‘Empathetic Magic’ to Open Saturday in Surf City

Jun 05, 2017
Courtesy of: Gwenn Seemel

In her latest series of portraits, to be unveiled Saturday, June 10, at the m.t. burton gallery in Surf City, painter Gwenn Seemel invites the viewer to consider the concept of empathy.

“Empathetic Magic: Paintings That Prove We Can Love Each Other” posits the idea that true empathy is not pretending to know what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, but rather admitting to having no idea and then listening in order to learn.

Seemel’s opening reception runs concurrently with proprietor Matt Burton’s Summer Art Opener, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The exhibition will stay up through July 9.

Consciously or not, the Surf City artist explained, most people understand everyday sympathetic magic, which is in effect anytime a representation of something is used as a tool for positive manifestation – in the carefully posed photo on a social media profile or pictures of fit bodies on the fridge to encourage healthy eating. Empathetic magic casts a different kind of spell.

All the subjects in the series have particular characteristics that make them different from the mainstream. They’re disabled, old, fat, hairy, struggling with mental illness, people of color, single mothers, asexual and queer. All are painted twice: once how they feel they must hide their distinguishing characteristic, and once how they emphasize it or imagine or wish they could.

The show is intended for those who believe humans are generally accepting of each other while at the same time insisting “fat” means “unhealthy,” a hairy back is “gross,” or mental illness is mere overreaction.

“This work is for the judger and the judged in each of us,” she said.

To learn more about the series, go to gwennseemel.com/empathetic.

Seemel and her New Jersey-native husband, filmmaker and folk arts teacher David Vanadia, moved to the Island in late 2015. She works in acrylics at her home studio and has a popular blog she updates regularly.

Seemel is the recipient of many grants. Her work is in the collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art and has been the subject of scholarly articles and featured on Scientific American, Tech Dirt, Boing Boing and Hyperallergic. She speaks regularly to large audiences about art and culture, and mentors other artists. In 2014, she was given a wall to paint in her hometown of Portland, Ore. She made the mural into a memorial for a famously cheerful Rose City street musician, as a celebration of the individual and a symbol of the many ways, both grand and simple, in which humans change the world around them.  —V.F.

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