“Celebrating Women” is the title of Jeanette Demeestère’s new exhibit at the Chilmark library, running August 3 through August 23. It is her fourth show at the library, with an opening Saturday, August 3, from 3 to 5 pm. Demeestère divides her time between Chilmark and Paris, and she also exhibits at A Galley in West Tisbury and the Art et Littérature Gallery in Paris.
Women have long provided the subject for this artist. The 28 new works in collage, charcoal, watercolor, acrylic, pastel (oil and dry), and monotype all depict women and girls. “It’s happening more and more,” Demeestère said in an interview last week. Landscapes and still lifes, however, are more common on the Vineyard than works about women.
Demeestère is one of a group of five women painters in Paris who use a nude model. “We ask her to change her position as she poses,” Demeestère says. In her art, the artist clothes the model and invents a setting. “I’m primarily interested in bodies and faces,” she says, “not necessarily a likeness, but capturing the expression and feeling, and especially the mood and character of the model.”
“I am a drawer,” she says. “I feel I have to draw.” She references John Berger, the author of “The Art of Seeing,” who has written, “Drawing is an act of discovery … of one’s own feeling of the world outside.” Drawing brings a certain freedom, spontaneity, and surprise, Demeestère suggests. She has drawn since childhood, and she rented a studio and began exhibiting 20 years ago. Two monotypes, “Nu au Ruban Rouge” and “Nu Bleu,” illustrate the artist’s drawing techniques and the way she combines them with design elements. “Robes” is a collage in which a painting and a paper element balance the lush folds of the figures’ skirts. An Anselm Kieffer installation of antique robes inspired this work. The monotype, “Femme à la Robe Marron,” employs a collaged photo of antique robes and women’s names from ancient Greece.
Much of Demeestère’s collage work uses papers gathered from a variety of cultures, including Japan, Ethiopia, India, and Italy. The 18th century Domino bookbinding prints she uses were block-printed and stenciled on handmade paper. They were originally used to make bookend pages and to line trunks and chests of drawers. Another type of paper the artist uses is 18th and 19th century French and Italian wallpaper. In “Dinner in Mexico III,” the artist returns to a subject that has interested her, and it contains 18th century French papers next to the figure holding a book. On the right is Viennese Art Deco paper. The photo between them by Italian actress and activist Tina Modotti shows American photographer Edward Weston, along with artists Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera. A group of three watercolors, “Blue Necklace,” “Flowered Curtain,” and “Moroccan” are looser in style, but rely on the same muted pastel palette Demeestère favors in her acrylic, collage, and monotype work.
“Spring” is a collage that includes the e e cummings poem, “O sweet spontaneous,” and illustrates the literary influence that comes from Demeestère’s educational background. She studied literature and art at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a professor of American literature at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. It’s also an example of the narrative dimension characteristic of her work. In “Sisters,” two elegantly attired women rest on a sofa. The atmosphere is luxuriously French-Asian, highlighted by the women’s jewelry, and includes a bowl of oranges next to a portrait of a nude that suggests a sensual and lyrical ambiance. “We can make up the rest of the story,” Demeestère says.