Muscle Movement

Note: See below to view the entire collection.

Using close-up photographs, Kauffman studies women’s bodies. In a series of muscle studies, she examines range of motion in the moving female figure, comparing skin textures – the smoothness of youth to the rich texture of old age – and skin colors – from pale white to deep black – in all their differing muscular abilities. Inspired in yoga class, Kauffman wondered what movement would look like if it left a mark on the skin. She began to investigate each joint of the body, bringing muscular sub-structures to light in surface configurations created by paint-drenched string. As the model moved, she painted lines and shapes on herself, designs of great beauty, reminiscent of tattoos or scarification, showing how muscles interact visually on their backs, fingers, necks, hands, wrists, knees, elbows and waists.

Contemplating the images that muscles create is a meditative act and has a healing fascination. As art historian Irina Costache, Ph.D. remarks:

Rejecting the archetypical objectified representation of women and the privileged role of the male gaze, Kauffman exposes the body not as a source of desire but as the originating point of empowerment….The body [is] a metaphor of self-reliance…Details of the muscles project a dimension of power and confidence. Reminiscent of Michelangelo’s anatomical sketches, these studies of movements are defined by traces of ink. Their presence originated as a performative act and articulate a visual vocabulary in which the represented, the woman, is no longer supplemental to the narrative, but, by aggressively taking charge, becomes a forceful participant in the production of meanings.*

These photographs take on a spiritual dimension. Whether the model is young or old, black or white, the images reveal how each person unknowingly creates beautiful designs and meanings throughout the day, as her body moves through space and time.

In new series, Kauffman has added self-reflective imagery with a seated meditation pose – a life-sized template taken from the artist’s body. The upside-down meditator, joined with the right-side up figure form an intriguing duality that incidentally creates an hourglass shape, a poignant symbol seen in the Hourglass series (Elbow, Finger, Neck and Waist). Other close-up combinations of abstract designs on the skin render new overall narrative patterns, as seen in Hand Polar Array, Self-Portrait: Hives, and Neck Story. Another series, Into the Light, allows the meditating figure to evolve and slowly disassemble into a Buddhist ideal of emptiness or void, meaning freedom from the ego and union with the divine.

Most of these works are large in a traditional Asian scroll configuration: seven to eight feet long and three to four feet wide, created with archival pigments and mixed media on two-hundred to three-hundred pound archival paper.

*Irina Costache,Ph.d., Catalogue essay, p. 2, Kaethe Kauffman: Honoring Women, published by AVU Gallery, The University of Prague, The Czech Republic

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