On the gorgeous, summery evening of May 1, Ragazze, a solo show of acrylic paintings by Deanna Slonski, opened in the solo-show room at the Yukon Artists @ Work Gallery.
Look up “Ragazze” on Google. You will find images of scantily clad women having fun, with Italian captions. Looking closer, it wasn’t all T&A – images included small groups of girls just having fun together.
The name means “girl”, in Italian, as opposed to lady. Not quite as proper. More fun. “Girlfriend” is also included in the mix of meanings.
The paintings under this title depict women similarly clad to those in the Google search. Slonski says she was inspired by the lines, grace and movement of dancers she knows and was moved to paint the “essence of who they are” as revealed through these things.
As this is her first solo show at Yukon Artists @ Work, she wanted to do something distinctly Northern but different than what’s normally portrayed in that genre. Not landscape and ravens, but portraits.
She spoke of vaudeville as part of that tradition, of burlesque hearkening back to Klondike Kate and other dancers of that style.
“Maybe people just need to have something fun, a little sexy but not too blatantly over the top.”
All the paintings come from images of her friends, the “girls that I love”.
There are two main bodies of work in the show: portraits that include the figure, and faces. Of the first group, all but one of them are either monochrome (painted using one colour with black or white) or simply black and white.
And, of that group, most of them are painted as if from images “posterized” in Photoshop, using hard-edged shapes filled in with four different shades of black to grey, or one colour with black or with white.
Vaudeville Confessions seems to me the most successful of these. It’s a little eerie though. A young woman looks up and over her shoulder. Her mouth his open with light inside as if laughing nervously. Her pupils are lost in the light reflecting in her eyes.
As young men move through the show, picking out the people they know, Slonski is shy about identifying the models. Despite her insistence on the fun side of things, there’s a danger to sexy art. There’s an edge of awkwardness. That’s also the feeling she catches in Vaudeville Confessions.
An awareness of the shadow side of these things seems to come through in some of the art.
I love my boa is painted in four shades made from red, with white and black. It depicts a young woman dressed in very-short shorts. Her bottom takes much more focus than the title’s boa. But her body occupies only the left third of the painting. A large brownish shadow runs down the middle, occupying the painting’s central space, balanced against passages of the most-intense red to the right.
For the faces, photographic references are much farther away. Babe, Ruby, Suzanne, Rose, Jessica and Betty are literally “painted ladies” with big stylized eyes, thick lashes, eyeshadow and lipstick lips with very little modelling.
Betty’s yellow curls, outlined in black, frame her heavy-blue eyeshadow and pink face. She bares her teeth in a worldly smile as she looks over your left shoulder.
Ragazze continues at the Yukon Artists @ Work Gallery until June 9.