Spanish Artist Elena Gual Empowers Female Bodies With First Solo Show In The United States
Elena Gual GOD IS A WOMAN 200 x 150 cm oil on canvas 78,74″ x 59,05″
Her long dark hair tucked behind her shoulders, her arms outstretched alongside her body, a tanned nude woman walks toward the viewer, her right foot leading in a theatrical stride. Two nude women with similar complexions kneel to her right, the one closest to her extends her torso and supports the other woman casually resting her forehead on her shoulder. To the central figure’s left, a Black woman kneels to face and gaze to the viewer’s left, showcasing her elegant profile and long hair. A voluptuous light-skinned woman reclines on her right side, propping up her upper body with elbow and forearm, in front of the Black woman. The poses combine to form a pyramid, highlighting the array of their skin tones, postures, and body types, against an earthy red background.
God Is A Woman, a large-scale oil on canvas, occupies the back wall of Voltz Clarke Gallery in New York City’s Lower East Side, a thriving arts neighborhood that clings to the grit of its 1980s downtown heyday. On view through September 18, The Imperfect Perfect features works created specifically for Spanish artist Elena Gual’s first solo exhibition in the United States, hosted by Spain-based Gallery RED. An eclectic crowd including celebrities, artists, fashion designers, financiers, socialites, and collectors, gathered Wednesday night for the opening, generating buzz in the U.S. and building the overseas momentum from last year’s sold-out debut in London.
“I guess it’s going to sound clichéd, but we are all one, kind of the same. What I wanted to portray is that even though the five women look so different, they’re still leaning on each other and holding each other,” Gual told me during a walkthrough. “The one in the center projects the voice of the others, and that’s what I wanted to portray.”
Born 1994 in Mallorca, Gual began painting when she was three years old and trained as a classical painter in the traditional style of the Old Masters at the Florence Academy of Art. She went on to study at Central Saint Martins, a public tertiary art school in London, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where she honed her palette knife technique, depicting her subjects with thick impasto brushstrokes of homemade oil paint.
Gual’s figures appear almost sculptural, the ample strokes protruding from the smooth, textured backgrounds, where shading is the final accent that adds dimension. This technique imbues Gual’s oeuvre, which spans portraiture, landscapes, and abstraction, with emotion that draws in the viewer and compels a careful exploration of every layer and element.
The Imperfect Perfect subverts Instagram-era constructs of femininity and beauty by promoting body positivity, presenting an array of female body types on a continuum. The exhibition is a collaboration with NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association), the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders.
Gallery RED founder Drew Aaron, a U.S. entrepreneur and art collector (along with his wife, Czech model Hana Soukupová) who represents the artist exclusively worldwide, underscored the importance of overcoming harmful social media stereotypes.
“I had the idea of what I wanted to paint back in December of last year, because there were a lot of issues going on with my friends’ sisters being anorexic and a lot of issues that I saw happening on Instagram with body image,” said Gual. “I thought, oh my god, I really want to speak up on behalf of these people and just create a body image that equalizes all of us.”
Ritual I and Ritual II hang alongside each other, depicting the same woman standing nude, one facing the viewer while latching her hands behind her back and extending her left foot forward crossed over the right, the other exposing her back as she grasps her right shoulder with her left hand and tilts her hips to the left, her right heel peeled off the ground.
The lush blue background evokes the Mediterranean Sea. Gual chose an experienced artist’s model to pose for these empowering portraits that exude confidence and vigor.
Mirror I and Mirror II, a pair of portraits of five standing women against a sea foam green background, were damaged while being transported overseas and Gual repainted them ahead of last night’s opening. God Is A Woman was originally the final work created in the series. The shading below the women’s feet emphasizes their grounding, their stability, and their fierce positioning as women.
“I wanted those pieces to be in conversation with each other,” said Gual. “It’s been really tough for people to see us (women) as equals, and I just thought it would be very nice to have these mirror each other.”
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