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Lee Porter: Australia's Female Answer to "The Male Gaze"

Written by: Maureen Flynn

Lee Porter

Not counting the well-documented predilections of the ancient Greeks, images of the male derriere are almost as rare in art history as their female counterparts are abundant. The Australian painter Lee Porter makes no extravagant claims for her subject matter, other than to state that she wishes to depict "Aussies from a different perspective."

That said, her lack of pretension notwithstanding, the acrylic paintings that Porter is exhibiting at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street October 24 through November 13 (reception Thursday, November 6, 6 to 8pm) are expeditions into a territory as relatively unexplored (at least by female artists) as the Outback itself, and for that reason alone may possess historical importance. For certain, they possess wit and are skillfully rendered.

"Aussies" as she fondly refers to them, are known to be a vigorous, outdoorsy people, and the men have at least a reputation for being athletic alpha males in the manner of Crocodile Dundee, Mel Gibson, and so on. So it stands to reason that a woman artist with Porter's aesthetic interests would have plenty of suitable models for paintings such as "Country Bum." The term, of course, does not refer to a rustic vagrant, but to what some people on this side of the pond call "buns." The ones in question are seen in close-up, wrapped tightly in faded denim. That, one supposes, accounts for the "country" part of the title.

What "The Cocky's" means might be more of a mystery to an American but the subject of the painting is clear enough: the lower portions of two men in blue jeans, also seen in close-up from behind, seated on a fence. Here, again, Porter's accomplished realist style endows the picture with a convincing verisimilitude, yet the real point of the picture would seem to be the artist's desire to make a composition that is strong in formal terms from a subject that she finds agreeable.

Indeed, her paintings are skillfully conceived and function in abstract as well as figurative terms, and she is especially adept at capturing figures in action, as she does in another acrylic on canvas called "Skate Boarder," depicting the rear lower region of a young man on a red skateboard with his red skivvies showing in the currently fashionable manner, suspended against a brilliant blue sky above a verdant landscape of rolling hills and foliage as dense as broccoli. The vertiginous angle of the composition enables the viewer to share, however vicariously, in his exhilaration as he and his skateboard soar along at breakneck speed, the pastoral landscape taking some of the risk out of a sport that all too often plays out on concrete with unfortunate results.

Seen from the side rather than from behind, five other figures also soar through the air in "Swimmers," as they dive in unison, one above the other, presumably into a pool or natural body water that is not visible in the vertically stacked, abruptly cropped composition. Here again, Lee Porter approaches the male form from yet another angle and proves herself to be a painter of lively wit and considerable formal invention.

Image Credits: Country Bum Acrylic on Canvas, 16" x 20"

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