On October 21, 2021, I attended a talk with the American artist Angela Fraleigh talking about her new painting at the UNCG Weatherspoon Art Museum titled “Splinters of a Secret Sky.” This piece is inspired by the art collections of Claribel and Etta Cone, two prominent art collectors who were also notoriously independent women. Fraleigh’s other works beyond this one all cover the importance of women and looking at them from a perspective that does not objectify them, but instead shows them living life as normal human beings should. She has one set of paintings at the Inman Gallery in Houston, Texas titled “Our world swells like dawn, when the sun licks the water” that were inspired by women writers, and the different backgrounds of the paintings were inspired by the marble covers of the first edition books of those writers. This is one example of how she showed off powerful women in her paintings.
Although showing power in women is powerful, Fraleigh also wants to emphasize the tranquility and peace of a woman’s life. In “Splinters of a Secret Sky,” she shows several different female figures, who are not exactly copies of the Cone sisters, but are representations of women in general. In all three paintings of this work they are casually living, with the women on the far right enjoying sitting in some sort of bedroom with one in the bed reading and one on the floor, nude, enjoying being with herself. In the middle painting it is similar in that the two women here are talking to each other, lying down on their stomachs. In both paintings, one does not see the front of these women, but instead Fraleigh is more focused on people watching these women from afar, from an open window if you will. Fraleigh wants to emphasize the beauty of small, everyday moments which in turn brings a certain independence to women everywhere. Fraleigh wants to acknowledge the objectification of women throughout time and show that women are so much more than objects and that they are living people with minds and intellect that want to live humanly as much as any other person.
Specific to these three paintings, as said before, Fraleigh is celebrating the Cone sisters, Etta and Claribel, and their elaborate and eclectic collections of art. Both sisters travelled abroad, collecting artworks from around the globe, most notably in Western Europe, mainly paintings from Picasso and Matisse. According to Fraleigh, there were over 500 works by Matisse in the Cones’ collection. Matisse was an artist who focused on the nude female body in his works, but he had these women in the paintings facing outward, objectifying them. This is the opposite of what Fraleigh produces in her paintings. To show the difference between Matisse’s intentions with her own, behind the three paintings is a large background that depicts a collage of Matisse’s hand drawn nude women. Fraleigh says that this is to show how her works do not objectify women, and that time is progressing from Matisse’s time to now in that women are being less and less objectified and that art is one of the ways in which we can change this objectification.
In the paintings, Fraleigh has created a colorful collage of different parts of paintings that the Cone sisters collected which places the viewer in the environment which the Cone sisters created for themselves. This idea of taking details from the Cone sisters’ different paintings and creating the setting in the paintings also shows the viewer what the Cone sisters’ lives were like, placing the viewer in the minds and attitudes of the sisters. In this, combined with the non-objectification of women and the beauty of the small and mundane moments of life, one is able to appreciate the Cone sisters and women as individual human beings and not as objects for one to gawk at.
Upon seeing the paintings myself for the first time and standing in front of them in their elaborate, huge position on the wall, I felt that I was being transported into a world of these two women, a world where all was peaceful and one could live life as one wanted. I felt the creative minds of these women, and their yearning for a world in which they could live as freely as the men around them. I saw the mundane moments that these women were performing in the paintings and felt that these moments weren’t mundane at all, but were instead moments of such beauty and excitement that I wanted to jump into the painting with them, feel what they were feeling in that moment, and share with them what they were sharing with each other. I wanted to get to know these women, be their friends and live lives with them in the utter glare of not seeing them as objects, but as fellow humans, and hoping that all people could see that women are not objects, but people, and deserve to be treated as such.
Angela Fraleigh does a masterful job in these three paintings, perfectly sculpting scenes that reflect the beauty of the everyday moment and the wonder of women. The paintings show that women are just as much human as anyone else, and that as time progresses on, hopefully the objectification of women will cease to exist.