Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Ghirlandata, “The Garlanded figure.” 1873, Oil on canvas, 124 x 85 cm
Color is one of the principle driving forces of my own practice; it is what ultimately makes me excited to sit down and paint and it tends to be the primary element that draws me into a painting. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata, the lush velvety greens sprinkled with luminous bursts of burnt-orange hair are exquisitely satisfying for me. From the popularity of this painting and others by Rossetti, both in his own time and in ours, it is clear to me why the Pre-Raphaelites searched so tirelessly for the most idyllic, ginger-haired models they could find. (Side-note: this was the painting that inspired me to become a red-head so that when I painted myself situated within juicy green environments I’d be more likely to achieve similar complementary optical experiences. Plus, I was born with red hair before it turned brown, and I figured it was time to return to my roots. Pun intended).
The effect of spatial depth in this painting unfolds slowly for me. It’s a compressed space that is both believable yet makes no logical sense. The dark, mysterious bottom corners act as a vignette that grounds and anchors the piece. The scale of the figures is larger than life, even goddess-like. The woman in the foreground, Alexa Wilding, fluctuates between a confident and seductive nymph, a stiff and unamused model, and a vulnerable damsel awaiting a rescue. Perhaps she was experiencing all of that, and Rossetti simply captured that complexity.
The women in the background peering awkwardly over the hedge first appeared to me as passive decorative putti, serving the sole purpose of framing Alexa. However, upon further analysis, the longing and envious gazes of these women reveal that they might wish that they were the focus of attention, although historians say that they are in fact angels listening to her play the harp. The peculiar scale between Alexa and the middle ground figures is somewhat surreal, suggesting that perhaps these women are merely imagined. While it’s unclear whether the women behind her have her back, are literally talking behind it, or exist only within Alexa’s imagination, I find myself wanting to join them all in this plush utopian world.
Ali Miller, Food Baby, 2019, Oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches
Ali Miller is a New York City-based painter who constructs fantastical nonlinear-narratives, addressing themes of expectation, using extreme and surreal scenarios. She received her MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Hoffberger School of Painting in 2012 and her BFA from Alfred University in 2008. Ali has been the recipient of several painting awards and frequently attends artist residencies- most recently at Chateau Orquevaux (which inspired the above piece, Food Baby). Ali is currently represented by High Noon Gallery on the Lower East Side.