“The Lives of Girls and Women,” a new exhibit by Jeanette Demeestère, opens Saturday, August 6, at the Chilmark library. Ms. Demeestère divides her time between Paris and Chilmark. The title for her show comes from Nobel prizewinner Alice Munro’s 1971 short-story cycle.
The artist’s 25 works on display combine acrylic, watercolor, pastel (oil and dry), collage, and monotypes of women or girls. “There aren’t many shows of women,” Ms. Demeestère told The Times in an interview last week. She works with a group of five women in Paris. There, she learned to collage with Domino, a Twenties form of printed wallpaper made with hand-colored wood blocks. In one of Ms. Demeestère’s arresting monotypes, two predominantly black and white figures of women appear, with a page from a Paris telephone book collaged to create one of the women’s dresses.
Most of the larger works in the collection feature three women, and they create narratives of women doing things — reading, sewing, listening, trying on clothes. Using different ages and races, they emphasize the nature of feminine lives. In “La Mode” Ms. Demeestère uses a very matte paint to depict one woman tying a ribbon around the waist of another, while a third carries a dress or piece of fabric. The artist draws their faces with a delicacy of line, and favors muted colors, in this case pale peach and blue, with a square of black and fawn in one corner. The colors are repeated to encourage the viewer to take in the work’s entirety. Decorative patterns, common in her work, appear on the dresses, and a sewing machine adds to the sense of women at work. A portrait of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo hangs on the wall in a central position. This mixed-media work demonstrates a complexity of composition that is both subtle and powerful.
Recently, Ms. Demeestère has noticed a lot of geometrics in her work. “I started realizing if we look at the empty spaces, there’s a lot of geometry in the human body,” she says. “Blue and Violet” came into existence after Vineyard summer visitor Mardges Bacon visited the artist in Paris and brought her an envelope of old wrapping papers.
“Conversation” was inspired by Kate Chopin, the turn-of-the-century author of “The Awakening,” known for her stories about women. Ms. Demeestère studied art and literature as an undergraduate at Berkeley, and earned an M.A. in literature there. Her work reflects her literary interests. In one monotype, she includes a quote from Pablo Neruda.
Other works were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, incorporating phrases from New York Times articles. Each of Ms. Demeestère’s works has a fascinating history, informed by her knowledge of literature and history.
“I’m sort of evolving here, pasteling over the monotypes,” Ms. Demeestère said of her recent work. She refers to Edgar Degas’s early definition of monotype as “drawings made with greasy ink and put through a press.” A Museum of Modern Art exhibit of the Impressionist painter’s work inspired her to combine monotype and pasteling. “That’s what I’ve been learning to do,” she said. In some cases, she makes a monotype and repeats it as a “ghost copy,” allowing her to create different versions of the same work. “It’s so much fun. Sometimes you work on a plate for eight hours,” she said.
The opening reception for “Lives of Girls and Women” will be Saturday, August 6 from 3 to 5 pm. The exhibit continues through August 26.