creating art. I simply delighted in collecting the art of others. Most of the time I would gravitate toward intense, powerful paintings that somehow delineated female power, divinity, majesty, and sexuality.”

Clearly, passion cannot be taught in school. In this sense, it’s no surprise that Juliette’s approach towards her work is an extension of the creative compulsion that drives every aspect of her life. What inspires this woman? Short answer: everything. However, it’s not so much her capacity for drawing upon multiple accidental muses but more her attitude toward them, which sets her apart. Maybe it’s the appealing vacation from the spotlight that enables her to surrender to her art. Maybe it’s the unavoidable nature of pure creative process. Either way, Juliette knows how to let go.

“Most of the time I will put distance between paintings so I can recover emotionally because it takes a lot of energy, as I do become obsessed with them while they’re being created. But when I get the ‘itch’ to paint again, I prepare myself. I may just be inspired for no apparent reason, or I may have just experienced a beautiful place.”

“Perhaps an important person will somehow send an inspirational firecracker through my ass and I will be propelled into action.”

“Very importantly, I never plan any of my paintings. Instead, they are improvised, or dare I say ‘channelled’. As controlling as I can be with other parts of my life, my painting is something that I have very little control over. I simply start with brushstrokes and hours later some form or figure materializes in a way that humbles, surprises, and enchants me. Thus, I become even more interested to see what is forming, and I continue like a wide-eyed zombie as the piece evolves. Usually the way it begins is far from the way it ends. It is a painfully beautiful experience for me to create a new piece of art.”

How does Juliette, the artistic vessel reconcile with Juliette, the ambitious career-woman? It comes down to core identity. And this sense of self has served her well. In fact, the question, “Wherefore art thou Juliette?” is far less complicated than any Montague-Capulet family politics:

Juliette Fretté is an artist… in every sense of the word.

Juliette Fretté

But lest we forget, Juliette is also a playmate. And society’s preconceptions still cast long shadows on the notion of a feminist-centerfold.

“How would I defend myself as a feminist working with Playboy? Well number one, whatever happened to being pro-choice? Whatever happened to the notion of female agency? Also, why are women's bodies (however they may appear) something to be ashamed of? I would ‘defend’ my experience as something that has been empowering to me and my feminist journey, expanding my mind in ways that may actually be progressive.”

“There may be some curiosity, as what I do is a little bit unorthodox… sort of a third wave re-adaptation of Gloria Steinem's experiment.”

“However, I do have a different perspective from Gloria Steinem, as I am in a completely different generation, different sector of the company, etcetera. I imagine that many people these days are more open to different expressions of women's empowerment. I can only hope that they will find better, more in-depth answers to these kinds of questions once I finish my book on my journey through Playboy as a feminist.”

While Juliette successfully reconciles her beliefs with her professional self, there is surprising little overlap. The exceptions are the four pieces, Playboy Plaything 1, 2, 3, and 4, which she doodled on set during her pictorial and Playmate video. In contrast, her recent acrylic piece, In Shakti Satum (meaning ‘in Shakti’s ceremonial prayer’), is a representation of the Indic goddess of sex, life and energy.

Or maybe it’s a subconscious self-portrait; a reflection of her own vitality…

Find out for yourself. There’s a lot more to Juliette Fretté than meets the eye. And that’s the naked truth.

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