Abstract Body Language
“When you define a space literally in a painting, you miss the energy and the physics of it,” explains Michele Voigt, contemplating the juxtaposition between the classical anatomy of her figure drawing and the fractured-plane geometry of her abstract backgrounds. Like the actions performed by her figures, the settings are allegorical. The space they define is emotional and psychological -- energetic -- rather than architectural. Favoring the colors of earth and minerals, they are chilled but natural, built of shadow, space, and light. “Dad was an engineer -- I like to say I draft rather than draw.”
Though mostly nudes, these images are not sexualized -- they are not even really personalized, as Voigt uses white masks or other means to stop them being read as too individual. These choices, similar to the choice of maintaining her spaces as abstract fields, focus on the universality of the given narrative without the distraction of biographical curiosity. Especially since her subject matter is often fraught with profound, deeply felt, personal symbolism. Each compositional element is arrayed so the figure can express itself directly, not unlike in the continuum of modern dance, where the body is a storyteller, speaking a language of awkward, angular, muscular, unconventional movement. “There’s beauty in everything -- even struggle and tragedy,” says Voigt. Even in her own.
Sinu Ina (Into the Light) shows three figures seated one behind the other, cloaked in gradations of shadow that fade into a bright light. In reality, it is but one figure, depicted in three stages of enlightenment; dark-to-light represents the process of becoming educated. O Thus She Stood similarly depicts five figures rising from a crouch to stand up tall -- but is actually a single figure in the stages of being knocked to the ground and gathering herself to stand back up. Fait Accompli shows two figures and a baby in the middle, and once again the story is all written in their body language -- it is actually three women -- a birth mother, an adoptive parent, and a baby girl. Voigt is adopted, but this painting is about the pain and resolve of every woman who makes sacrifices in the name of a better life for themselves and their families. Other works follow this multifaceted compositional approach, even when a single figure is depicted alone and whole. For example a recent work dealing with the ravages of dementia features a divided plane and a single figure whose three heads pictorially express a state of inner division and turmoil. Saliently, it is a rare male figure in that picture -- because men signify power in art the same way women signify beauty, a portrait about the spin of losing power and control needed to be enacted by a male figure to shieve the narrative balance and impact she regularly accomplishes by pairing the feminine with hardship and victory.
“I see the world through my eyes, of course,” says Voigt. “But I want relatable emotions, approachability -- and to share specific stories without leveraging them or forcing them on people. The viewers have permission to read into the work all they like, to place themselves in it as much as they can. Yes of course there is a story, but I’m after something more universal than that. I want people to use my work to find their own stories.”
--Shana Nys Dambrot, Writer / Curator, Los Angeles 2014