“100 Women and More” by Red, the Artist
through May 7
Soka University of America Founders Hall Art Gallery, Aliso Viejo
By Liz Goldner
Red, the artist showed up at her feminist-oriented “100 Women and More” exhibition, displaying old-fashioned movie star glamour and charisma. At nearly six feet tall, with flowing red hair, dramatic make-up, elegant jewelry and stiletto heels, her demeanor evoked the nobility of accomplished women throughout the ages.
Echoing her striking appearance were her 100 portraits on cameo-shaped panels of women from several centuries, hung throughout the gallery. For Red has taken on the mission to chronicle, pictorially and in writing, more than 1,000 female pioneers, activists, artists, entertainers, scientists, and royalty—women who have lived from 1,500 BC to the present. Her 5” x 7” carefully drawn and rendered portraits are painted onto wooden panels that have been pre-cut into ovals—a shape that hearkens back to traditional cameos featuring female portraits. Each of her paintings, titled with the name of the woman illustrated, is executed with ink, watercolor, gauche and acrylic. And each artwork includes written text, describing the individual woman’s role in life and achievements.
Tracy Sagalow, who has taken the pseudonym “Red,” first conceived of this series in 2012 to highlight the sexual harassment she was observing in the workplace. Then after personally experiencing and formally addressing gender discrimination at her day job, as well as witnessing the contentious 2016 Presidential race, “I knew I had to start creating,” she says. Yet rather than emphasize the ever-present male/female discord increasingly depicted in the media, she decided to celebrate women, because, “I wanted to feel positive and focus on achievements.” She hopes that people who see her portraits will learn about women who have influenced our world over the centuries, and that viewers will further consider the roles and influences of proactive women in their own lives.
Red’s compilation of 100 women depicted in this exhibition (culled from 162 completed portraits) began with just 20 women she personally admired. Then she put out a call for female names on social media, and soon had a list of more than 100. As many more women from history continued to show up in her news feed, she eventually compiled a list of 1,200 plus names. “I want to keep this series going until I just can’t do it anymore,” she says.
When asked to cite some of her favorite women in the exhibition, she mentions Josephine Baker, Mary Blair, Nellie Bly, Pearl S. Buck, Shirley Chisholm, Emma Goldman, Hedy Lamarr and Malala Yousafzai. Others in the show include Julie Andrews, Benazir Bhutto, Nadia Comaneci, Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Frank, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Golda Meir, Rosa Parks, and many lesser known yet influential women.
Working on these portraits allows me to channel my struggles from my gender case into something positive and fulfilling,” Red explains. “I am taking what is inside me and pouring it all into the work. And just as life is unpredictable, each portrait can be as well.” While she set out with a specific idea of how to create this series, she explains that the process of making the individual pieces often dictates what media and technique to use. “For my first portrait, which was of Queen Elizabeth I, I tried to burn the wood, but it did not work,” she says. She used ink instead and now she prefers this method.
For Red, working on this series has become a melding of her life experiences and talents as an artist with the unique personas of the many women she is depicting. She adds that creating “100 Women” has helped transform her journey as an artist, and that she never wants to stop celebrating women’s achievements and documenting their images. “I think it would be great to create a million images of women,” she says. “Could you imagine being in a museum space and the walls are covered with women’s faces from floor to ceiling?”
Soka University of America Founders Hall Art Gallery,
1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo, CA