Fragmented Femininity

In contemporary Illustration textbooks, the depiction of fragmented gender and femininity is often discussed as a trend (Wigan, 2006, p. 36). On the other hand, according to researchers like Gauntlett perception of self-identity is unified (Gauntlett 2008, p. 266). He challenges the postmodernist views of identities being fragmented, and he shows that in visual representation, most people portray their identity as “one thing” (Gauntlett 2008, p. 269). I set to find some examples of fragmented feminine depiction.

First, I examined the work of Anna Higgie. She creates illustrations of womanly forms interrupted by geometric shapes and graphic patterns. Higgie combines traditional medium like ink, pencil, watercolour, with digital techniques. I was drawn by the cinematic mood, the monochromatic palette and the juxtaposition of fine art drawings with abstract geometric elements. It creates a feeling of feminine vulnerability, hidden behind the digital patterns. These pictures can be viewed as portraits of the modern woman and her fragmented life experiences, of which feminist authors like June Hannam write.

Anna Higgie,  Dolor EP , 2012. www.annahiggie.co.uk

Anna Higgie, Dolor EP, 2012. www.annahiggie.co.uk

Anna Higgie,  Designs for murals in rooms 103 & 104 of ACE London , 2013. www.annahiggie.co.uk

Anna Higgie, Designs for murals in rooms 103 & 104 of ACE London, 2013. www.annahiggie.co.uk

Next, I explored the work of Hungarian designer Anna Kövecses. I was fascinated with the playful way she combines photos with illustrations. This technique enhances the narrative by adding a layer of additional meaning in the composition. Her work has a deceptively naive style, featuring simple figures and bright colors. However, the layouts are carefully arranged in a knowledgeable and thoughtful manner. In my personal work, I usually draw a clear distinction between my design works and my illustrations. Merging the two disciplines can lead to interesting results, as these images by Kovecses show. 

Unlike the examples above, my works represent things in a realistic manner. I would like to experiment more with interrupting the flow by use of geometry or photo collage.

Anna Kovecses,  Aritzia , 2013. www.behance.net/annakovecses

Anna Kovecses, Aritzia, 2013. www.behance.net/annakovecses

References

Gauntlett, D. 2008, Media, gender and identity: an introduction, New;1;2; edn, Routledge, London.

Wigan, M. 2006, Thinking visually, AVA, Lausanne.

Laura Callaghan Quotes

Laura Callaghan is a London-based illustrator. Her images caught my eye with the expressive use of patterns and color. She incorporates fashion and surface design influences in her work. Her characters are strong, sophisticated women, who love literature. I was intrigued by her process and researched more information about it. Below are excerpts from various interviews.

Laura Callaghan,  The Pink Room . www.lauracallaghanillustration.com

Laura Callaghan, The Pink Room. www.lauracallaghanillustration.com

Laura Callaghan,  for NYLON-magazine . www.lauracallaghanillustration.com

Laura Callaghan, for NYLON-magazine. www.lauracallaghanillustration.com

First, Laura approaches a brief or editorial comission by researching and collating reference images. She uses Pinterest to create her mood boards.

I’m not someone who draws out lots of thumbnails, I’m too impatient so usually dive straight in to sketching and figure out layout and composition by trial and error.
— Laura Callaghan, MagCulture, 2015.

I found this quote particularly relevant to my own practice where I rarely sketch or plan complete compositions. Usually, I draw various elements on paper separately and then I assemble them in Adobe Illustrator using a trial and error method and intuitive placement. 

Laura creates an authentic feel to her images by imagining a backstory.

My illustrations are very characters-based, so I always begin with an idea of who that person might be, their back story or mood - it keeps things interesting for me and I think it adds to the final atmosphere of a piece. I try to cram as many details as possible into an illustration: photographs, handwritten notes, hidden details and clues about the characters that occupy them. It makes the viewer look closely at the image and perhaps come up with a back story of their own.
— Laura Callaghan, www.thelesigh.com, 2013.

On the question, why she draws only women, she replies:

Women inspire me and I relate to women, so for me they make the most interesting subjects. When it comes to narrative work, the stories I want to tell are from a female perspective. I think ample space is given to male stories and characters within comics and illustration and I don’t really feel a need to contribute to that.
— Laura Callagan, thehundreds.com, 2015

 Callaghan keeps an active online presence and she often is contacted by art directors, who first noted her work online. 

Inspiration Carol Rossetti

In my search of contemporary illustrations that challenge the established views of femininity, I came across the work of Carol Rossetti.  Rossetti offers an empathic view on women's body and identity issues. She draws inspiration from a wide variety of stories and topics like  LGBTQ identity, body image, ageism, racism, sexism and ableism (Identities Mic 2014). The Women Project series struck a global attention with thousands of followers. A group of Israeli feminists translated the illustrations in Hebrew. 

Carol Rossetti, The Women project, 2014. www.carolrossetti.com.br

Carol Rossetti, The Women project, 2014. www.carolrossetti.com.br

Rossetti cleverly combines typography with simple pencil drawings to deliver these powerful messages. It is a goal of mine to incorporate more handwriting into my own illustrations, to enhance their content. I was impressed by the range of work Rosetti created, from light, humorous topics to dark themes like rape. Invariably she employs identical visual style in these works. I have always been interested in how the style of an image affects the meaning that is conveyed. To find illustrations that can elicit laugh or sorrow while using the same visual style is a revelation to me.

Inspiration Polly Nor

The concept of the "male gaze" and "female gaze" was first discussed by British art critic John Berger in his essays Ways of Seeing (Berger 1972). Later feminist writer Laura Mulvey (Mulvey, 1975) reinforces this concept claiming that in cinema the camera gaze is “male” due to the male perspective of filmmakers. I wanted to find how contemporary artists challenge the male gaze and I came across the daring and humorous illustrations of Polly Nor.

London-based artist Polly Nor challenges the image of the objectified woman, created by pornography and intended for male pleasure. In her interview for Dazed magazine (Dazed 2015), she states:

“I am questioning the ubiquitous male vision (of women),” she tells us, offering instead an “alternative view on sexuality, relationships and emotions from a modern-day female perspective.” - Polly Nor, Dazed 2015
Polly Nor,  Babe You Are Going To Be Fine , 2015. www.pollynor.com

Polly Nor, Babe You Are Going To Be Fine, 2015. www.pollynor.com

Polly Nor,  Trust Nobody , 2015. www.pollynor.com

Polly Nor, Trust Nobody, 2015. www.pollynor.com

Nor is inspired by “funny texts, angry tweets, memes and selfies” (Dazed 2015). Most of her work is self-directed. Her process begins on paper, where she implements her visions into hand drawings and then she colours digitally in nude and pastel hues.

Sexuality is a common subject matter in her artwork, depicted in satirical and light tone. The devil creature in her images represents the dark side of her characters, Nor explains.

Nor's work differs from mine, both in the way she represents the feminine role and her bold, comic-like style of drawing. While I use botanical, floral elements to create idealised feminine compositions, Nor is not afraid to show the flaws of her characters in domestic scenes. Sometimes the characters escape into a wild, tropical world which signifies the inner savage feminine desire.

Polly Nor,  It Never Happened , 2015. www.pollynor.com

Polly Nor, It Never Happened, 2015. www.pollynor.com

References

Berger, J. 1972, Ways of seeing, Penguin, London.

Mulvey, L. 1975, Visual pleasure and narrative cinema, Screen, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 6-18.