For the past five decades, Joan Semmel has centered her practice around issues of the body and sexuality with an ongoing engagement with her own nude form leading to the groundbreaking documentation of the aging female form over several decades. In paintings like Pink Lean (2019), Semmel celebrates color and gesture while candidly portraying her own body. “We all have some difficulty in confronting our aging physical selves,” Semmel says, “so when you are painting yourself in that position, it really means that you have to say, ‘I’m doing this and I’m not going to make it pretty. I’m not going to hide it, disguise it, no face-lifts. It’s going to be really the way I see it.’ This is not a disease that’s happening. It’s the natural evolution of a person.”
As in her early Sex Paintings (1971) and Erotic Series (1972), the abstract use of color in Pink Lean serves for the artist as a means of distinguishing her nude figures from the realm of pornography. Semmel considers the unifying element throughout her oeuvre “a single perspective: being inside the experience of femaleness and taking possession of it culturally.” Her work over the last half-century firmly situates the female body as a place for autonomy and a vehicle to challenge the objectification and fetishization of female sexuality.