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Artist Annie Kevans Sets the Historical Record Straight

Danziger Gallery, New York, presents "Annie Kevans,” a powerful tribute to women and the history of art.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Photo: © Danziger Gallery

British painter Annie Kevans (b. 1972) brings new life to the art of the historical portrait with a fresh style and a perspective that deftly combines context with content to create what describes as “anti-portraits.” Kevans first came into the public eye in 2004 when no less than Charles Saatchi purchased Boys, a series of 30 paintings made for her BA Degree show at Central Saint Martins, in its entirety. The series presented portraits of Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and other tyrants of the twentieth century re-imagined as “innocent” children, drawing on the Victorian idealization of childhood that was very much in vogue when they were young.

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With a keen interest in issues of power, manipulation, and the role of the individual in inherited belief systems, Kevans looks at alternative histories to create images that may or may not be based on real documentation. For Kevans, the concept, rather than a slavish diligence to “likeness” drives the work, and n doing so her paintings fill in gaps in the historical record.

Frida Kahlo. From the series “The History of Art”, 2014 - 2016. Oil on paper. 16 x 12 inches.

Frida Kahlo. From the series “The History of Art”, 2014 – 2016. Oil on paper. 16 x 12 inches.

For many who study the history of art, one such gap is the consistent absence of female artists prior to the modern era. Virginia Woolf famously observed, “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Of course, she could be speaking of any discipline, for the concept of “anonymous” is not only pervasive, it is widely accepted without question.

For Kevans, who grew up in a family of strong and successful women, the female artists who have made their names in a notoriously sexist field are heroines of the first order, worthy of recognition all their own. In celebration, Danziger Gallery, New York, presents Annie Kevans, a selection of 20 paintings from her Women and the History of Art series on view now through January 13, 2017.

Amrita Sher-Gil .From the series “The History of Art”, 2014 - 2016. Oil on paper. 16 x 12 inches.

Amrita Sher-Gil .From the series “The History of Art”, 2014 – 2016. Oil on paper. 16 x 12 inches.

From Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Diane Arbus to Artemisia Gentileschi, Amrita Sher-Gil, and Marisol, Kevans’ puts a face to the name as a means to reclaim their power, for public recognition shores up their legacy. Her portraits are deceptively simple, unsentimental affairs that reveal the inner workings of the soul that lives behind the eyes, and when shown together as a whole they become more than the sum of their parts, invoking the purpose of history: a path through the past that teaches lessons about who we are.

Also included in the exhibition are selections from other series including Drag, portraits of artists Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Mapplethorpe, and other male artists who created works where thy cross-dressed; All The President’s Girls, from Presidential mistresses to the offspring of Presidents and their slaves; All About Eve, British royal mistresses and their descendants; and The Muses of Jean Paul Gaultier, a series commissioned by the designer.

Marisol. From the series “The History of Art”, 2014 - 2016. Oil on paper. 16 x 12 inches.

Marisol. From the series “The History of Art”, 2014 – 2016. Oil on paper. 16 x 12 inches.

Taken as a whole, Annie Kevans offers extraordinary insight into the power of the historical portrait. Saying names and showing faces is more than a tool of recognition—it is a tool of preservation that honors the individual and their origins, acknowledging their contribution while fighting against erasure that does all a tremendous disservice, for absence (intentional or not) leads people to false conclusions about our shared history and who we are.

Artwork: © Annie Kevans, Courtesy of Danziger Gallery.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.