Joan Semmel: Body Language

Joan Semmel, American born 1932

from a retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021:  Skin in the Game

 

 

 

That this – in her eighty-ninth year – was the first retrosopective of an artist, many of whose images are widely known, but who has never been given this privilege,

 

speaks to the continuing bias against figuration and representation and against exhibting and collecting the work of women.

 

In her first exhibited work, made in Europe in the 1960s and early 1970s, Joan Semmel’s vocabulary was that of abstract expressionism. 

 

She returned to her native New York in the early 1970s.  From that time to this, she has painted figuratively.  Often herself.  Sometimes others, mainly women. 

 

 

 

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Night light, 1978, oil on canvas. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  MOMA, NY

 

 

In an early painting after her return, Joan Semmel has  imprisoned herself between a titillating image of a woman and a copy of one of a number of angry, violent images made in the early 1950s by Willem de Kooning,  (1904-1997, American born the Netherlands).

 

 

                                                            

Mythologies and Me, 1976, oil and collage on canvas. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Loaned by the University of Texas at Austin to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021/22

 

 

 

It is the vulgarization and commodification of the images (and lives) of women which Joan Semmel has sought to redress.

 

Her subject is what it is to be an autonomous woman, liberated from norms which seek to remove her control not only of her own body but of its public and private (re)presentation.

 

 

 

 

Intimacy-Autonomy, 1974, oil on canvas. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Brooklyn Museum loan (and photo) to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Me without Mirrors, 1974, oil on canvas. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Greenville County Museum, SC loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

She has used the camera and the mirror as tools of her art.  She uses the expressionistic colours of her earliest work in her paintings of sex and of her ageing body.  Her formats are as large as those of the Abstract Expressionists.

 

 

 

Untitled, 1971, oil on canvas. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Greenville County Museum, SC loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Hot Seat, 1971, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Indian Erotic, oil on canvas, 1973. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1973.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

Zoom Lens, 1979, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Purple Diagonal, 1980, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1982. 

Dallas Museum of Art loan in 2021 to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

In the galleries

 

 

 

 

David, 1982, oil on canvas. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Florida Interior, 1982, oil on canvas.  

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Self-Portrait on the Couch, 1983, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Abeyance, 1986, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

The Changing Room, 1988, oil on canvas

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Masque, 1991, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Flash, oil on canvas, 1973/1992

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Big Orange, 1992, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

In the galleries

 

 

 

A New Eve, 1993, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Hot Lips, 1997, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Rack, 1998, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Veiled, 1998, oil on canvas.  

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Toes to Toes, 2001, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Centered, oil on canvas, 2002. 

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private foundation loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

In the galleries

 

 

 

 

Recline, 2005, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

Double X, 2005, oil on canvas

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

Disappearing, 2006, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Joan Semmel has not shied away from painting her ageing body.

 

 

 

 

Red Hand, 2019, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

Her poignant wish – in a society in which the aged are all but invisible – is this:

 

“As an older person, I want to be respected.  I want to still feel that I am a vital person.  I want to be seen.  I don’t want to be disappeared.”

 

 

 

Unveiling, 2011, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

Museum guidance is that the transparency of the veil represents the movement of time for this artist.  Here her past is in conversation with her present as she moves forward.

 

 

 

 

In the galleries

 

 

 

Transitions, 2012, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

Flesh Ground, 2016, oil on canvas.  

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

In the galleries

 

 

 

Untitled, 2007, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 2007, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Untitled, 2007, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 2009, oil on canvas.  

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Self-Portrait #1, 2010, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Crossed Legs, 2011, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

Skin Patterns, 2013, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

Red Line, 2018, oil on canvas.  

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

Couch Diptych, 2020, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Skin in the Game, 2019, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932. Courtesy of the artist and her gallery to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2021

 

 

 

 

Recognition, 2020, oil on canvas.

Joan Semmel, American born 1932.  Private collection loan to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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