May 12 – June 30, 2001
Leslie Wilkes is a painter in the figurative tradition, in that it is a tradition that keeps evolving to reflect the new ways in which society views the body and mediates that image. Wilkes’s compositions have been compared to the work of Alex Katz, whose portraits set flattened figures against sparse environments. While the similarities exist formally, a key difference lies in Wilkes’s presentation of her subjects not as portraits but rather as types; women-child images that are simultaneously sweet and seductive. The clothing, postures, and coloration of the figures allude to cultural sources for images of women from fashion to soft porn. The titles, often referencing desserts or other taste treats, imply that these characters are something that should be consumed and savored a little. But at the same time the titles and the colors invite the viewer in, compositional elements seem to push the viewer back a little and partially protect (yet frame) the figure. While the visual pauses remind us of the voyeuristic position that we have assumed or been placed in, they simultaneously frame both the figure and our experience in viewing it. Wilkes’s women vacillate in their roles — in one painting the figure is aggressive, facing down the viewer with a seductive glare; in another she is a coquette, coyly caught in pose and tossing back a wide-eyed glance.