Through Her Body, an exhibition of figurative works by artist and Sweet Briar alumna Anne Doolittle, is currently on view at the Anne Gary Pannell Gallery at Sweet Briar College through Nov. 25. The public is invited to meet the artist on Saturday, Sept. 19 from 1 to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20 from 1 to 4 p.m. The Pannell Gallery is open on Mon. through Thurs. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment.
The exhibition depicts the female figure in various interpretations to demonstrate the progression through the phases of a woman’s life and what each one represents. The size of these full-scale women is meant to affirm the wholeness of a woman’s body as the location of her spirit. Drawn and painted on a variety of paper, including newsprint and brown butcher paper, the figures command the pictorial and gallery space. Several are larger than life. The focal point and setting of each figure shift as one moves through the gallery: Some women’s arms and face are accentuated while others show a brightly colored full body or broad view of the nude back.
“Transcending is what these pieces talk about,” says Doolittle. “The physical body is there, but a transition takes place towards awareness and understanding of how our physical being shapes how we travel in the world. It’s almost like peacemaking with our body. To me, that is a significant aspect of maturity.”
“The first images appear in a time and place. They have settings in a way the others don’t, and they show a historical woman emerging,” says Doolittle. “Simmering in the back of my mind when doing the first figures in the series, was the participation of women of color in the suffragist movement. Depicting these figures with truncated arms spoke to me of awareness and strength.”
“Next, she transitions to almost being entirely body, representing the totality of who she is and how the physical being is the housing for her spirit. She encounters the world through her physical experience,” Doolittle continues. “The colorful, Cubist-inspired work with two intertwined figures speaks to the bond of friendship. I was in a large studio with a live model who took a standing pose. I would leave the paper and walk around her then return to the paper to add a piece of her body. To me, what they’re doing with their bodies is exuberant. There is a oneness at the center of that image. You can’t tell who is who.”
The pieces at the end of the exhibition complete the woman’s progression. “The monumental figures at the end remind me of female fertility figures, mother figures. With this progression, the woman represents a deep universal transcendence,” she says.
For Doolittle, who graduated from Sweet Briar in 1978, the College was a place where she could discover herself and work unhindered. She found the natural environment to be safe and comfortable. As an English and creative writing major, she took art classes as electives every semester. “When I took a figure drawing class with live models in the studio, it turned into my first love. Another significant art class was on design where we learned primarily about color, based on the theory and work of Josef Albers. Sweet Briar is the birthplace of my love of the figure and working with color.”
For more information on the exhibitions and art galleries at Sweet Briar College, visit sbc.edu/art-galleries.