The women in Fraleigh's paintings are originally from paintings by Baroque and Rococo masters such as Jacob Jordaens, Francois Boucher and Francois Lemoyne. These were artists whose great themes were pleasure, beauty and abundance; hints of refusal, fear or coercion would only spoil the party. So in Boucher's The Rape of Europa, Europa is serene and acquiescent perched atop her abductor. Elsewhere, the viewers sit in for Actaeon, free to enjoy the sight of a naked Diana without fear of reprisal.
The original myths, licentious as they may have been, are here replaced with myths even more unlikely and, in their way, more domineering: Affirmations of total compliance and availability, of fulfilled desires and uncontested supremacy. Fraleigh's work lifts these women (and they are almost exclusively women) out of their assigned roles and resettles them in less limited surroundings.
One-time attendants, bathers or symbols of fertility now inhabit abstract fields of color. Swaths of oil paint and screens of gold leafobscure their bodies. Free of context, of narrative constraints, of salacious bulls and leering satyrs, they are less iconic and more human. Their glances and gestures take on a confidential manner no longer accessible to the viewer. Their desires turn inward. But even stripped of history painting’s theatrical and symbolic conventions, Fraleigh's canvases retain their monumental scale and physicality. Voluptuous bodies give way to voluptuous paint. The violence of the old myths is sublimated into whirls of layered and saturated color.
On view through Jan. 3, 2015.
3901 Main St.
Houston, TX 77002
Admission is free.
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