There are a lot of superb contemporary realistic drawings being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.
The debut solo exhibition by CLIO NEWTON (b. 1989) — which appeared in 2019 at Forum Gallery (New York City) and opened to a packed house — piqued many people’s interest and raised more than a few eyebrows. “Venus” was the artist’s first public presentation of her series of large gender-composite drawings exploring the themes of femininity in art history and gender identity today. In such fictional portrayals as “Hayden and René” (pictured above), Newton renders portraits of women onto the bodies of men using a hyper-realistic technique that on the surface blurs the edges and transitions between the two.
One of the artist’s purposes in creating these bi-gendered amalgams is to investigate classical norms of beauty, modesty, and idealism as expressed in art history. Newton believes that the artistic conventions of androgyny and idealization were an inherent part of a tradition governing and censoring representations of the body and women in the past, particularly during the Renaissance. “I am interested in a Renaissance aesthetic of masculine femininity without idealization,” she shares. “The specificity of a face, the idiosyncrasies of a body, and the psychological world these details can suggest, act against a tradition of censorship. I hope to question what defines a body or a gender and what qualities make that body appealing, approachable, threatening, or political.”
Newton continues, “I am also deeply interested in the politicization of women’s bodies and non-binary individuals. In these drawings, I wonder which features of a person inform our understanding of a body, what is deemed appropriate, and what is perceived as beautiful.” Despite part of this discourse relating to gender issues and gender identity, Newton’s depictions do not fall easily into transgender categorizations, but rather retain distinctly female (face) and male (body) characteristics. If indeed there is a message to be surmised from the art, it seems to be less political and more humanistic: the artist intends to celebrate the possibilities of the body and the individual.
Having received her B.F.A. at Cooper Union (New York City) and an M.F.A. at Zürcher Hochschule der Kunste in Zürich, Newton completed further studies at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. Today she lives and works in Zürich.
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