Hamilton College News has interviewed Kate Bickmore on her most recent paintings, which explore the trope of the ‘femme fatale’ in the 19th century.

Bickmore ’15 Examines the Femme Fatale in Art

By Meghan Woolley

The legacy of Kirkland College at Hamilton includes a strong tradition of creativity, feminism and a penchant for the arts. Katherine Bickmore ’15 seems to embody that legacy. An aspiring artist, Bickmore is using this summer to further develop her artistic skills and examine the portrayal of women in art from the mid-19th century to present day. In her Emerson Foundation Project, “The Degeneration, Deterioration, and Decay of Society: A Critique of the Femme Fatale in Art,” she is creating a series of paintings that examine the depiction of women in art as dark and seductive beings.

Bickmore was able to explore studio art first-hand last semester through Hamilton’s New York City Program. She completed an internship with artist Dannielle Tegeder, whose show recently closed at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art. During her internship, she spent every day in the studio, which reinforced her conviction to become a studio artist. She was also able to see a lot of artwork, which she continued this summer by returning to visit the city. Her visit allowed her to view artwork that looks at aspects of gender, feminism and identity, by artists such as Ana Mendieta, Marilyn Minter, Ellen Gallagher, Joan Semmel, Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin.

In her project, Bickmore is looking at the history of the femme fatale and the natural environment in art. She began by looking at 19th century paintings that portray woman as dark and seductive, leading men to their demise. She found that these paintings often use nature as “a metaphor for the inherent evil and threat of women.” Bickmore is interested in further exploring the relationship between women and nature, in both its historical and present context. She stated, “I’ve always been attracted to things like moss and ivy, where nature has become present in places that are trying to contain it.” Through her paintings she wants to explore the theme of renewal and decay in nature and how that connects to women, reflecting, “I do believe in a way that women and nature both share an inherent empowerment.”

Bickmore is exploring these themes through a series of self-portraits, painted from life. She has been painting in List Art Studio and behind Minor Field. She explained, “It’s important to me to be painting from life, and to have the full experience of both understanding and painting what’s directly in front of you. I believe the relationship between your subject, you, and your painting is much more honest and intimate this way” She is also completing sketches and watercolors that help inform her series of larger oil paintings.

Through the summer, Bickmore is working with Kevin W. Kennedy Professor of Art Katharine Kuharic, whom she credits with guiding her project and serving as a major influence. She said of Kuharic, “It was her dedication and enthusiasm for art and teaching that inspired me to pursue painting seriously. She has tremendously informed the way I think about my work, and has been an important guide in helping me find my personal and artistic voice.”

Bickmore plans to continue with art with hopes to both teach and continue her studio practice after Hamilton. She’s learned from this summer that she loves to be involved full-time in painting, noting, “I like that my artwork and life are deeply intertwined. Each continually informs the other.” No one who has seen Bickmore’s work can doubt her talent, and she will undeniably create interesting and beautiful pieces as she moves forward from her Emerson project.

Bickmore is a graduate of Guilderland High School in Guilderland, N.Y.

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