Danielle Orchard’s art revolves around the female body. Largely eschewing politics, she focuses rather on lineage, fitting her representations into a larger body of work on the female form that dates back to ancient times. While her style is deliberately influenced by male artists who came before her, the eye she turns to her subject matter is infused with an understanding that can only be gained through self-knowledge and first-hand experience.
“Mother’s Magazines,” Orchard’s second solo show at Jack Hanley Gallery, is populated by women in deep repose. Either alone or with a partner, these women can be found stretched out in nature, by the pool, in the tub or in the boudoir. Cigarettes, wine and other symbolic objects accompany them.
“Mermaids” (2019), depicts a pair of topless, grounded mermaids who unabashedly look directly at the viewer. Brushed in pleasing shades of green, blue and nude with face and body features drawn from the works of Matisse and Picasso, these mermaids lounge against each other surrounded by cigarette butts and a half-empty jug of wine whose remaining contents spill into the sea.
In a 2018 interview with Greenpointers, Orchard explained her use of cigarettes and alcohol in her work, “I think of a cigarette as a way to escape a crowd, or to join a crowd … Other times I think about cigarettes pertaining to just bad decision making … I also think about the cigarettes as a duration. If you think about them burning down, that’s how long that figure will be in that pose.” She added, “There are a lot of booze bottles in the paintings too. It’s not about substance abuse, however, but about impulse.” In “Mermaids,” the cigarettes have already burned down and the booze has already been tipped over, leaving the viewer to wonder what were these two creatures up to before I happened to lock eyes with them.
“Like That Matisse in Palm Springs” (2019), also presents an aquatic setting, but this time a woman rests alone in the corner of a man-made pool. Here the wine sits upright on dry land at the edge of the pool, while the naked figure rests sunken in the water. A cigarette is lit by her breast. Our viewpoint through the water causes the figure’s left leg to look detached, smartly referencing Matisse’s famous collage work.
“Bird Bath” (2019), is an enjoyable departure from Orchard’s usual work. Small in scale and lacking a human figure, this well-composed and colored painting feature a small bird taking a drink of water. In the bath can be seen as the bird’s reflection and an extinguished cigarette, which takes on new meaning in this setting. The cigarette can no longer be simply associated with the passage of time or bad decision making in a vacuum, it is now linked to a larger context with consequences that reach beyond human life.
“Bra Strap” (2019), contains an additional element of voyeurism. We are not the only ones to be watching as the Matisse and Beckman inspired subject adjusts her bra strap. Inside a white frame, reminiscent of an iPad, another woman looks on, too. Is it a depiction of the same woman at another point in time? It is unclear, but one can see that she is comfortably strapless. More than the other works, there is something knowingly female about the conceptualization of this painting.
While many modern and contemporary women artists have chosen to make the female body a site for feminist analysis or action, Danielle Orchard has taken a different tack. In the same 2018 interview with Greenpointers she remarked, “I have all of these photographs of Neolithic sculptures on my wall as a reminder that the impulse to represent the female body is not new, but rather incredibly ancient and essential. It doesn’t have to be negative or corrective. To me, that is just another way to pigeonhole you as a woman artist, and a way of people telling you what your work is about. However, one of the reasons you make the work is to communicate something and get insight into what you’re making that’s beyond yourself. It’s a beautifully complex exchange.” In the sea of naked women out in the world, Danielle Orchard seeks to add something pure and essential to the water.
Jan 30 – March 1, 2020
Jack Hanley Gallery
327 Broome St.
New York, NY 10002