RE: History

Contemporary Takes

By Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern

August 29, 2023 - December 8, 2023
Karl and Helen Burger Gallery
“Carla,” ©2023 high resolution image – oil on canvas, 40” x 32”

About the Exhibition

Paintings and installation by contemporary artist Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern recalling the past and reflecting the present.

Surrounded by over a dozen paintings, the centerpiece of the exhibition is a new work called, The Robe of Resilience.

“Robe of Resilience” is an installation of three parts: the silkscreen camouflage print “2022 Commemorative Brocade,” three-dimensional mannequin enrobed in the 2022 Color of the Year, and an accompanying video projected of the wall consisting of photo images mined from the Internet depicting social-political events from 2020-2022.

I am bringing together my skills in 2-D and 3-D design and construction techniques to create a powerful statement about what women have been dealing with over the past several years. Always feminist minded, but never this clear about the statement, I was completely fed up in 2022 with the politics, violence, and lingering issues surrounding the pandemic. The urgency to create this work was sparked when I saw the news footage of mothers pushing their small children in strollers out of the war zone in the Ukraine. I was appalled and saddened by how women seem to always be the clean-up spot: lives are negatively impacted or lost, yet we need to steer and keep the ship afloat. These contemporary travails have long existed: war, plague, violence, injustice towards other races and cultures, women and children. Women endure, adapt, and continue and are the reason we continue as a species on the Earth.

Resilience is defined as the ability to withstand and recover from adversity; it represents toughness and flexibility that is both a physical and mental state. The motifs in the printed design describing global events witnessed and endured are embedded within a Rococo inspired repeating pattern. The fabric chosen for the silkscreen print is dyed in the vibrant fuchsia 2022 Color of the Year, which serves to support the commemorative nature of the design and a “feminine” theme, since pink is traditionally associated with gender specific women and girls. The print is a cotton broadcloth, not silk or velvet, because I felt it was a more accessible fabric representing everyday attire.

All three portions of this installation were conceived simultaneously. I wanted to create a reciprocal relationship between the armature and printed cloth: a mannequin enrobed in fabric and construction meant to embody a more realistic human-sized figure.

The pattern used for the garment is based on the Robe à la Français, an 18th century gown where the cape is part of the garment, not a separate attachment. The garment is historic in construction because its installation is as much about contemporary issues as it is about repeating issues from the past. The gown is completely constructed by me and in many areas sewn entirely by hand. I envisioned a very long cape - the length represents the breadth of obstacles and challenges the figure is witnessing, absorbing, and dragging while moving forward in a gesture of fortitude and perseverance. War, gun violence, global warming, infant formula shortages, Covid-19 related stress and consequences, overturning Roe v. Wade: 2022 was a banner year for anti-humanistic decisions and situations. This cape is visual evidence of the superpowers women possess to bear these outrageous consequences and events.

The printing of the fabric occurred in early July 2022, right after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. I was galvanized as I attended my weeklong textile printing class at the Women’s Studio Workshop in New York State. The design is my largest and most ambitious hand painted film to date. The screen-printing workshop, led by WSW Director Erin Zona, helped me when I did not have the physical ability to handprint using the size of silkscreen required to create the yardage. So, the realization of this piece is a completed circle of women supporting women.

Artist Statement

This exhibition is as much about my past, present, and future as an artist as it is about my contemporary interpretations inspired by art historical documents. In addition to more than a dozen oil paintings on canvas created between 2013 and 2023, it unveils a large-scale multi-media installation titled “The Robe of Resilience,” which features a feminist-themed piece titled “2022 Commemorative Brocade” that I printed and silkscreened by hand at the Women’s Studio Workshop in New York.

Finished in 2023, “The Robe of Resilience” has taken over a year to complete—the longest period I’ve ever spent on a single work of art. It marks my return to design and construction using textiles and reflects the beginning of my career as an artist when I designed two-dimensional textile designs and three-dimensional presentations. Much of the material I looked to during that time was historical, or what many would call classical.

The paintings contain vestiges of well-known images: a sky, a pair of eyes, a landscape, the artfully tied neck-scarf. By retaining the art historical pre-existing images and combining them with what we see and experience now, the work delivers the unique sensation of seeing something familiar in a new setting. Also featured are many new portraits created especially for this exhibition. I see these personages as ageless entities, just as the people pictured in historical works could be living among us now. My models and muses embody a timeless quality that translates further as these people are presented within a classical environment.

I have somehow always approached understanding my own world and life by reflecting upon my past and trying to connect it to a present or future context. Looking back, I see that my visual vocabulary has evolved and portrays a decidedly feminine point of view. In the present, I am primarily known as a painter. And looking forward, I see myself creating new works across different media.

As you enjoy and reflect upon these works, I hope you will find a way to connect your own past, present, and future through my art.

Selected Works

“Daniel” Oil on Canvas 52” x 38” ©2023
“Joy, after Reynolds” Oil on Canvas 62” x 38” ©2023
Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern, pictured with “Plush, after DaVinci” Oil on Canvas 46” x 38” ©2020

About the Artist

Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern is an award-winning American figurative artist living and working in the New York metropolitan area. She is best known for re-contextualizing art-historical images within a contemporary setting. Her work has been shown extensively in galleries and museums, including the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, and the Noyes Museum, New Jersey State Museum, Monmouth Museum, and the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. She is a recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship for 2022. Her work has been featured in Fine Art Connoisseur, Poets and Artists, FreshPaint and Studio Visit Magazines. Lisa holds a BFA from Parsons The School for Design and MFA from New Jersey City University.

Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern received a 2022 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts

“Madelyn,” ©2022 High Resolution Image – Oil On Canvas, 28” x 28”