“Thinking back about your career for 40 years is rewarding and intimidating at the same time.”
That’s the first thing that Adele Wayman, professor and artist extraordinaire, said to me when we started talking about her current exhibition in the Guilford Library gallery. This showing of her works represents her time as our mentor.
When I spoke with Adele, we both agreed that this article should appeal more to Guilford art students instead of the general masses – that’s being done over at The Guilfordian, Guilford’s Award-Winning weekly newspaper, in an article by Allie Baddley, which will come out on their website Friday, February 28th. Be sure to check that out! Adele and I chatted about her work on a more personal level, though, which will allow us to take a closer look at the ideals and themes present beyond the paint and canvas.
Religious, spiritual, and feminist themes pop up in every piece – references to Judaism, Buddhism, and Wicca are prevalent, as Adele says she uses her painting practice as an accompaniment and extension to her spiritual practices. This, along with strong ties to feminism, makes this exhibition much more than a career retrospective. In the panel texts hanging alongside the art, Adele says, “I wanted to take this traditional ‘lady’s medium’ to a bigger scale, and work with ambitious content.” When she began to wonder about the lack of women artists in her professors’ curricula, she found out a lot about female artists on her own.
“My consciousness-raising experiences included reading Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” with a powerful group of women, much talk with close women friends, and Carol Stoneburner’s passionate creation of Women’s Studies at Guilford…Only later when I realized how many other artists had been left out of the standard textbooks, did I create and teach “Modern Stories of Art” (1999 and 2001). The art stories focused on African American women artists, to tell my students about some of the complexities of identity, race, and gender in the art world.”
Adele named some of the pieces in the show that represent these themes the strongest, and after another visit to view the show, I’ve decided to focus on the one that speaks to me the loudest – Copper Goddess.
My earliest recollection of recognizing feminism came from wondering if God was really a man. If humans were created in “His” image, why were some of us female? Why couldn’t God be a woman? Or neither male nor female? These questions which I pondered throughout my child- and young adulthood grew progressively sassier the longer they bounced around my mind, so when I got to college and took a sociology class, I was exposed to more trains of thought about feminism. I realized that God doesn’t necessarily have to be a man just because the all-inclusive pronoun used to represent both genders at once is almost always masculine. These questions are dealt with in everyday life on and off our campus and in popular culture – anyone remember Alanis Morissette’s cameo playing God in the 1999 film ‘Dogma’? Adele also grapples with this notion in Copper Goddess, even taking it another step further by allowing the “copper” to recognize the fact that the goddess could be any race – or, indeed, all races. Wiccan traditions are realized in the natural and historic representations found in the piece – I think the rich, thick texture created by the oil sticks and paint complements the weightiness of those symbols very nicely. By working on this piece directly on the wall, the middle-man we call the easel is cut out, which I would imagine allows the painting to become more of an extension of spiritualism and more of a zen-like meditative experience. This work is not barred by a frame, and is instead allowed to hang freely on the wall, opening it to the audience so they, too, can experience all of the spirit it has to offer. So, this piece suggests that an omnipotent being may not always be a specific race or a specific gender.
Clearly, I could talk about feminism in art forever, but I’ll leave some musings to your own mind and to the upcoming talk on this very topic. Next Thursday, March 6th at 7:30pm, a public dialogue between Adele and the founding director of the Women’s Studies program at Guilford, Carol Stoneburner, will be held in the gallery. More of the influences of feminism and the Women’s Studies program on Adele’s artwork will be discussed there, and I simply cannot wait. Be sure to get there on time, because according to Adele, the opening is going to be something you won’t want to miss – I’ll let you be surprised.