Forrest Solis takes a meditative look at maturation in her new solo exhibition at Galleri Urbane. The figure painter mashes up early 20th century etiquette books with contemporary oil paintings of young women and pairs them together on canvas in her new Self and Sex Series: What A Young Woman Ought To Know. Solis, who is a new mother and a college art educator, has been grappling with the meaning of transition, specifically from adolescence into young adult and then womanhood.
Her paintings explore that progression by comparing the literature's quirky, out-of-date ideals with charmingly realistic portraits of non-age specific young women performing life's mundane tasks. This contrast-rich pairing of old and new, acrylic and oil, taught and learned, search the validity and sources of what it means to be a modern woman.
In "Good Costumes For Bathing" young girls are warned not to swim in the presence of "pleasure seekers." The message conveyed is to wear bathing tights, avoid any instance where men would leer at you and never, ever do anything publicly that you wouldn't tell your mother about. While tiny threads of wisdom are stitched into the otherwise absurd text, the majority of it has no educational value for a modern beach-goer. So while her muse is painted below, peacefully sunbathing in color-soaked two-piece, you wonder when and how our society has changed its ideals regarding modesty and what, if any, advice would be doled out to a young woman on the topic.
"Canning Fruit" tells women that their place is not to build a house but to turn it into a home, an act that will strengthen the world and "build up men." To the right we see her modern woman ladling dinner in a dutch oven, still providing the nurturing services employed by the dated texts. She doesn't smile or appear sad; it's just a peek into the young woman's world. Is she mentally drafting a proposal for work as she checks the consistency of the dinner? Possibly. The size of the pot and the accompanying smaller pan imply that this is a meal to feed several people so she's likely cooking for her family, but is that all she can offer to strengthen the world?
The series is a fun look at hand-me-down knowledge and an interesting assessment of generational divide. Lessons on purity and enrichment that could have held true 80 years ago no longer sum up the vexing question: What does it mean to become a woman and how will I know when I've achieved it? Solis leaves us to search for our own answers while also giving us what every girl wants: pretty pictures to look at while we figure this life stuff out.
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