Lepidoptery: Samantha Rosenwald’s New Paintings Explore The Objectification Of Women’s Bodies

Lepidoptery is the branch of entomology that scientifically studies, preserves and collects moths and butterflies. The collection of insects started in the 17th century and it was considered a fashionable activity among the wealthy. Fetching butterflies was especially in vogue as they were considered precious exotic jewels to display in ‘cabinets of curiosities’. Now collecting Lepidoptera is a common hobby, but Rosenwald shed new light on the matter by portraying the Morpho Godarti enclosed and caged in its frame, exposing the insect’s passive beauty and reflecting on the viewer’s gaze. In this context, the butterfly, confined and trapped in its white case, always ready to be looked at, becomes a metaphor for the female body in today’s society. As a docile and submissive moth, the woman is exhibited and consumed by the viewers’ eyes. Rosenwald through the exhibition, Lepidoptery, studies and portrays the objectification and daily consumption of women’s bodies through metaphors, surreal settings and funny yet dark vernacular. The artist depicts women that camouflage in their surrounding and that become one with it. Female bodies, as objects in a room, as captive insects, as for wallpaper, undergo a deep investigation on the role of women in today’s contemporary culture’.

18. January – 24. January 2021

Eve Leibe Gallery, 49 Poland Street, Soho, London W1F 7ND

Samantha Rosenwald, Pink Peony, 2020, colored pencil on canvas, 28 x 28 cm

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

Sure! For my paintings, one of the most technically difficult processes is the priming of the canvas. Because I’m using colored pencil on canvas, I need to prepare the canvas to receive a dry medium. This includes a lot of coats of gesso, a lot of wet sanding, and a porous medium I finish the gesso with that can more easily support colored pencil. While I’m working on all of that, I’m sketching out the composition in my notebook, and then the final sketch is transferred onto the canvas. The rest is just a ton of coloring and sharpening.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Mocking, manic, absurd.

Could you give us some more details regarding your upcoming solo exhibition at the Eve Leibe gallery?

Yes! I’ve titled my show with Eve Leibe Gallery, Lepidoptery, as an allegory to the female condition. Lepidoptery refers to the killing, encasing, and study of butterflies, so in conjunction with women-centric compositions, I’m hoping to emphasize the entrapment of the female body. She, like the butterfly, is assigned to the role of consumed and studied object. She is seen as an empty vessel, open to having meaning externally imbued onto her. All of the subjects I drew for this show are stripped of any sense of personhood and have been constructed — aesthetically and/or ideologically — by their respective environments.

Speaking about your new artworks, is there any particular story behind the ‘Breakfast’ painting ?

I’ve been thinking a lot about eggs. Whether it be the ova in a woman’s body or the eggs from a chicken, they have an almost mythological life-bearing quality that surrounds them — a quality that is utterly female. I think it’s interesting that an egg has the potential for human life or animal life, but is simultaneously associated with brunch. All of these layers of meaning — consumption, femininity, birth — were important to me as I planned this piece.

Samantha Rosenwald, 2020, colored pencil on canvas, 15 x 15 cm

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?

Yes, typically I am extremely meticulous about planning a piece, and I execute it exactly as I see it in my head. On rare occasions, though, I’ll have an idea that I’ll have no idea how to execute. That’s always fun because it gets me out of my comfort zone and lets me take a break from the more rigorous and specific aspects of my practice.

Is there any particular theme that utterly triggers you to engage your art with?

Oh man, yes: men. Particularly men who have wronged me or treated me poorly. There is something about that special kind of rage that just incites me into a ton of new ideas. I do, however, like to temper this rage with humor and subtlety. Men are such ripe fodder for mocking and I like to take advantage of that when I can.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

The best way to exhibit my work, I’d say, is sparingly and in a gallery setting. There are so many little details and jokes I put into the compositions, that I like when each piece has space to breathe and exist. The story or collective narrative between my works is also important to me, and is hinged on their specific installation; the meaning of a singular piece is enriched by the story that the neighboring pieces tell. I think online exhibits have been so great during COVID, but I’m excited to have my work shown in-person again so that the full meanings of each piece and the story between all of them can be experienced more viscerally.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Oof, I’m inspired by so many artists! But right now, I’m looking a lot at Henni Alftan, Louise Bonnet, Julia Wachtel, and always, Matisse.

Do you ever wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?

Sometimes I do, especially if I’m using a lot of negative space, I’ll question whether I need something else. Most of the time, though, because I’m so anal about planning each painting, I know exactly how I want it look, and, when it’s done, I know it’s done. I also think the rigidity of colored pencil lends to a more finite feeling when the work is finished, there’s less space for a last minute color change or shape tweak.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

I live and work from a loft-style apartment in downtown LA. Aside from the bedroom, the space has a really big open floor plan that’s perfect for spreading out and working on my paintings. I’d say about 80 percent of my apartment is dedicated to being an art studio, which I love. I love being surrounded by my art.

What does your mum think about your art?

My mom is my best friend in the whole world and she loves my art, but she always adds that she’s “totally unbiased” which is cute. She is always so excited when I finish a new painting and, in general, is the most supportive, loving mom I could ask for. I did one series of paintings in grad school, however, that were extremely large outlines of stills from pornos. She did not love those, haha, and unfortunately they’re still in storage in her house.

Which exhibition did you visit last?

I can’t remember exactly which show I saw last, but a recent show that I saw was Wanda Koop’s solo at Night Gallery called Heartbeat Bots. I was so blown away seeing her work in person.

Which are your plans for the near future?

Hm, I guess that depends a good deal on the future of COVID and the elusive idea of normalcy. In terms of art, I have a solo with Steve Turner that I’m working on now that will open late May, and then I have a solo with JDJ| The Ice House up in Garrison, NY at the end of the year! All I’m hoping for for the near future is peace and some good, normal days. And going outside without a face mask on wouldn’t be too bad either.

Samantha Rosenwald, Painted Armor, 2020, colored pencil on canvas, 28 x 71 cm
Samantha Rosenwald, Black Widow, 2020, colored pencil on canvas, UV varnish, 15 x 15 cm
Samantha Rosenwald, Catch of the Day, 2020
Samantha Rosenwald, Refraction, 2020, colored pencil on canvas, 48 x 48 cm




All images are courtesy of Eve Leibe Gallery & the artist

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