December 3, 2021 – February 26, 2022
Friday, December 3 from 5 to 7pm
With her newest series of bold and bright portraits of children, Alice Blessing journeys through the developmental consequences of patriarchy and systematic oppression. Originally exploring feminism and puberty, Blessing’s deeply personal concept evolved to address intersectionality, gender and diversity.
This project has evolved through many developments, and I went on an extensive emotional journey through the concept and completion of the paintings.
My original idea was to display the strength I see in young girls. I believe that the system of patriarchy and white supremacy in which we live robs girls’ power as they become teenagers. Stemming from my own experience at that age, developing eating disorders and depression, I began this series just as my child (Z) was entering their tween years.
Girls struggle with mixed messages: Be beautiful, but beauty is only skin deep. Be sexy, but not sexual. Be honest, but don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Be independent, but be nice. Be smart, but not so smart you threaten boys.
― Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
I am working to be an ally for all women, because I believe in our strength and wisdom. The emotional lives of women contain a compelling lesson for humanity, and rather than suppress our traits as if they’re a weakness, we should listen to them in order to retrain our humanity into something resembling grace.
While trying to tell my own story, I found that it would be irresponsible to do it without an intersectional lens. It’s vital that I, as a portrait painter, ensure representation of women who may not see themselves in mainstream media: women of color, women with disabilities, fat women, lesbian women, queer women, trans women, women of low socio-economic circumstance, elder women, and other marginalized people. Representation matters.
After I began Z’s portrait, my child told me that their gender is non-binary, rather than a girl. I had to examine my own antiquated ideas of gender. Through learning more about contemporary gender construct I saw that my child won’t have the same struggles as I did, although there are similarities. My experience with gender has been markedly different than my child’s experience.
Even though it isn’t only about girls anymore, this series is still about power. It’s about standing up for oneself, no matter how “other” one feels. At its heart, it’s an ode to nonconformity. To a lesser degree it’s about adolescent development, generational divides, and systematic oppression.
Color theory is an important facet in all of my work. I am constantly studying how light and shadows affect color, and how to translate ethereal light into very material pigment. Although I have studied color theory for years, I still learn something new every day. Because colors were gendered when I grew up, for this series I used traditionally “girly” colors (each culture has different associations with color, and I’m referring to American culture) to claim and display their strength. Color can evoke emotions and influence decisions. The colorful flower crowns in my paintings could be associated with rites of puberty, or the language of flowers, or Shakespeare’s Ophelia, but in reality I just wanted extraordinarily vibrant colors because of the way they make me feel.
If you live in this system of white supremacy, you are either fighting the system or you are complicit. There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice, it is not something you can just opt out of. –Ijeoma Oluo
Alice Blessing is a community-oriented teaching artist in northern Minnesota, and part of her work is teaching anti-racism and accessibility within art. She values intersectional representation in her portraits, which she paints with her fingers rather than brushes.
Blessing teaches art classes at Bemidji State University, and teaches painting workshops around the state. She has displayed her work at a few galleries, and has received a few awards and grants.