Joan Semmel


oil crayon and collage on paper
20 3/4 x 30 1/8 inches

I came to figuration because of its content, because I can say things with figuration that I can’t say abstractly. I can get the impact that I need. But my love is still the paint; it’s always about paint for me. – Joan Semmel

Semmel layers the politicized history of the female form onto her own nude body, which she often depicts from her own vantage point. The radicalism of her work — particularly in the context of the 1970s art world — came from this point of view, as the angle of her body does not flatter but bares truth to how she sees her own form. Semmel’s body and sexuality fill the frame. Foreshortened and headless, her figure recalls the work of classical painters, yet her curves and musculature lack the idealization often associated with art historical nudes. This study for the painting Night Light (the final work is one of three by the artist in MoMA’s collection) lacks the sensuous pastels usually seen in paintings of the female body, as Semmel prefers a bolder palette and more expressionistic brushstrokes. One of the seminal figures in the feminist art groups and political movements of the 1970s, her work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions and can be found in prominent museum collections throughout the US.