In October, Western Gallery opened their exhibit entitled Texas Women, a showcase of all women artists from Texas.
By Allie Justis, Art provided by Western Gallery.
On Friday, Oct. 2, Western Gallery opened its October exhibition exclusively featuring women artists from Texas. At the exhibit premier, all artists engaged in a panel discussion led by the director of Western Gallery, George Irwin. They talked about the hurdles and triumphs that all of these women have faced in the art industry. How they hope to change the industry for the better with this event.
When explaining how this entire idea came to fruition, Irwin asys it all started with a simple open call. According to Irwin, countless women from across the state applied for this gallery. They wanted to take part in the event since there were very few exhibitions like it.
“The pushback made me stop painting for a while in my late twenties,” says Menchaca.
“It just seemed like a good opportunity to build on that and showcase Texas’ women artists,” says Irwin. “It seemed like a good moment for women to be seen and heard in a way that maybe hasn’t been as common before.”
Support Texas women
Especially for this exhibition, the main mission is to support Texas women in the arts. The art world has been changing a lot recently. So there was much hope that by breaking out of the traditional gallery model, there would be a less stigmatized experience. One that would be more accepting to women artists.
“Right now artists can kind of write their own rules on how they set up their own business and sell their work,” says Danika Ostrowski, an Austin artist who started out on Etsy. “I’ve enjoyed selling in galleries but also utilizing Instagram and my website to connect with people, and I love it.”
Change is coming slowly but surely for women in the art industry. Still many artists who have been in the game for a while have had their fair share of sexist commentary.
Kerri Menchaca, who specializes in painting the Texan horizon as it meets the open sky, shared how she was brushed aside consistently throughout her art career as both a student and as an artist.
“The pushback made me stop painting for a while in my late twenties,” says Menchaca. “One of our painting professors told all of the women in the class in a blanket statement that if we wanted to paint for the rest of our lives, we needed to start taking our lunches over to the business building during our breaks.”
What’s worse, Menchaca says, is this was not the first or only such statement she received at a major university.
When she started showing her work to galleries, she was told she should take her photos to a craft fair. However, the galleries who so easily dismissed Menchaca failed to notice that her “photos” were actually hyper-realistic oil paintings that took hours of intensive work.
“If you’re to treat me like that, then I’m not going to take the time to say, ‘Okay, dude, these are oil paintings, not photos,’” says Menchaca. “If you’re going to tell me to go to the local craft fair with them, then we’re not going to have a successful working relationship.”
“It’s Always Been That Way”
The panelists were asked why they thought women were so underrepresented in galleries. Ostrowski said it is a combination of being a relic of the patriarchy and that there are still many hurdles women face when trying to enter the professional art industry.
“I do think part of it is that we haven’t caught up,” says Ostrowski. “It’s not just the artistic world, but everything in our society. The fact that women are so underrepresented is because it’s always been that way.”
This need for change was exactly why Western Gallery chose to hold this exhibit. To highlight the importance of women artists supporting other women artists. Alice Leese, an abstract oil painter, chose the show because it really fit into her specific style of regionalism and her idea of the Texas woman.
Strength in Numbers
“Texas women are some of the strongest women in the U.S.,” says Leese. “We provide the food and fiber for most of the United States, and I think we are definitely underrepresented.”
“There are so many successful women in Texas that are doing well with their art,” says Menchaca. “There’s a myth to Texas women that we are so fiercely independent and successful. We are a myth and a legend in and of ourselves.”
Lida Plummer, who mainly paints natural landscapes of cacti and other aspects of Texas’ unique Western style, says she joined the event so she could meet and support artists that are just like her who have her same goals.
“I felt it was a great opportunity to connect with other great female artists from across the state,” says Plummer. “This event wouldn’t be what it is if we weren’t all in this together. Having such a wide range of work just shows the multifaceted talent that there is with all of these women in this state. There’s a lot to represent.”
Women Have a Place in the Spotlight
Irwin pointed out that there are still many obstacles to break down in order to make this field more accessible to women. However, Irwin and all the artists hope this event is one step closer to equal opportunity for all Texas women.
“My hope would be that this gallery shows that women do have a place in the spotlight,” says Ostrowski. “Especially in Western art. We’re underrepresented in galleries across the board. I think particularly in the realm of Western art, women are not exactly spotlighted as much as they should be.”
You can take part in Western Gallery’s Texas Women exhibition here.