'Cigarette in Toes', 1976-1977 by Jo Ann Callis.

‘Now and Then’ by Jo Ann Callis @ ROSEGALLERY

November 27, 2018

With this exhibition at ROSEGALLERY of Ms. Jo Ann Callis’ work done over 40 years ago, we have a positive element of timelessness to the collection. While there is a strong current of autobiography, the success of the artistry is in its ability to take the subjective and make it universal. Indeed, this is what we may consider to be the gift of the arts – to take one subject’s glimmering private truth and share it with the world; and in doing so move it in a fecund direction.

 

‘Hands on Ankles’, 1976 by Jo Ann Callis.

 

We have with this exhibition what can be simply described as a coming-of-age narrative. Ignoring for now any personal sentiments to the portraits, we have a coalescence of feminine human growth. There is a strong sense of strangeness, of unchartered territory in becoming human – and most specifically, becoming a woman. Strange, it is, that the novelty of becoming is universal, and yet it ceases to proliferate once adulthood is reached. The works bring about this insight into human nature here: do we all need an external force of nature such as aging to continue to change us? Is such change even a good thing?

 

There typically is no de facto judgment on the call of nature. We accept it as-is. And while in contemporary art such a “coming-of-age” may even possess a strain of anxiety or negative peevishness, a sort of resentment of needing to become something different than what one is, Ms. Callis graciously does not flood our impressions with such confusing noise. Yes, there are elements of confusion with a girl finding herself as a woman, but such is the base form of the human condition: uncertainty in what is meant to be. And with these works, this uncertainty is highly qualified in the feminine form.

 

Also, graciously, we avoid tinges of radical feminist rhetoric. Ms. Callis is not attempting to make a grandiose political statement with the nature of a girl exploring her newfound nubility. This avoidance of political reactivity keeps the works timeless, as every female in any age can find resonance with the concourse of the portrayed aging.

 

‘Purple Tablecloth’, 1979 by Jo Ann Callis.

 

Why is there such a restless anxiety, then, with a woman’s growth incurring the naturally inevitable presence of men in her life? Ms. Callis indeed represents this conversion from girl to adulthood with this sexual saturation and the plausible melodrama it entails. Perhaps the dissatisfaction of pedants with this natural biological inertia is the ostensible obedience to men and slow dissipation of a woman’s “independence”. Indeed, the logic of being disgruntled at male interpersonal relationships is a condemnation of the sexual forces of nature.

 

‘Two Figures on Carpet’, 1979 by Jo Ann Callis.

 

But does Ms. Callis suggest any of this from taking place? Her central protagonist does not lose the spotlight as love is won and lost. And perhaps, when reviewing the historical epoch of this artwork, it signifies the protean development of women’s liberation, where she feels no shame in going her own way. It is this self-centered motif which is perhaps a gradual advancement in female artistry, away from the egregiously simple conduct of a woman being bound to serving the needs of others versus herself, and also perhaps signifies a change in contemporary culture.

 

In regards to female artistic advancements, the compositions themselves are emblematic of the different foci between the two sexes. As I have mentioned before in my review of French Impressionist female art, there is a distinct personal intimacy in a woman’s canvas which is neglected with a male foresight. Ms. Callis provides a wonderful demonstration of this in her artwork, with her personality within each portrait intensely immediate. All that matters, all that is real, are the person-hoods and their inarticulable yet symbolic representation of the aforementioned tension with growth, with being active and alive.

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