rt’s ability to make us not only think about things deeply but actually have a good time while we’re doing it, is one of its greatest little parlor tricks. No matter how difficult the subject matter or how close to the vein a particular work may pierce–even if it makes us bleed a little–we know that if we can laugh about our fears or injuries, we often find ourselves in a better position to address those thorns.
Art just has a way of sneaking in through the side door and opening up the curtains.
Dorielle Caimi‘s angst-ridden paintings explore many of the universal issues and feelings experienced by women today. That she accomplishes this with a sort of Rumplestiltskin-like glee makes it all the more delicious.
INTERVIEW WITH DORIELLE CAIMI
Albuquerque, New Mexico:
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Until Proven Innocent, we find your female subject caught clenching that biblical snake. Does she intend to do the reptile harm? What are the temptations that you find yourself wrestling with as an artist? As a woman?
Dorielle Caimi: This is an excellent question. This work goes back to a meditation on Eve. I’m not entirely convinced of the validity of her conviction. I also have an interest in the power that women posses internally that manifests in what is often misinterpreted as weakness. This painting depicts a woman with one hand up in surrender (or a protective gesture, you pick), while in the other hand she holds a rattle snake. We aren’t sure if the snake is alive or dead, meaning she could be a threat because we don’t know where the head is. Maybe she found a dead snake and was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As a female artist, I can’t seem to escape the subject that I most innately relate to: women. People tell me that I should paint more men, but the truth is, I’m painting from my own psyche, which manifests itself in the female form. I plan on painting men and possibly children in future bodies of work, but, for now, I am deeply satisfied with my subject matter.
I also have a dark and abstract sense of humor that I definitely wrestle with, which I often like to incorporate into my work.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Are women finding themselves caught in an impossible place where despite all the “options” now available, none is actually an authentic choice? Is it difficult for a woman to be accepted as a full-time artist? Are there stigmas attached?
Dorielle Caimi: I do think that it is difficult for women to be accepted as full-time artists. I say this, because I too have given into the stigma. I meet a man who says he’s a full-time artist and I think, “Yup. That’s his job.” But when I find a women artist who is incredibly successful, I scrutinize: “Well, has she had kids yet? Will she be able to sustain her studio practice when she does? What else does she do for money? What is the caliber of her work? Is she married? Can she have it all? Can I have it all?” These are some of the questions I deal with in my art and in my life.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Inheritance, we sense there is baggage being passed on, maybe even guilt. Do you feel that a sense of shame is necessary for a moral society? Is the artist’s role to increase or decrease this?
Dorielle Caimi: In my opinion, it’s the artist’s role to increase authenticity; if it’s authentic shame one feels from the self, then it’s something worth exploring. If it’s guilt that has been displaced or projected, then it’s inauthentic and should be discarded.
Yes, I think having a sense of shame is necessary for a moral society. Guilt and shame are two different things. Guilt is a feeling of judgement from others, whereas shame is a more internal part of a person’s moral compass. Shame goes with conscience, guilt goes with institution.
[quote]I believe that an important role of an artist is to awaken the realization that societal institutions such as religion, politics, pop-culture, history, education, feminism, etc., do not have all the answers and therefore shouldn’t be given too much merit. It’s the artist’s role to get people to think critically. [/quote]Art helps us break away from institution (which is one reason why I think art fits so poorly into academic settings). It is a reminder of the individual in the present moment.
Affective art helps people shake off preconceived societal biases and allows room for the development of intrigue, creativity, innovation, and solo flights of thought.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I love the irony in The Weight, as if your female subject’s very hunger for freedom and weightlessness is what is holding her down. Biologists say that what separates us from other species is that we are perpetually dissatisfied with our status quo, fighting against limits imposed upon us, that we are always hungering to see what lies beyond. Is this what also drives you as an artist?
Dorielle Caimi: Wow. This is an excellent interpretation of this piece. Yes, I’d say that fighting against limitations is what drives me as an artist and drives everyone else as well. I have a friend who is getting his MBA. He told me that people always want 15% more than what they already have. A lot of people say that’s bad because we are never satisfied, but if you can see that 15% as possibility and not as lack, with a bit of optimism and gratitude, I’d say it’s not bad at all. We are always looking for a new frontier to blaze. It’s just our nature. Our pitfalls are such that we cannot accept the 85% that we have; that’s where we get into trouble.
The title for this piece, The Weight, is a reference to the pressure on young women to someday have children. It’s a stork, and a threatening one, at that. It illustrates the struggle women fight with their own biology. [quote]There is no one to blame for a biological clock ticking; it is what it is. There is nothing to do but accept it.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In She Got Hold of My Lipstick,” you revisit that sense of rule-breaking, of literally drawing outside the lines. Is there a sense of freedom that accompanies being a painter? A releasing of some of that tension of trying to adhere to the rules of a civilized society? If you didn’t have your art, do you think you would break fewer or more rules in the rest of your life?
Dorielle Caimi: I’d be quite a rebel without art. A total menace to society. And a danger to myself. It is a major way for me to get some inner screaming out. The idea for She Got a Hold of My Lipstick was taken from a photograph of me as a child getting into my mom’s lipstick. Only here, we have the childish act put into the body of a young woman. So now instead of being cute and curious, she is now “deranged and disturbed.” I put the yellow wallpaper in the background as a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In the story, a wife is put to bed-rest by her doctor/husband for wanting to take on creative pursuits. He diagnoses her with “hysteria,” and as the months go by, she gets so bored from no mental stimulation that she actually does go insane and rips all the yellow wallpaper off the walls of her room in an attempt to free the woman behind the paper. I definitely employ satire in my work. This piece, for example, could be highly offensive to certain audiences, but my intent is just to show how ridiculous viewing women as “less-able” can be.
My work was greatly affected by the very first art history class I took in freshman year in college: “Women in Art History.” It was a 300 level class with a heavy workload, but we had some of the most interesting and enlightening discussions about women through the ages in art and society. It was during this class that I came into a realization that there is so much to explore in the world of women. [quote]Yeah, we’ve won our rights and freedom in many circles, but now what are we going to do with that freedom?[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: You mentioned a connection you feel with the American painter, John Currin. Is it difficult to paint women sensually without having the works being objectified by others? And if so, is being objectified necessarily a bad thing for a work of art? How do you as a woman painter address the issue of exploitation?
Dorielle Caimi: It is incredibly difficult to paint women without having the work be objectified. And it’s hard to blame people. Most of the art that I’ve come across depicting women uses them as pretty objects (save work done by artists like Artemisia Gentileschi), big-headed doe-eyed pop icons, or shells of sexiness. Don’t get me wrong, I think women are beautiful creatures who make the most sensual of subjects, but I’d like to add something more to that sensuality: intellect, self-respect, intuition, sensitivity, humor, etc.
Dorielle Caimi: I think what really speaks to me with the work of John Currin, is the classical skill he possesses and the stylized and conceptual context his figures are put into. As far as his concepts go, however, I have a different agenda. [quote]I am not interested in painting images of sexual penetration. I really think that that kind of shock value in art is starting to desensitize people. My goal is to start making people more sensitive.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: You mentioned in your artist’s bio about being inspired by fellow contemporary artists, Chuck Close and Kehinde Wylie. What is it about their work that most resonates with you? Is it the directness of their subjects’ gaze? The unapologetic quality of their facial expressions and physical demeanor?
Dorielle Caimi: When it comes to the work by Chuck Close, I am in awe of his skill set. I love how the simplicity of a large image of a person’s face looking right at the viewer can capture anyone’s attention.
Dorielle Caimi: What I love about Kehinde Wiley‘s work is the patience he puts into his floral filigree backgrounds and how the backgrounds sometimes swallow his subjects slightly. Even more than that, [quote]I love that he takes the old and merges it with the new: classical imperialism fused with a present minority group and all its “blinging” glory. It’s like he’s rewriting history and that, to me, is totally bad ass.[/quote]
Dorielle Caimi: Yes. In my opinion, art should make us uncomfortable; [quote]it’s only when we are uncomfortable that we are forced to delve deeper within ourselves to find the resources we need to understand and move forward. It should bring out parts of us we didn’t know we had. [/quote]To be fair, however, the term “art” is as broad as the term “science.” You don’t go around saying you majored in science; you say you majored in Organic Chemistry, or Biology. Art can be as broad as passive flowers on the wall, or feces in a can (“Artist’s Shit” by Piero Manzoni). I’m interested in creating work that is aesthetically and technically pleasing to the eye (much like Kehinde Wylie‘s work), but still challenges people conceptually. [quote]I say, if you can paint the figure well, don’t just paint the figure for the sake of the figure. You’re working with paint; do something creative with the paint. [/quote]That’s why I respect the work of Jenny Saville and Kent Williams. They are both very skilled painters of the human form, but they waste no time in removing the representational preciousness that so many classical painters guard with their lives.
My art should.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Have you yourself ever encountered paintings you have found personally too upsetting to remain in the room with?
Dorielle Caimi: The work that really upsets me, personally, is work that is safe. I like a good controversy, and I like to be challenged. I also usually can’t stand being in a room with art that copies art that has run its course. And I can’t stand art that I know in my heart was created merely to dick-around with an audience: B.S. art, the kind of art that people don’t really think through and throw haphazardly onto an audience. This kind of work is not cool to me, because people naturally want to analyze, reflect, and think about what’s in front of them. If the artist didn’t care to put any effort and forethought into the work, then why should the audience supply the afterthought?
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What questions do you want to explore next with your work?
Dorielle Caimi: I once went to an incredible feminist art show in Vancouver, B.C. and saw the works done by women artists from the 60’s-90’s. As fascinating as it was, most of it was hyper-sexualized and overly graphic (which was probably necessary for the times and their purposes). Women were using speculums in galleries, and displaying their innards to the world. The work by was mind-blowing and disturbing.
Dorielle Caimi: Some were less so, but altogether, what I took away from the show was, “Okay, women have vaginas. Very, very real vaginas. Thank you. Now where can I go from here?”
To enjoy more of Dorielle Caimi‘s work, please visit her website.
John Currin is an American painter. He is best known for satirical figurative paintings which deal with provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skillful manner.
Chuck Close is an American painter and photographer who achieved fame as a photorealist, through his massive-scale portraits.
Kehinde Wylie is a New York-based portrait painter known for his paintings of contemporary urban African, African-American, Afro-Brazilian, Indian and Ethiopian-Jewish men in heroic poses.
Jenny Saville is a contemporary British painter known for her large-scale nudes of fleshy women.
Kent Williams is an American painter and graphic novel artist.
Piero Manzoni is most famous for a series of artworks that call into question the nature of the art object. His work rejects normal artist’s materials, instead using everything from rabbit fur to human excrement in order to “tap mythological sources and to realize authentic and universal values.“
Carolee Schneemann is an American visual artist, known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender.
To learn more about Artimisia Gentileschi (July 8, 1593 – c.1656) who was an Italian Baroque painter, considered today one of the most accomplished painters in the generation after Caravaggio: