By: James Kao
I heard about Jaclyn Santos’ Figurative Works Solo Show Event at the DFN Gallery from a friend. I was curious to see her own work in the flesh as opposed to the work she’s produced for the reality television show Work of Art, and so I attended the opening. The DFN Gallery is a small space in the Upper East Side, and Santos’ works did not occupy my time for long.
Santos presented a series of paintings. What I gathered immediately from them was her attempt to contribute to the discourse of gender and social issues. Untitled featured herself and a female companion sitting in men’s urinals, recalling the general and age-old discussion of the (in)ability for women to pee standing up and what that meant in relation to men. A quick Google search would yield at least five results on this issue, and it has certainly been a topic more than a few times amongst female friends. On her website, there is a drawing of the same idea – a woman standing in front of a men’s urinal. I feel that these works were not contributing anything new to the subject but were merely illustrations. Super Hero, another painting, portrays a woman on the kitchen floor, cleaning, but wearing business attire. This work presents the idea of how a woman of today can not only contribute to the family economics but also still (have to) uphold the duties of the old model of “housewife.” Again, I feel that this is a shallow illustration of a well-worn issue, and there was nothing else for me to read or feel from the painting. Her technique is solid, but not particularly striking.
One painting that captivated me slightly more was Reflection 3, which demonstrates a middle-aged woman staring in the mirror and towards the viewer. At first I felt that this piece was more honest, showing vulnerability from the artist regarding what she might feel she does not wish to turn into: someone older. A quick conversation with her confirmed it, sort of, as she told me it was a painting of her mother. When I mentioned honesty, she then swayed between it being about her fear, or perhaps irony, or perhaps something else. She sounded confused and I became confused. Also, if it does demonstrate fear, then is her fear simply of how she would look physically, or perhaps there is something more personal there? If so, I was not able to gather something deeper from the painting, which would have made the work more compelling.
One painting I enjoyed was Confinement. A figure sits in the bathtub, face turned away. The composition and the image held my attention for longer than the other ones did. To me, this piece did not attempt to speak about any specific gender or identity issues; rather it portrayed a feeling of isolation, reinforced by the white empty shape that occupies a portion of the canvas.
Santos reproduced a piece she did on the Bravo TV show and it was hung in the back. She told me that she had wanted to have people write on it, as had been done to the original piece in the show, but decided not to in the end because she feared that the gallery might be too crowded. I preferred that the piece be in the back and not a focus, as I was more interested to see her own work rather than results of the challenges.
Santos’ style and work has a certain aesthetic, but for the most part I did not feel intrigued or excited. In her attempt to comment on certain issues of American culture, I feel that she is merely illustrating preexisting ideas and discourses as opposed to presenting her own voice, which perhaps she is still developing.
Jaclyn Santos at DFN Gallery was a one-night event on July 22nd
74 East 79th Street
New York, NY
Take the 6 train to 77th Street.
Gallery Hours: M-F, 11-7
Gallery Website: https://www.dfngallery.com/index.htm