Some artists make art about art. Some artists make art about life. I fall into the latter category. I make art about my life experiences as a large middle-aged matron. I also carry on a conversation with art history by incorporating the works of the artists of the past into my work. Their works are painted into mine to compare and contrast their lives and artistic purposes with my life and artistic purposes. Where they might present images of women for purposes of form, of decoration and of sexual fantasy, I present myself as I am, usually without clothing.
Making self-portraits without clothing has been a means for accepting myself as I am. Exposing the image of my large-sized body to the world is also a challenge to a society that defines and evaluates woman based upon her appearance. It further challenges the “fat slob” stereotypes applied to all people of size. Sizable people are no more stupid, lazy, undisciplined, sick, slovenly, or ugly than the population as a whole. Emphasizing my conception of beauty in these paintings is my way of negating such stereotypes.
My self-portraits are also a means for asserting my professional ambitions as an artist. To demonstrate the seriousness of those ambitions I have taken my clothes off to paint my mirror image in the work environment of the studio and the domestic environment of my home. I have also painted clothed self-portraits with the accumulation of previous paintings and studio paraphernalia depicted within the paintings. These objects have a direct relationship to my life’s experiences or concerns. With strategies such as these, I contradict the usual view of women in terms of her appearance or relationships to others by asserting myself as a woman who knows what she wants personally and professionally.
My self-portraits are presentations of a reality of meaning as carried by my body. The experience of my reality is that I am simultaneously hyper-visible and invisible. This is the result of a media-defined notion regarding women’s bodies which communicates a contempt for any female body, which does not conform to the current fashion. The constant judgment of my large body produces the hyper-visibility. The belittlement of my value based not only upon my size, but also upon my age produces the paradox of my invisibility. And, as I grow older, my invisibility becomes greater.
In presenting my body as it is, the demand upon the viewer is to look beyond media-driven superficialities of size, age, or social relationships to perceive something of the person inhabiting it. I am a person who transcends the stereotypes of fatness, gender and age to function on my own behalf as an artist with all the skills, discipline and intellect that requires. Look at me. This who I am.
Statement courtesy of Davida Schulman
Illinois State University (1992-1996)
Northeastern Illinois University (1970-1971)
University of Illinois at Chicago (1964-1969)
Artist-in-Residence, Hungarian Multicultural Center, Lake Ballaton, Hungary (2004)
Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT, USA (1999)