You already know Lindsay as my partner in art and fun, but now you can get to know her as our September artist in the gallery. Megan and I had the pleasure of turning the tables on her by interviewing Lindsay in her home studio.
Duplex: Tell us about this body and how is it different than your previous work?
Lindsay Jordan Kretchun: This was inspired by a Chaucer poem, The Legend of Good Women. It goes through nine different fabled or historic, depending on what your definition of history might be, tales of women in Greek and Roman mythology. You’ve got characters such as Cleopatra, being the most well known, to Medea and Thisbe for example. Each one is a complicated and complex story of love, betrayal and often death.
It is a departure in the way that I work because of the clear narratives behind it. My figures are similar in that they were feral, disappearing bodies on paper. I think of these as more illustrative, since they contain elements from the specific narrative. This is also due to that fact that I’ve done more illustration work, I am playing between what I do during the day and what I do to make paintings. They blend, they are getting more graphic, getting more line and there is more drawing involved. But the familiar female figure is still there in their playful sexual, manic, or in rapture state. I love making drawings of women in euphoria, as in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, in transverberation or religious ecstasy. Sometimes they come in the form of characters from myth, showgirls or as child wildlings.
D: What about this piece of literature pulled you to do a series based around it?
LJK: I was interested in this particular collection of stories because the way it is presented, Chaucer’s tone it is a little jolly and is written in iambic pentameter, giving it a buoyant quality. When he says the “legend”, does that mean a good woman is a myth or are these just tales of good women? Is the good woman foiled by the ‘bad man’? Within each story, what makes the woman good? Is it her fidelity to her husband, her lover, her country or her purity? Or is it her sacrifice to love or in some cases her bravery? There are all these weird ideas about womanhood and what classifies a woman as a noble being and worthy of honor and storytelling. Most of these women come from lineage, so is it the bloodline that makes them good? Is it their families? The title of it caught me, what makes me a good woman? Or a person? Are those different things? It spoke to me in that sense.
I recalled these poems, did a little bit more research. It’s not his best or most popular work, so there is very little information about why Chaucer wrote them, at least I couldn’t find much. It’s this tongue-in-cheek philosophy and I think the idea of the legend, the idea that they don’t exist, or they only existed in this time. That sort of sparked my curiosity.
I do a lot of self-portraiture in all of my paintings. They are not an exact likeness to myself, but I paint from a personal space. I chose to base this work on a piece of literature because I needed parameters. This poem was such an epiphany. It’s got nine characters, it’s inspiring and it’s got hidden motive in the language and in plot. I’m also drawn to dark tales, and where better to look that Greek and Roman mythology?
D: You work primarily in watercolor washes, what is your process for making these paintings?
LKJ: Ink and watercolor on paper has always suited me. Watercolor on paper can be unforgiving, there is little room for cover-ups and changes, and so I’m constantly learning to plan ahead. I start with a sketch of the figure and the other elements on tracing paper to work out placement, and from there I can transfer it onto the paper. After a rough sketch I’ll lay in the watercolor, layer by layer. There is a fine line to walk with this medium and the way I tend to use it, you can easily ruin a painting by adding one layer too many. So, I try to use less paint than I think, and that’s when it seems to work best. I add in the darker washes and line work at the very end. I also pay more attention to details like that eyes and hands than other parts of the body. I like that subtle sneering in the mouths. Sometimes I capture it in paintings and other times I am a total failure, but that moment when you can get that right kind of sneer, its like the portrait has a secret.
D: You said you use yourself as a model; do you see yourself in a particular tale more than another? Do you pick up on a shared personality trait?
LJK: Maybe there are some I find more fascinating than others. I like Medea and Philomela. Philomela was assaulted by her brother-in-law, who also cut off her tongue to prevent her from saying anything. So she wove a tapestry to illustrate what had happened to her and gave it to her sister, who then killed her own son and fed him to her husband out of revenge. The sisters fled and prayed to the gods who turned them into the swallow and the nightingale. Medea is a sorceress who helped Jason obtain the Golden Fleece. Maybe I actually felt more connected to the vengeful ones, not succumbing to the pressure to be the good woman. That is my 21st century opinion. Admiring women who had a “fuck this” spirit about them. Or maybe that is my skeptic personality coming through and not my romantic side?
D: How many times did you read the poem?
LJK: It took a few and to be totally frank, I didn’t always get it. There is so much background involved in each story. I had to do a lot other research about each to find the framework for Chaucer’s version.
D: This is the story about the labyrinth?
LJK: Yes, this is one of my favorites. It’s the story about Ariadne, Theseus, the Minotaur, and the labyrinth. She leads her lover through the maze to help him defeat the Minotaur with a ball of string.
D: Do you use iconography for all of these works?
LJK: Yes, I wanted to keep them in portraiture, icon-painting style. Because we are talking about these fabled figures and how they might be portrayed as martyrs. That’s how all the poems are titled: Lucretia, the martyr of Rome. I wanted to keep that same quality to them. They are the above the waist, a halo of hair encompassing, framed by the textures and animal elements.
D: Did you use any visual descriptions of the women in the poems?
LJK: You know, I would look at classic paintings and most are depicted in very Neo-Classical manner, ample breasts, billowy dresses, swooning posture. For the last 7 years, I have painted mostly figures of women. Sometimes there is a male figure in the composition, but the power comes from the female. They are always a little bit silly and more rapturous than passive, but I’m also inspired by the gestures of Ingres’ women.
D: How did you make decisions about the hairstyle?
LJK: I thought of them as crowns, or halos of saints. Many had been depicted with ivory skin and with shining golden hair, except Medea, she was dark eyed with dark hair. I wanted to remove that decision of hair color or shape and unify them at the same time. At times, they might be more akin to the headdresses of Vegas showgirls in my mind.
D: There is a wide range of good women. The one who kills herself for honor and the ones that kill their kids for honor.
LJK: There is no overarching theme. A lot of them had to do with love; maybe that was the only thread. What they were performing was an act of devotion to their lovers or their own honor, so what does female honor mean? I tend to ask more questions than I do to resolve them.
D: What do you want your audience to get out of this show?
LJK: Initially, I want the viewer to be attracted to the work because there is a very illustrative quality. I want it to be dark, funny, sexual and dirty but at the same time defiant and graceful. It doesn’t matter if people know the stories behind each piece, but knowing the idea of the poem is speaking about femininity and female aggression. Though they take a humorous turn, it is no comment on the subject itself, it just tends to be the direction I take. I don’t take any of my paintings too seriously, as accurate depictions of these women or myth, but it is definitely a way for me to explore broader themes.
D: It looks like you are doing some sort of mudra with the hands, did you pick those deliberately?
LJK: No, but it always came back to very Neo-Classic depictions, in these paintings they always have gentle hands. Even when they are in action, their hands seem soft and graceful. I am fascinated by gentle hands and stiffness and posturing. It is a combination between the hand gestures of saints and these ballet type hands. They are in these dramatic moments, but their hands are so relaxed.
D: Are you going to include the poem in the show?
LJK: I’ll name them after their source poem, but other than that I won’t include the poem itself for people to read. Like most myths, these are stories with countless interpretations. I’m still not sure how many of these women existed or to what degree their story accurately depicts the real figure it’s based on. That’s kind of fascinating to me too. They are part of moral codes, warning and tales of violence and cruelty towards people and women. But also the undying nature of good women. I don’t even know if good is the right word. Good might be righteous or obedient, or someone who made history, a difference or changed something.
D: What do you think is next for you?
LJK: I have always been interested in fairy tale and folklore, so I am kind of curious if I can take other female characters and make them resonate in some other way and not just depicting them in their story. I just did a piece based on Goldilocks. It is not a direct reflection of the story, but it does capture a little bit of the origin of the story and my interpretation and also my whims as I work through the painting. I think I will continue on doing these in some sort of fashion after the nine in this series.
D: Will you continue with this portrait style?
LJK: I think I might for a while; I really like the roundness of the portrait, the focus on the figure. I have never been interested or very good at backgrounds. I tend to think that if I am not really interested in painting it, then I don’t really need to, like extraneous information or clutter. The void is where I seem to be the most comfortable