Angela Fraleigh’s triptych, Sound the Deep Waters, connects women young and old, creating an imagined community in a dreamlike realm. Shared experience and a collective consciousness are important themes for the artist. The paintings build upon Fraleigh’s previous work bringing attention and recognition to undervalued female historical actors including site-specific pieces at the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site that acknowledge women who inhabited the spaces. Similarly Sound the Deep Waters, a commissioned work by the Delaware Art Museum, celebrates the women who reside in the museum’s permanent collection, including female artists and subjects in the Pre-Raphaelite and American illustration galleries such as the artist Barbara Bodichon and Frederick Sandy’s painted subject, May Margaret.
Sound the deep waters, 2019. Angela Fraleigh (born 1976). Oil and acrylic on canvas, 90 × 198 inches. Courtesy of the artist. ©Angela Fraleigh. Photograph by Kenek Photography.
But Fraleigh brings her personal story to bear upon the pieces. She sets bygone figures alongside those from the contemporary day by incorporating her former students, the emerging artists Nokukhana Langa and Abbey Rosko. Her own hand as an artist is evident as well, and they show her mastery of both a precise realist style of rendering figures, in keeping with the techniques of the artistic forbearers she references, and of a loose, flowing, and sweeping application of color, in many ways reminiscent of the artistic practice of female abstract expressionist such as Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell. Secondly, Fraleigh’s hand is perhaps best represented in a case that contains facsimiled flowers at the entrance to the space. The flowers in many ways serve as surrogates for women, and they correspond with painted flowers in the triptychs themselves, especially a poppy meant to recall Ethel Reed, a graphic artist whose death resulted from an overdose of sleeping medication. In the case, while some of the sculpted flowers were created by Fraleigh, others were commissioned from artists around the world. Although each flower composition stands in for its maker, and Fraleigh’s hand appears amongst a constellation of other female artists’, each flower remains unidentified so that the case as a whole becomes a signifier for universal womanhood and its creative energies. Finally, Fraleigh’s intellectual investments shape the experience of the installation for those who read the labels which reference writings by female authors such as Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christiana Rossetti, the sister of Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Fraleigh’s literary inspiration is also evidenced by her recommended reading list, included in the exhibition pamphlet, which places her in the context of other artists who have authored feminist alternative histories, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Our world swells like dawn, when the sun licks the water, 2019. Angela Fraleigh (born 1976). Oil and acrylic on canvas, 90 × 198 inches. Courtesy of the artist. ©Angela Fraleigh. Photograph by Kenek Photography.
Although visitors in the immersive space have an intense sense of the Fraleigh’s presence, they do not see her, and, much to the chagrin of one visitor who attended my Inside Look program on the series, she does not incorporate her own self-portrait into the triptych. Fraleigh frequently used her own visage in her works from 2003 and 2004, paintings she did not consider self-portraits but rather representations of the “every woman.” In this project, she investigated, in her own words, “how ideas are projected onto figures and how women create, manifest or repel those projections.” After this project, she tired of featuring herself. But in many ways, she has continued to investigate this same theme as her focus has turned from depictions of an every woman to specific individuals from the historical past. Now, in an attempt to understand “them,” to de-mythologize them and “see them as real people,” part of her practice has become constructing potentially new narratives for them. Fraleigh’s exhibit captures her versatility as an artist, as a maker of paintings, sculptured flowers, and even narrative stories.
Top: Where summer ripens at all hours, 2019. Angela Fraleigh (born 1976). Oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 × 144 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2020. © Angela Fraleigh. Photograph by Kenek Photography.