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Tacoma Art Museum

1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, WA, 98402
(253) 272-4258

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Tacoma Art Museum
1701 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 272-4258
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(no rating) Mar 29, 2010 - Feminist_Tacoma
Camille Patha and the Myth of the Age of Feminism

Camille Patha And The Age Of Feminism – Tacoma Art Museum Event Review

by Feminist Tacoma

Newly formed group, Feminist Tacoma, sponsored a meet-up Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Art Museum to hear Seattle painter, Camille Patha, deliver her lecture, “Camille Patha and the Age of Feminism.” Twelve women showed up and enjoyed a lively discussion in the museum café after the lecture. Thus, given that Feminist Tacoma’s mission is to develop resilience through relationship and connection, including the social, economic, political, and spiritual — the outing was an overall success. And it was also a painful reminder that the “Age of Feminism” is a political and social ideal that has yet to be realized. Despite the claims of many that feminism is passé and obsolete, we have yet to experience an historical era defined by the doctrines of feminism —including the equal access of all peoples, regardless of gender, race, or class, to the authority to self-define subjectivity.

My feelings about Camille Patha’s lecture at the Tacoma Art Museum are more than just mixed — they are complex. Camile Patha is a very talented artist — and she owns her talent with grace. She has the refreshing self-confidence and sense of healthy narcissism, so often silenced in women, to share her pride and enthusiasm about her work, stating on more than one occasion, “This is a powerful painting.” Furthermore, Patha’s success as a female artist in the still male-dominated art world is a testimony to her strength and tenacity. During her talk, she shared several examples of the overt sexism she has encountered in her career as an artist and the determination and ingenuity she used to overcome that sexism. Determined to get her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Washington, she strategically traded her own colorful palette for a palette of subdued browns and blues favored by her male professors. Similarly, early in her career, determined to be included in Seattle-area juried shows, she entered her paintings, using only her initials, whereby hiding her gender and achieving rapid acclaim. Today, Patha’s own artistic vision is expressed in large, brilliantly colored, conceptually complex, abstract oils which command five figure prices and which are hung in a variety of civic and corporate settings, as well as galleries (see her webpage at www.camillepatha.com).

However, Patha’s determination and ingenuity in gaining access to the art world are the determination and ingenuity borne out of forced compromise. While my musings are certainly only speculation and perhaps only projection, I cannot help but wonder how much Patha carries the shame that many apparently high achieving women carry in a society that purports to be a meritocracy but is only a meritocracy for those who have merit, or at least more merit, by virtue of birthright. I am speaking of the shame that arises from repeated disconnection from the authentic self in order to maintain relationship with those who control power, authority, and security. I wonder how much Patha had to disconnect from her authentic self or potential authentic selves in order to remain in relationship with the art world.

It is noteworthy that Patha repeatedly alluded to how important it is to have a good relationship with your art dealer. It is not a coincidence that the dealers she talked about were men. In fact, a number of male dealers, publicists, and patrons were seated in the audience, taking in the presentation like stony-faced centurions. While Patha maintained that after escaping art school, she has been free to paint what she wants, in other words to use bold colors on “man-sized” canvases, I cannot help but wonder if she has not traded the male authority of the academy for the male authority of the marketplace.

In her determination to be a successful painter, Patha has by her own admission isolated herself within the universe of her studio. Like the female mystics of the Middle Ages, Patha’s artistic voice is authoritative but it is the authority of solitary confinement and it is the authority that is only possible when the female is separated from the feminine. Thus, although I personally actually like abstract expressionism, I do not think that it is a coincidence that she has chosen this style as her language of self expression. Since its inception in the 1940’s, abstract expressionism has always been described as bold, iconoclastic, and even revolutionary for its disavowal of the pictorial and narrative. However, in its very ambiguity, abstract expressionism offers a safe haven for the artist whose narrative if told more bluntly might offend. In concluding her lecture, Patha talked about how her current paintings hold the entire story, both actualized and potential, of her life as the painter and the entire story, both actualized and potential, of the life of the viewer. In her beautiful, complex abstractions is indeed the story of all women and the “Age of Feminism” — vibrant, captivating, demanding and as yet unrealized.

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