HUE // Fall 2023

Catherine Carstens

Studio Art // @kac_arts_

The Birth of Girlhood
Oil and gold leaf on canvas 36 × 60 inches 91.44 x 152.4 centimeters.

I am a symbol. I am an object. I am a deity. I am a god. I am a talisman. I am a vessel. I am an Icon. I am purity and virtue. I am a concept. I am an allegory. I am a personification. I am an idea. I am for consumption. I am plastic. I am a commodity. I…. I am anything but a person; a human; an individual being. I am a girl.

Venus. The epitome of love, beauty and sex. The blueprint of a Woman. Born from the cut genitals of Uranus (grandfather of Zeus) tossed into the mediterranean sea off the coast of Cyprus and risin from sea foam. The fully grown goddess of beauty was then carried in a seashell to the coast by the god of the west winds. This story has been depicted many times in classical art, most famously by the greek painter Apelles in the year 412 BCE, then reborn In the year 1485 CE by the Renaissance painter Boticelli, And revived once more by the French Neoclassist William-Adolphe Bouguereau in the year 1879 CE. Through the many iterations of this work of art there are a few things they all have in common; They were painted by men to hang on the wall for men’s pleasure. The subject of each painting, Venus, is depicted fully nude, modest, coy, inviting and made to flatter the male gaze and. She is never confrontational, and never with agency of her own image. She is a commodity of beauty, eternally ready to be consumed, always willing to be an idealized, fantasy caricature belonging to the minds of the many men over the numerous centuries.

2023. The Birth of my Venus. Not born from sea foam, but from a painted interpretation of glitter, the highly disposable, single use, pretty- nuisance of an environmental hazard, that is never to be taken seriously in art and is designated to, the craft of; and the perfect symbolism for, little girls. My Venus is also not coy or modest, she is confrontational, she holds the viewer in her intense gaze and commands them to behold her. She has the power and agency over her image. She knows you are ogling her beauty and she ogles you back. She is questioning your intentions. Do you see her as a person? Or, do you see her as a beautiful painting of a nude woman just waiting to be hypersexualized and objectified just like every other version of her? Do you position her within the cannon of history in which she appropriates? My Venus does not hang on the wall, instead she leans against it, setting her apart from a conventional painting. She now exists beyond the definition of painting and becomes, in her own right, an object.

Accompanying My “Birth of Venus” painting are nine other smaller paintings that each represent another form of venus within western history, symbolism from classical art of women, and motifs of female objectification throughout art history and modern times. All together my body of work brings into question the identity of women as portrayed by anything except human- women. This work subverts the male gaze by virtue of being painted by a woman and by forcing viewer contemplation of the objectification of women that began millenia ago and still holds strong in today’s culture.