realist portraits - Grace Athena Flott, "Let it Shine (Portrait of Kari)," 2022, oil on aluminum panel, 26 x 26 in
Grace Athena Flott, "Let it Shine (Portrait of Kari)," 2022, oil on aluminum panel, 26 x 26 in.; Photo courtesy of the Artist; Scanned by Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction

Remixing medieval and Renaissance iconography motifs to highlight contemporary body politics, Grace Athena Flott presents realist portraits of her underrepresented community alongside abstract works depicting patterns printed directly from scarred skin. Paramount to her process is Flott’s conscientious exchange with each subject, a collaboration meant to counteract common experiences for those with visible scarring: toxic staring, comments, or outright harassment.

While each subject is painted in meticulous life-size detail, Flott combines scar prints into the portraiture as well as unique works of pure pattern and color that, together, weave the stories of each individual into larger narratives of body liberation, health, and beauty redefined.

The painting “Let it Shine” barely contains the radiance of its subject Kari, a white femme-presenting person with visible scarring across her face and upper body. Contrary to the mainstream portrayal of injury and physical difference, she stands unapologetic and self-possessed with arms thrown back behind her head. Her body language seems to greet and merge with the sun, emphasized by acerbic yellows and turquoises suggestive of an electric landscape. Kari’s voice is audible in the exhibition as part of a recorded montage of all the participants. In her own words, she discusses navigating an ableist society wherein physical desirability determines social and economic value. With frankness and levity, she speaks on the intersection her identities as a fat woman with scars and how she embraces self-love.

“New Icons” is the first solo exhibition of 12 paintings and one recorded interview compilation by Grace Athena Flott at the Port of Seattle Pier 69, on view through February 29, 2024. Supported by a Hope Corps grant from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, “New Icons” celebrates the lived experience of folks with visible differences, specifically burn survivors.

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