Venus and Master: On Smadar Katz’s Work
Dr. Nava Sevilla Sadeh. Art Historian, Curator
Throughout the years the painter Smadar Katz has developed a style that may be classified as photographic realism. Her personal style, based on thorough proficiency in drawing and color, has an original and unique character.
The art scene has neglected painting styles based on drawing, perspective, color, texture and light and shades contrasts for decades, but this is now changing and photographic realism is being revived. Outstanding artists working within the photographic realism style who held solo exhibitions in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art include, Aram Gershuni, Oren Eliav, Eran Reshef, Michael Halak, and Orit Akta Hildesheim’s.
The originality of Smadar Katz’s work stands out against this background, as can be seen in two series of works. In the Venus and Master series Katz creates images of feminine nudity whose body is delineated with high quality classical drawing and precise color work.
The female body created by Katz’s brush is smooth, sweet, sensual and tempting, an impression stressed by light blue and pink fabrics, wrapping the body, or positioned beside it.
The relation of the female body to the drapery brings to mind classical sculpture and myths such as Philomela’s scarf and the weavers Penelope and Calypso. Reminiscent of its use in classical Greek sculpture, mainly in the figures of Aphrodite and triumphant goddesses, the fabric in Katz’s work does not conceal the body, but rather reveals it and becomes a type of theatrical background or aesthetic scenery, a praise to the feminine body. The feminine figure in Katz’s work is revealed among the flowing fabrics as a type of erotic fantasy.
And yet, this figure has a submissive character and her hands seem to be tied behind her back. Furthermore, the fabric is sometimes a scarf streaming at the foreground of the painting, creating an obstacle which separates the spectator from the figure, sometimes a ribbon which ties the girl in apparent softness, or even wrapped around her wrists. This creates an almost imperceptible transition from the erotic to the gendered perspective, where the seemingly soft fabric becomes restraint and limiting, a metaphor of passive femininity controlled by the invisible or symbolic Master of the series title.
These images give rise to multiple questions – who is the master? do the paintings describe a specific situation or are they a universal metaphor of the fate of women in general? Can the “master” be identified with society in general which still tyrannizes and oppresses women under different cultural guises? And if so, is there any difference in the status of women between the classical period and our own post-modern times?
These questions arise with renewed force in the second series titled Candle Light Ladies. This series also deals with the nude, aesthetic and erotic female body. The female figure is reclining or stretches submissively towards the viewer to reveal her intimate organs, at times from unexpected points of view, using spectacular foreshortenings.
The unusual perspective recalls the work of 19th century realist painter Gustave Courbet (1819 -1877) called L’Origine du monde (1866), in both technique and conception.
However, Katz’s unique touch gives the figures a softened, sensual aspect, which could perhaps be called feminine, which sets them apart from the bluntness of Courbet’s style.
Katz’s figures emerge from a mysterious darkness, yet they are shrouded in light which creates a halo around them, giving them a mystical, almost ritualistic aspect. This context positions the figures in a different, victimized position, and yet again performs a transition for the erotic to the gendered perspective. These subtle and seemingly soft transitions become a significant characteristic, and in fact a distinguishing trait of Katz’s work.
The originality of Smadar Katz’s work thus stems from the gentle and almost imperceptible transition from the aesthetic-erotic to the dimension of gender, while she leads the viewer by clever deception to a poignant feminist statement about the fate of women as a universal question that merits profound questioning within contemporary cultural discourse.
On Smadar Katz’s series:
“Venus & Master” and “Candle light Ladies”
Dr. Varda Mayer, Professor of Art and Gender Studies
19th century Realism sought to describe daily life by observing human figures and objects. Smadar Katz is one of the artists contributing to a revival of realism, which was eclipsed during the advent of post-modernism, through three decades of her artistic career. She achieves this by focusing on the female body.
Art history offers a wealth of nude female figures – real women and mythological goddesses, allegories or biblical figures. Throughout most of this history it was generally the male painter who presented them according to the conception of beauty of his time.
The famous Venus by Botticelli presented a new standard for beauty. The mythological Greek Goddess of love embodies an exalted, sublime feminine beauty and love. She is not a real woman, but rather a perfected, unattainable ideal of the feminine. Her figure can be contrasted with the Venuses of the 20th century, objects of male desire, flesh and blood women like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot who became sex symbols. They are real women who may be obtained.
Who is the “Master” in Katz’s “Venus and Master” series? The Master is either the controlling, dominant person, or perhaps the expert artist. Katz presents only the women, we do not see controlling Master. This raises yet again one of the most insistent questions in philosophy and art history – what is the place of the feminine body, what is its significance?
In Western culture the male body is seen as a standard, from which the female body deviates. For hundreds of years women have been defined by their body. They were admired by men for their beauty and they, in turn, lived up to male expectations by concerning themselves with their body and their beauty, serving as models for the inspiration of artists.
In his article “Ways of Seeing”, John Berger (1972) describes how in the past men were looking at women with a dominating gaze, while women were passive objects of the gaze. Although we are beginning to question this arrangement, the social position of women is still different from that of men. In contrast to this attitude, Roland Barthes (1957) describe striptease as the eradication of female sexuality. The undressed body is presented as frozen exotica. As the woman gradually exposes more parts of her body she becomes increasingly a-sexual.
Since the feminist revolution female artists have been preoccupied by the feminine body and its experience. In opposition to the male gaze of most of Western art, women artists have begun defining themselves through their own bodies. Since the 1970’s women have gained access to the aesthetic and ideological tools to express their gender problematics, adopting the feminist mission to retrieve women’s authority over their own body, and thereby expand the idea of visual passion. Women artists are looking at the mirror, and their reflection becomes their source of inspiration for dealing with questions of identity, as is clearly seen in two series by Smadar Katz: Venus and Master, and Candle Light Ladies.
Smadar Katz paints, she takes a brush and looks at a female body, describing it with color, light and shade. Painting technique, which was neglected in the era of post-modernism, comes back to life in her art.
Katz controls color harmony, anatomy, proportions, shading, using them to create a personal style and a powerful emotional expression. The spectator is impressed by her expertise and technical command, yet at the same time undergoes an emotional and sensual experience. It is impossible to stay indifferent to Smadar Katz’s paintings.
The pose of the painted women is both erotic and powerful, while the paint enhances both the emotional charge and their eroticism. Katz chooses unconventional angles for her figures, at times unflattering, but always feminine, as the play of light and shadow increases the experience.
Working with the traditional subject of a female nude, in the traditional technique of realism, Smadar Katz achieves a fresh, original expression, flooded with light. And thus Venus, born from the foam of the sea, the conventional emblem of classic beauty, is painted by Smadar Katz as a different type of woman – tempting, sexual, but in a manner unprecedented in nude paintings.
Throughout history, male painters immortalized a male perspective on the female body. Katz is taking this subject in hand in a very different way, stressing both the intensity of the body and its softness. Katz’s woman is not competing with men, nor attempting to take their place. She tries to reach him, stir him, and leave a space for his masculinity while she embarks on her own special way.
Remarks on Smadar Katz’s Watercolor Landscapes and oil Nudes
Martin Griffith, B.A. P.G.C.E.
Lecturer at the University of Wales, Great Britain
Of the landscapes, I particularly liked “Pembrokeshire’s Fields” which seems to me to be full of feeling and atmospheric unity.
The interplay between delicate drawing and expansive brushwork sets up a delightful relationship between minutely observed landscape detail and broad atmospheric effects.
You have achieved qualities which celebrate the uniqueness
of the medium.
The nudes are extremely sensitive. I enjoyed the strength and subtlety in the drawing, the latter of which is hightened by the surrounding painterly accents – opposites always seem to define each other so well.
The pigments you have carefully selected give these works not only an inner light of great harmony, but more than this they contribute to an aura of serene introspection.
Venus and Master: Submissive reflections
Venus & Master series belongs to a very unique genre of a personal feministic art. A combination of an extremely high level of painting together with the openness and honesty of the artist.
It is about Smadar Katz’s intimate impressions of femininity, masculinity, and the genuine pure sourses of the human relationship between these two genders.
These paintings open a beautiful and authentic window to the artist’s perception over the natural roles of man and woman.