Monday, April 2, 2012

Girl/girl paintings by Lisa Yuskavage

Green Onions

It was S in Vancouver who introduced me to the paintings of American artist Lisa Yuskavage and given the number of girl/girl paintings in her work we felt that they would sit more happily in this blog than in Venus Observations.

Heart 96-97 from the Big blondes series

A strange mix of Penthouse magazine, Japanese Manga, Balthus, Kewpie dolls, children's book illustrations, Frank Frazetta and even Edward Hopper, her sexualised women are, according to her, a "far out extension" of male sex fantasies.


She came to fame in the mid-nineties with a series of pictures called big blondes.  Her slightly slutty looking women from this series  sprawl, squat, smoke or masturbate.  

Her peculiar, boneless looking women have the sort of outrageously fleshy bodies that Frank Frazetta's fantasy babes possess and her handling of their doll-like faces often mirror Frazetta's abstracted features.  They also tend to have the same distended bellies and tiny, snub noses.

 Disheveled Blonde 1999

It's easy to spot the inspiration for many of these paintings.  Disheveled blonde is modelled directly on a photograph of February 1974 Penthouse Pet of the Month Beatrice Vogler.  This 12" x 10" picture done with gouache, watercolour and chalks sold at Christies New York last November for $37,500.

Similarly, this one is based on a photograph of April 1973 Penthouse Pet Leslie Burrow.

True Blonde 1999

Finally, from this series, this painting is modeled on a picture of Miss September 1970 in Penthouse, Tina McDowell.  This picture, with its Hopper-like lighting effects, is the closest to the source picture but they all contain a certain amount of anatomical abstraction and distortion.

 Farm House (Pamet Road) 2007

Some of her more recent paintings of women are more explicit than the big blondes series with strangely disturbing young faces on mature and curvy bodies with cunts displayed provocatively like stills from a Japanese hentai film.

Island (2009)

Untitled 2010

Her paintings featuring two girls often bring a potent mix of innocence and sensuality, all in her striking colour palettes.

In this one the girl on the left, whilst munching on the nonchalantly presented grapes, gazes up at the other girl as if expecting to be scolded...or rewarded. 

 Lupe and Lola II (2007)

Lupe and Lola seems to feature the perennial favourite of the older woman and the younger girl.  The girl presents her leg which the woman gently caresses.

Theresa and Lauren

Yuskavage started to draw as a young girl and always produced images of nude people.  Originally from Philadelphia but now based in new York, she studied at tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia and Yale.

Although she uses models and photographs, as we have seen, she often sculpts figures in order to examine the way the light falls on them for her paintings.

Interestingly, in many of her paintings of two women they don't face each other but are posed in front of each other.  It means that one figure often appears to be initiating intimate contact from behind in an almost furtive way.

Some of the contact is more tender than sexual and certainly is not informed by any male erotic viewpoint.  We thought that perhaps she was a lesbian but she is, in fact, married to New York artist Matvey Levenstein.

Aristocrats (2007)

Pond (2007)

Pond and Aristocrats use virtually the same pose, with the girl at the rear squeezing the front girls breast and letting one probing finger slide down towards her labia.  These pictures have an element of dare to them as if they have been caught in flagrante and are saying: "Look, look what we are doing!".

Latterly, her work has been on a much bigger scale, exemplified by her triptych which measures eighteen feet across.

 Triptych (2011)

Women in different scales inhabit a strange landscape.  The left hand panel contains a typical Yuskavage nymphet, knickers revealed between her curvaceous buttocks, sucking on a lollipop and wearing another Yuskavage favourite, stripy socks.

When viewed in conjunction with the central panel you realise the strange things going on with scale that viewing the paintings separately would not reveal.

In the central panel, an anonymous, faceless girl in a dress spreads her legs to reveal her bald pussy. Descending the hills in the background more out of scale women, dressed as Russian peasant,s approach the girl ominously.

Yuskavage divides the critics between those who admire her technique and the fact that she is producing oil paintings that subvert the classic idea of the female nude and others say that if the paintings were by a man the reaction would be quite different. Of course the fact that they are very commercial (one recently sold for a million dollars) counts against her too.

Personally we quite like some of them without actually thinking that they are really very good art.  For Triple P the Frazetta-style of the bodies forces it more into the arena of commercial illustration and there is nothing wrong with that but we feel her supporters are boosting her importance more than she merits.


  1. I like it! It is a bit commercial, but it's really quite lovely.

  2. "For Triple P the Frazetta-style of the bodies forces it more into the arena of commercial illustration and there is nothing wrong with that but we feel her supporters are boosting her importance more than she merits."
    Sorry but this is a very weak opinion - "More than she merits..???" Tell me why! Her vision is miles beyond Frazetta whose beautifully illustrative imagery focused on the female form and acts involving sex -- This womans compositions are uniquely female and a part of that involves charged sexuality -- Pretty hot! And she is a decent colorist.

  3. I like the colours as you say but for me they are too illustrative in style to be fine art. I still like them though.