March 25, 2021 | Arts and Culture
the female figures of artist amber vittoria
It’s easy for life to become a sort of unending stream—where the distinctions between days dissolve; where the passage of time seems less about possibilities and more about obligations, schedules, humdrum routines; where people become faces and faces become things to ignore or look beyond. Even before the pandemic made us painfully aware of this phenomenon, it was all too easy to drift through the day without actually seeing another human being. Of course, we probably physically see other people over the course of any day, but rarely do we see someone by recognizing and understanding them without doubts, without judgment, and on their own terms. This is undoubtedly an obvious statement, but as a species we’ve never been very good at beholding people, at recognizing someone else for who they are without consciously or subconsciously forcing them to conform and bend to our particular view of the world. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia—long and ongoing is the history of humans persecuting and dehumanizing other humans because of their perceived or actual otherness.
But what if I could show you a world of color so effervescent, so full of life and strength and pride, that it not only resists but rejects any such discrimination? Though one may see color everyday, just as one may “see” other people everyday, there are some things that make colors feel like miraculous, transcendent gifts from beyond the realm of sense and experience—the radiance of a golden sunset, the vibrant pop of fresh spring flowers, the iridescent glimmer of the rolling ocean. Beautiful things that, at least for a moment, demand we apprehend them as they are. The art of Amber Vittoria is one of these things. By melding brilliant ribbons of color with abstract female forms, Amber Vittoria makes us see women as they are, on their own terms: heroic and beautiful human beings.
Whether I’m at home in L.A., at school here in Providence, or travelling to new places, I love spending time in galleries and museums admiring artwork collected across time and space. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve been able to do that. Maybe it’s the History of Art and Architecture concentrator in me, but I truly believe in the necessity of art for the positive progression of our societies. The best art engages in a reciprocal relationship with the world; it reflects, responds to, and shapes the culture around it. Nowadays, it’s understandable for someone to hear the words “art” or “museum” and imagine a sterile, elitist environment far removed from the comings and goings of everyday life. Though I could and would argue that these types of institutions and the art they contain are still places and objects worthy of our attention and appreciation, there also exists art and artists working outside this problematic system.
Amber Vittoria is a New York City–based artist who focuses “on femininity and the female form.” A Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, Vittoria’s clients include The New York Times, Warby Parker, Google, Gucci, and more. But she does more than just work with some of the world’s most high profile brands; she also sells physical prints of her work online and has even begun experimenting with NFTs (non-fungible tokens) so people can bring her art into their spaces and into their lives. In short, Amber Vittoria is trying to be everywhere, and so far, she’s succeeding.
Her art is simple, but don’t mistake that simplicity for a lack of emotive power or artistic vision. Vittoria chooses to paint women, but instead of relying on realism or naturalism to render her subjects, she uses a novel and abstract method of smearing lines of paint together on the paper to create a unique figural form that challenges the traditional, classicizing ideal female form that has restricted the representation of women in art for thousands of years. Outlining the stylized faces and extremities of her figures with sketch-like lines of black ink, Vittoria’s focal point is the female body. She doesn’t replicate or even intimate the ideal forms of the Western classical tradition, but elevates an entirely new kind of ideal: her women are bold and beautiful rainbows of color, curved and articulated into marvelous abstractions that catch your gaze and hold it.
It was a rainy day in Los Angeles when I first discovered Amber Vittoria’s art on my TikTok For You Page (no, I’m not kidding and no, I’m not apologizing). Though I love and study it, I rarely have visceral, emotional responses to works of visual art. Whether it was the somber mood of the rare rainy day in Southern California or the weight of another day under lockdown, I saw Amber Vittoria’s paintings, vivacious bands of striated color leaping into my mind in unending turns and curves, and I cried.
In these paintings I saw, and continue to see, all the women in my life—all my heroes. I see my grandmothers brave and strong, forging their own paths in this indifferent world through illness and tragedy. I see my mom, rising up like a goddess and making for herself the life she always wanted but wasn’t privileged enough to inherit. I see my sister, making sense of this wild and turbulent age with grace beyond her years as she grows into a mature and beautiful young woman. I see all that they are, all of their inner and outer beauty, all that they’ve taught me and all that they’ve shown this world we inhabit together, reflected in Amber Vittoria’s perfectly imperfect figures. In these paintings I see women of all shapes and sizes, of all races and creeds, pushing the boundaries of societies designed to keep them down, keep them hidden in the margins. Amber Vittoria’s women cannot be hidden; they cannot be silenced; they cannot be ignored. Delightfully idiosyncratic, each painting expresses an identifiable mood or feeling that pithy titles like “We Are Our Own Magic,” “Too Much, Too Little,” “Barely Keeping It Together,” and “The Balancing Act That Is Womanhood” help to elucidate. But no matter the underlying message of the painting—and sometimes those messages are difficult—I always leave it with an overwhelming sense of joy and strength. The painting may be responding to issues of gender inequality or mental health, but the figure always radiates off the page in a kaleidoscope of color that demands recognition. Whether the figure is a single graceful arc or a chaotic, interwoven fabric, each composition celebrates the body and soul triumphant.
Though I am not a woman, I see in her figures the confident defiance of those who challenge the forces of suppression and oppression. As a queer man, I immediately recognized in her array of colors a celebration of the diversity that makes us strong, the individuality that makes us unique, and the common bonds of love and friendship that bring us together. Her figures—unapologetically resplendent, proud, and dynamic—affirm the truth that no matter who you are or where you come from, you belong and you are enough. Amber Vittoria’s paintings insist that women can be the subjects of beautiful art without being objects; that women can be beautiful and command your attention without being sexualized.
In a moment where we’re all inundated daily with images that skew our senses of reality and warp our expectations of beauty and self-worth, paintings like Amber Vittoria’s remind us that to be a woman is beautiful in and of itself: period.