Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Images of Women in Water by Wendy Willis

Images posted with the permission of the artist. Learn more about her work on her blog Wendy Willis Printmaking.

With summer now fully upon us and temperatures rising, I found myself looking at these wonderful linocuts, mostly of aquatic life and people in or around swimming pools, by Wendy Willis. Willis's imagery is usually mundane in the literal subject matter (although she does occasionally delve into the surreal, such as with Honu Heart II which combines a human with a sea turtle), and yet through her use of color and how she depicts the ripples and underwater distortions, the final image appears otherworldly and full of mysterious, dramatic tension.

In Out of the Depths (above) a large woman wades with purpose toward something outside of the frame. Of course I first imagined her simply moving toward the edge of a pool to climb out (I can even see what appears to be a glimpse of side-wall tile in the top left corner), but something gives me pause and then leads me far beyond that interpretation. Because the image has been broken down to just these four colors, the woman seems more enveloped by the water. The shadow on her back extends beyond her body, then seems to break into a second long piece that drags behind her like a train. Her bottom half is entirely invisible, which is all the more jarring given the weighty volume of her arms and upper torso. The water itself seems ominous and volatile. Wild loops of white electrify the space where her legs would be. The grey keeps quiet so that the pinks can tickle and tease, and the dark greenish-blacks can screech like bats in a cave. Yes, there is the predictable push and pull of the waters' movements, but there is also a shattering of surface and light, and I cannot help but hear buzzing and zapping sounds. I am reminded to keep electrical appliances away from the bath tub.

Waterbug (left) depicts a similar subject, and yet conveys an entirely different mood. Here the woman is either completely under water or just her goggles, forehead, and the top of her head have emerged. While the goggles certainly emphasize an alien feel, it is really, again, the colors that pull the viewer into that realm. The vivid red-orange and cheery violet that make up her elongated form compliment each other like the palette of a tropical water lily. This image, like summer, is both hot and cool. The heat from the sun broken by a quick dip in the pool. This swimmer has left the warm, dessert brown behind, and is breaking from the green into the most refreshing and crystal clear blue. Unlike in Out of the Depths, here the woman is totally separate from the waters she swims in. She is a fire-colored aquatic angel darting through an aqua-blue abyss.


  1. Thank you, Martha for such a wonderful interpretation of my prints. Every viewer brings something from their own history to each piece they see. It is one of the great things about making art.

  2. yes, this was a wonderful read .... I saw more than just what was in the painting, thanks to your vision ...