contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / January 2020

Kelly Reemtsen

Oil on panel
111,76 cm x 111,76 cm

The painting “Buzz” by Kelly Reemtsen, shows a woman in a delicate dusky pink summer dress in front of a white background. She is holding a chainsaw in her left hand. Besides the unusual combination of a fine feminine outfit and brachial tool, the chosen picture section is surprising. Depicted is only the body and a part of the legs; the neck and head are cut at the shoulders and the feet disappear under the lower image border. Thereby, the woman is anonymised and the onlooker is focused on the mentioned contrast in the illustration.

By her posture – the legs suggest a contrapposto – the woman appears in a dynamic position. This dynamic is underlined by the slightly upwards directed chainsaw. Nevertheless, she is stably anchored in the painting. This is firstly due to the cut-off body parts that fixes the figure between the top and the bottom image border. Moreover, the direction of movement is opposite to the reading direction of the contemplator who traditionally enters from the left edge. He/she follows the descending line of the sawing machine and leaves the image at the right lower border with the into the void dangling plug. Additionally, the orange colour of the line, which limits the female silhouette, is repeated by some orange lines in the structure of the white background. Thus, the dynamic of the female torso is thwarted. Content-related, the currentless electric tool underlines the pause.

All these elements stop the woman in the suggested movement. The spectator remains uncertain, if she already has used the chainsaw or if she gets ready to do so. Nothing in the painting suggests what she has done or will do with the tool. However, the attachment to the uncommon instrument is underlined by the bracelet, which repeats the structure and colours of the saw’s chain. Even the colours of the dress are replicated in it. Additionally, the orange silhouette line encloses the chainsaw partly. Woman and tool are one. Therefore, she carries the heavy tool one-handed with a certain ease, ready to do whatever she wants with it. This woman, even though she expresses her femininity by her clothes, has the power to direct her own way. She only pauses for an instant.

Kelly unites seeming contradictions and herewith questions traditional role expectations in a provocative manner. Due to social changes, automation of production processes and digitalisation the gender roles become increasingly obsolete. Woman have other opportunities than in the past. At the same time, femininity is pushed in advertising, film and social media. This might also create role conflicts. Nevertheless, the woman in the painting has resolved these problems. By the anonymization, she becomes a role model and hints to a reinterpretation of traditional perception of gender, power and femininity.


Kelly Reemtsen

Born in 1967 in Flint, Michigan, United States, Kelly Reemtsen first studied fashion design and fine arts at the Central Michigan University and the California State University Long Beach. Afterwards, she concentrated on painting with Michael Tracy and at Otis Parsons, LA. Later she learned printmaking at the Hee Sook Kim Studio and the Modern Multiples Fine Art Editions and deepened her knowledge in several workshops and residencies. The Royal Academy of London crowned this activity with the selection of one of her prints as lead image for the 2019 London Original Print Fair.

Kelly’s oeuvre varies from painting, pastels and different kinds of prints to sculpture. Many of her works reflect upon the traditional female role model and its evolution. In her pictorial representations, she equips feminine dressed women with handicraft devices. The influence of her early fashion design studies shines through robes and accessories of the protagonists: they are wearing fashionable designer dresses with fancy jewellery. Whereas the mostly carried tools might be innocent like a spade, but could be also huge hammers and hedge trimmers up to brachial chainsaws, as in our artwork of the month January 2020. To encourage women, her role models are depicted as anonymous torsos, with which everyone can identify.

Her earlier sculptures were enlarged pills and capsules. She treated them as design accessories, likewise fashionable jewellery. Moreover, they hint to the later tools in her images: “You know, you’re not feeling well, you have a headache – you take an aspirin. If you need to cut down a tree, you use a chainsaw…”*. In 2015, Kelly created a series of oversized lipsticks with the title “Fuck the System”. The crushed make-up pens seem to be a statement for female rebellion against the traditional assignment. Similar to her pictorial development from former painted design chairs to strong female figures, she translated her questioning about gender, power and femininity in her sculptural oeuvre.

Directly after her studies, Kelly started to participate in numerous group exhibitions, mainly in the United States, likewise her earlier solo exhibitions. Meanwhile her works were also represented in Europe, for example in Belgium, Denmark, France and most recently in London with her show “Fix It” at Lyndsey Ingram. Her works are part of several collections in the United States and abroad.

Kelly lives and works in Los Angeles.