JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 black and white photographs, generally framed in white/black and unmatted, and hung against white (and black painted) walls in the main gallery space, the smaller back room, and the front window. All of the works are archival inkjet prints, made in 2017 or 2018. Physical sizes range from 5×7 to 48×27 inches (or reverse), and the prints are available in editions of 3 or 5. The show also includes a selection of drawings, notes, and studio materials, some installed/hung in the center of the gallery space. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: For many photographers, the studio-based self-portrait is an exercise in deliberate reduction. By intentionally paring down the list of artistic tools to just body and camera, perhaps with a few humble props, the artist is setting him or herself with a particularly difficult challenge of limitation and boundary: how to develop (or discover) a unique personal aesthetic with so few variables with which to play.
When we think of notable female photographers who have centered their artistic practice on nude images of themselves (or models) within the confines of the studio, Francesca Woodman inevitably enters the conversation. Her performative self-portraits staged in the empty rooms of Providence, Rhode Island (among other locations), consistently found energy in that space of worn absence, with windows, walls, cut paper, and drapery often providing the only foil to her intensely-personal poses and movements. More recently, artists like Melanie Bonajo and Whitney Hubbs have aggressively pushed further on the edges of the studio nude genre, with Bonajo using eclectic assortments of household items to tie up and overwhelm her models and Hubbs elegantly interrupting our gaze with wooden blocks, sheets of cardboard, and draped cloth.
Patricia Voulgaris’ recent studio work follows along in this line of thinking. Using herself as a nude model and armed with available art props like wooden stretcher bars, canvas, tape, black and white paper, and various easels/tripods, she has crafted images that merge constrained performance with process innovation and formal experimentation.
Several of Voulgaris’ images are resolutely geometric, and the juxtaposition of hard edges and lines with the curves and skin tones of her body give the compositions their punch. In “Clock Tower”, a straight leg, a raised bent knee, and the curve of a hip are arranged on the axes of a grid, with arcs, cones, and high contrast black/white forms adding strictly organized echoes. And in “Self Portrait”, Voulgaris’ nude form hides behind a set of bold vertical stripes and torn shadows, with the rectilinear paper interrupting her sinuous form. In both cases, she creates a bold mixture of documentation and pure abstraction.
Other works play with spatial depth and seeing through. “Bullseye” finds her bending over into a dark circular hole, the alternating light and dark of her skin and the black props creating the concentric rings of an irreverent target. “Self Portrait Two” uses wooden stretchers like stuttering frames, her body covered by billows of white canvas and paper, with just a few tiny fragments of skin emerging from the dense tangle of overlapped folds.
When Voulgaris introduces rephotography into the mix, the compositions get even more complex and disorienting. In “Self Portrait Three” spatial gradients of dark shadows against receding white are used to obscure the artist’s body, creating competing layers of depth and unexpected twists of orientation, the resulting space appearing impossibly upended. In “Untitled”, she employs printed images of herself, her hand in effect holding her body, with another rephotographed image of her body on top of that, the piling up process interleaving the images into a shifting whole. The rephotography angle feels like one that Voulgaris can exploit much further as she moves forward with this project.
Seen together, Voulgaris’ formal experiments seem to harken back to the playful readymade spirit of Dada portraiture. Their restless formality is rooted in the inherent visual competition between her body and its surrounding geometries, and that daring push and pull between human performance and rigid structure feels like an elegantly simple subject that will continue to offer Voulgaris plenty of aesthetic running room.
Collector’s POV: The photographs in this show are priced between $600 and $3000, based on size. Voulgaris’ work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.