One year ago today was the opening of artist Grace Athena Flott’s exhibition Exposure Therapy. This exhibition offered an intimate, empathetic, and new glimpse at the human body. The gentle nature of Grace’s portrayal of her subjects, as well as the soft brushstrokes and colors, perfectly exemplify Grace’s style.
Grace Athena Flott is an American artist whose work is inspired by Renaissance paintings, bringing this art style into a modern context. Grace was trained by an art atelier, receiving a type of apprenticeship that dates back to medieval times. However, after her training, Grace wanted to focus on a more inclusive notion of beauty than atelier training typically teaches, and a more expansive range of subjects than those typically portrayed in the Renaissance style.
Grace’s first exhibition opened in 2018 and was titled Still I Rise. This exhibition was inspired by Grace’s personal experiences as a burn victim. At the age of twenty, Grace was caught in an apartment fire and jumped four stories to the ground to escape, resulting in both burn injuries and physical immobility that left her with a wheelchair, a back brace, and crutches.
One painting in the collection depicts her wheelchair, and another her crutches and brace, portrayed with a Renaissance-style beauty and softness that bestows a sort of fondness that’s very unusual. On her website, Grace describes, “Although I associate my own dependence on these objects with grief and isolation, it is important that these paintings communicate a sense of hope and agency. The glittering light that illuminates each scene is my way of honoring what these objects make possible for the folks who need them.”
Perhaps the most powerful painting in the collection is Grace’s self-portrait, titled “Forged in the Flames.” In it, she holds a paint palette and reaches toward her easel. Her burn scars are visible on her body, but she looks straight ahead with bravery and resolve. Again, in this painting, Grace utilizes the Renaissance style to portray herself, scars and all, in a way that’s truly beautiful, making for a painting that’s both empowering and stunning to look at. It’s clear that creating this portrait is a way of healing for Grace, and a reckoning with the visible marks of a traumatic past as she moves forward in her life.
It’s clear that creating this portrait is a way of healing for Grace, and a reckoning with the visible marks of a traumatic past as she moves forward in her life.
In 2022, Grace opened the Exposure Therapy exhibition. This exhibition was a groundbreaking reimagining of the gaze upon bodies, transforming that gaze from a means of oppression to a means of seeing the human body in a new way. As Grace describes on her website, “Exposure — a leaving open without defense — as part of an intentional performance creates the potential for healing.”
Exposure Therapy includes a triptych that depicts Grace’s own body, with two of her on either side, each reaching out with its arm toward the other, paying homage to the famous Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel. Grace’s scars are present here again, but the Renaissance style and reference to one of the most beautiful paintings in existence grants a new way of seeing a body with scars.
Grace moves beyond her own body in this exhibition as well, portraying her subjects in poses that feel organic and internally motivated, rather than fabricated for the gaze of the artist or the viewer. There is a strong sense of vulnerability, or of “exposure” in these paintings, and yet at same time the soft colors and relaxed poses give a feeling of comfort and ease.
As FF2 contributor Bri Fecarotta states in a tribute to Grace, “Grace brings a fresh perspective to this classical medium. She introduces marginalized people such as herself into the beauty of antiquity and highlights unique struggles born from being both invisible and hyper-visible.” By reimagining what a Renaissance portrait can be, Grace’s art opens the minds of both viewers and other painters to beautiful and wonderful new possibilities.
© Julia Lasker (5/9/2023) FF2 Media
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Explore Grace’s work further here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Grace Athena Flott in front of “Ways of Seeing.” Photo by Nate Gowdy / Courtesy of Grace Athena Flott.