Home Magazine Great Contemporary Women Painters

Here we present an excursus - through a group of 24 female painters - without any pretence of exhaustiveness, but with the precise intention of observing the latest trends in figurative painting; the rare exceptions of abstract painting are useful for understanding the underlying dynamics and underground tensions. From contemporary, a little older movement, to the top echelon of emerging artists, the new establishment.

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Women artists who draws freely from the codes of painting. The goal is often to use the figure in a way we hadn’t seen before, challenging stereotypes by contorting or exaggerating the features of the female body, connecting the contemporary with historical painting. The work is often narrative with a hint of surrealism. It’s an escape from reality. Dreamlike visuals, allegorical symbols, bizarre scenarios, and enigmatic gazes populate the canvases. Domestic settings coexist with awkward situations. Humorous gestures towards the frailty of being a woman in the world. A painting that is socially committed and, why not, political, that attack the traditional canons of female figures with dark motifs and narratives. A painting that is visceral, alluring, often uncanny which speaks directly and reflects our contemporary culture.


 Phoebe Unwin, Approach, 2017, oil on canvas, 183 x 153 cm, © the artist, Courtesy Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, London


Phoebe Unwin

Phoebe Unwin (b. 1979, Cambridge) is a British painter who explore the tension between physical and imagined worlds. She is interested in materiality as well as blocks of colour, shapes and the relationship across the paintings. Creating images from constructs of memory rather than photographs, Unwin’s canvases are pictorial fields that evokes a range of moods and emotions, as a dejavu. 


Jordan Casteel, Serwaa and Amoakohene, 2019, oil on canvas, © Jordan Casteel and Casey Kaplan, New York


Jordan Casteel

The 31-year-old Jordan Casteel is an American figurative painter who lives and works in New York City. Casteel typically paints intimate portraits of black men, sisters, daughters, friends and lovers from Harlem. Her bold and ease use of colors and wide palette, to depict skin tones and shades, create magnetic and experimental photographic spaces which explore humanity, sexuality, identity, and subjectivity. 


Chantal Joffe, Blond Girl - Black Dress, 2005, Oil on board, 243 x 182 x 6.3 cm 95 5/8 x 71 5/8 x 2 1/2 in, © the artist, Courtesy Victoria Miro London


Chantal Joffe

Chantal Joffe (b. 1969) is an American-born English whose 10 feet tall paintings generally depict expressive women and children. Distortions and a rough, apparently coarse brushstroke distinguish her oils for which she draws inspiration from a repertoire of family photos, advertising, fashion magazines, and pornography. In 2006, she received the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award from the Royal Academy for her incredibly strong and striking painting.


Alejandra Hernández, Spilled milk, 2016, Oil on canvas,130 × 150 cm, Courtesy LAVERONICA Arte Contemporanea


Alejandra Hernández

Colombian born Alejandra Hernández (b.1989) is a nomad artist of naive figuration working between countries, researching in different contexts and realms, between fantasy and reality. Hernández has an ongoing project of dream-like portraits (often nudes) flashy and full of symbols, of the people she takes care and observe. Her inspirational sources are daily life, music, art history, cinema and mythology.


Dana Schutz, Painting in an Earthquake, 2018, Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York


Dana Schutz

Dana Schutz (b. 1976) is an American artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Schutz is known for her gestural, figurative paintings characterized by grotesque creatures and absurd situations. "The paintings are not autobiographical, I respond to what I think is happening in the world, in culture”, says Schutz who construct vigorous, wildly colorful and awkward paintings as she goes along, from mere personal emotions.


Firelei Báez, Memory Board Listening (June 7th), 2015, acrylic and Sennelier ink on Yupo paper © The artist


Firelei Báez

The self-described "Caribbean hybrid”, Firelei Báez (b. 1981) creates lush paintings with a fluidity of colors, often foreground female bodies and faces: “Patterns of Resistance” around ancestry and mixed cultural identity. Through a convergence of interest in science fiction, anthropology and black female subjectivity, her intricate art deals with found histories and explores “the otherness” with beauty, humour and fantasy.


Mira Dancy, Sinking Sky, 2017, acrylic on canvas, Overall: 80 × 110in. (203.2 × 279.4 cm), © Mira Dancy, Courtesy Night Gallery, Los Angeles


Mira Dancy

Mira Dancy (b. 1979) is an American painter known for her paintings on plexiglass of voluptuous nude bodies, often executed in bright fluorescent pink, purple, and blue. With a post-feminist-inspired approach, Dancy creates dynamic and flexible portraits of women “generating an overall cinematic effect, from painting to painting to painting, where the women are moving from one to the next”.


Heidi Hahn, The Same Kind of Story Told Backwards 1, 2017, oil on canvas, 58 x 56 inches, © The artist,  Courtesy Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles


Heidi Hahn

American painter Heidi Hahn (b. 1982) processes layered wax-infused oil paintings, often engaging with the female body and the idea of stories. Hahn describes her work as “narrative formalism”, where color is anti-intellectual, only intuitive. The woman or spaces are just material to represent a certain mood and a rich inner life. Hanh’s practice is into small gestures and intimacy.


Sally Ross, Big Pink, 2015, © Sally Ross. Photo: Carlo Vannini


Sally Ross

American painter Sally Ross (b. 1965) constructs three-dimensional paintings that look like an aerial view of a landscape. Starting from her studio floor, Ross brings into the horizontal canvas different materials - composed like a map unfolding in various directions - and she freely intermingles painting, printing, collage, sculpture, and drawing in a somber palette. The organic quality of Ross’ work is playful and direct, yet enigmatic.


Bracha L. Ettinger, Rachel Pieta Medusa 3, 2015-2018, Oil on canvas, 40(l) x 30(w) cm, © Braverman Gallery


Bracha L. Ettinger

Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger (b. 1948) is an Israeli-born French painter, internationally renowned - a prominent figure among “Women Artists at the Millennium”. Working at the intersection of art, psychoanalysis, feminine sexuality, gender studies and aesthetics, Ettinger's research concerns light and space, the human condition and the tragedy of war, figures and abstraction, womanhood and maternality. 


Sanam Kathibi, This is the beast with a thousand mouths, that must be fed twice a day, 2019, Oil and pencil on canvas, 180 x 230 cm. 70 7/8 x 90 1/2 inches © The artist


Sanam Khatibi

Sanam Khatibi (b. 1979, Iran) is a Belgian artist. Her work consists of paintings, embroideries, tapestries, and sculptures and deal with animality and our primal instincts, domination and submission, fear and desire and male-female dynamics’ balance. In a surreal and uncanny imagery, groups of ghost-like women populate pastel-coloured landscapes, exploring primitive impulses. Despite the apparent bestiality, Khatibi’s scenes are playful and ambiguous. 


Louisa Gagliardi, Marcel, 2015, Gel Medium, ink on Vynil, 115 x 165 cm; 45 1/4 x 65 in, Courtesy the artist and Rodolphe Janssen Gallery, Brussels


Louisa Gagliardi

Born in 1989 in Switzerland, Louisa Gagliardi has a background in graphic design which she combines with advertisement and the codes of painting, creating surrealistic portraits technology-inspired. Dancing between textures and translucence, flatness and depth, Gagliardi creates digital images printed on vinyl which she manipulates with a gel medium. Her spaces and characters sophisticatedly address the riddle, the deception. 


Hulda Guzmán, Sickness as a wonderful part of it, watercolor and acrylic gouache on cedar plywood, 75 x 115.5cm, © Hulda Guzmán


Hulda Guzmán 

Hulda Guzmán (b. 1984) is a painter living and working in the Dominican Republic. “My female characters are not innately innocent and the demons aren't innately evil”, affirms the artists whose energetic, experimental, narrative paintings approach portraiture, interior scenes and cinema. Her art of storytelling - influenced by psychoanalyst Carl Jung - is a magical surrealism who claims to be kind to our demons.


Jane Lafarge Hamill, Bringing Down the House, oil on panel, 2015, © Jane Lafarge Hamill


Jane Lafarge Hamill

Jane Lafarge Hamill (b. 1981) is a painter and virtual reality artist. From representational to abstract paintings, from small spaces to larger than life-size digital works, from exuberant gestures to practicable installations, Hamill’s translations continually span across the borderline interstices of the the ‘psycho-figuration’. To her “it’s important to try to bring out what’s behind the face - to break down and pull apart the facade”.


Mona Osman, Eaten by Facticity, 2019, oil and mixed media on canvas, 120 x 155 cm, © the artist Courtesy C&C Gallery, London


Mona Osman

Mona Osman (b. 1992), Hungarian-Sudanese artist Bristol/London based, conducts an intense philosophical and spiritual investigation, via oil and mixed media on canvas, into the search for Self. The Tower of Babel and what Osman calls “Absolute Self” - the impossibility of defining one’s own essence - are two recurring themes of her paintings which operate on different levels of depth and vision.


Charline von Heyl, Dunesday, 2016, 62 x 60 inches, © Charline von Heyl and Petzel, New York


Charline Von Heyl

German abstract painter Charline Von Heyl (b. 1960) works with drawing, printmaking, and collage. Since 1994, she has brought back into painting themes and motifs once left for dead: metallic colors, the graphic aspect, and a figuration unafraid of being called kitsch, even fetish. “What interests me is how the painting conveys a new image as such“, explains Von Heyl whose work stays enigmatic and uncontrolled.   


Gina Beavers, Cake, 2015, acrylic on canvas panel, 40 x 40 cm. Courtesy the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles; Photograph: Jeff McLane


Gina Beavers

Gina Beavers (b. 1978, Athens) is an American artist best known for her visceral, often repulsive three-dimensional canvases. Informed by a repertoire of digital images appropriated from social media and the Internet - #foodporn slabs of raw meat and step-by-step cosmetics tutorials― the sculptural human bodies that Beavers represents are gigantic, cinematic and literal references to our consumer society.


Genieve Figgis, A Social Portrait, 2014, Courtesy the artists and Phillips Hong Kong


Genieve Figgis

Vibrant colors and macabre filter are the distinctive signs of the Irish painter Genieve Figgis (b. 1972). At once classical and utterly contemporary, Figgis’ painting was displayed for the first time in 2014 on twitter and received great recognition online. Overturning the art canon of the upper class luxury culture in dark narratives, Figgis brings back the Rococo painting in a balance between figuration and abstraction and dripping thick paint.


Aliza Nisenbaum (b. 1977), MOIA’s NYC Women’s Cabinet, 2016. Oil on linen, 68 × 85 in. (172.7 × 215.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Jackson Tang in honor of Christopher Y. Lew 2017.274. © Aliza Nisenbaum. Image courtesy the artist; T293 Gallery, Rome; and Mary Mary, Glasgow. Photograph by Bill Orcutt

Aliza Nisenbaum

Aliza Nisenbaum (b. 1977, Mexico City) is a painter living and working in New York. She is best know for her colorful still lives, figures in interiors, and large-scale group portraits of Mexican and Central American immigrants to whom Nisenbaum taught English as part of the project Immigrant Movement International in Queens, NY (2012). Influenced by Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera, Nisenbaum sees paint as a social practice.


Becky Kolsrud, Three Women, 2017, Oil on canvas, 76″ x 90″. Courtesy of the artist and JTT, New York. Photograph: Charles Benton


Becky Kolsrud

Becky Kolsrud (b. 1984, Los Angeles) is a painter whose allegorical images often depict young women’s faces or bodies removed from space and time, almost invisible to contemporary eyes. Large-scale women- in different patterns and styles of clothing - as fantastical landscapes with lakes, water and primary colors, blue above all. An imaginary world or psychological state characterized by moisture and fecundity.


Hayv Kahraman, Curfew, 2015, oil on linen, 185 x 244 cm, © Hayv Kahraman


Havy Kahraman

Hayv Kahraman (b. 1981) is a Los Angeles-based Iraqi-American artist. Kahraman’s paintings reflect the controversial issues of female identity in relation to her experiences as a refugee, and all the war plagues afflicting her country of origin. Juxtaposing traditional Eastern and Western beauty standards, Kahraman’s dark-haired, pale-skinned women, embellished with Islamic geometric patterns, transmit boldness and displacement at the same time.


Jesse Mockrin, Portrait of Billie Eilish for Vogue, 2020, Courtesy of Jesse Mockrin


Jesse Mockrin

American artist Jesse Mockrin (b. 1981) paints in the style of Old Masters: Caravaggio, Vermeer. By blurring gender barriers, Mockrin combines K-pop stars with historical images of androgynous boys to reimagining portraiture as a surface, where the past meets the present and beauty meets darkness. “I am interested in gender as a construct, both contemporary and historical”, says Mockrin.


Katja Seib, You made your bed, now sleep in it, 2018, oil on burlap, 51 3⁄4 × 35 7⁄8”, Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ


Katja Seib

Katja Seib (b. 1989, Dusseldorf) is a figurative painter who directly intervenes onto canvases of raw hessian fabric using photographs on her phone. Seib creates meticulous and complex works that appear simultaneously familiar and strange, by including herself or her friends within her depictions of every day - an intimate fiction that is surreal, mysterious and dark and expand beyond the limits of the frame.


Ella Kruglyanskaya, Zip It, Oil and oil stick on linen, 2014, Copyright of the Artist - A Studio Voltaire commission.
Courtesy of the Artist and Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York, photo: Andy Keate


Ella Kruglyanskaya

New York-based painter Ella Kruglyanskaya (b. 1978, Latvia) is known for her exuberant depictions of women engaging in various actions, poses, social interactions of a glamorous sexuality. She draws her female “protagonists” - cartoonish by choice - from imagination and with big, bold strokes that symbolize womanhood and the dramas that accompany living in a female body. 

Cover image: Becky Kolsrud, Three Women, 2017, Oil on canvas, 76″ x 90″. Courtesy of the artist and JTT, New York. Photograph: Charles Benton.

Written by Petra Chiodi


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