written by Madeline Rose
"The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical. You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure. The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.”
- John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Beachcomber by Rachel Loyacono
A nude woman kneels on a patch of sand as she combs through a beach of rocks and ancient artifacts. Contoured with thick red lines, her pink body and untangled hair exudes a kind of heat you feel from laundry fresh out of the dryer, or a phone left out on a metal surface in the blazing sun.
With daylight beaming on her back, her breasts and their shadow nearly become center focus of the composition. But this figure’s focus lies elsewhere. In the midst of her beachcombing, she discovers a fragmented glimpse of herself from a broken mirror in the sand. The mirror is sharp, angular, precarious even to her fleshy, unprotected skin. There is both knowledge and hubris in this moment of self-realization, which is inspired by Caravaggio’s Narcissus. But in Rachel Loyacono’s classically modernized version, vanitas is no risk. For it is only through having seen the mirror and herself (vanitas), that this figure can know of its sharp edges, or what lies beyond (veritas). As she leans into her reflection, the figure’s gaze shifts beyond herself, beyond the canvas, and into the realm of a viewer, caught in a moment of red-handed voyeurism. - Madeline Rose