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The Tucson Citizen

September 14-21, 1997

A Weekly Guide to Entertainment, the Arts, and Activities

Lesbian artist vows to be “Visible”

Assistant Features Editor

Much of her life, Lorraine Inzalaco had painted what was acceptable: landscapes, still lifes, figure paintings. Her work was praised, encouraged.

But when Inzalaco, a lesbian, began to paint what inspired her – women – the praise and encouragement began to wither. Her one-woman show, “Visible for a Change,” opens Sept 6 at WomanKraft Gallery here in Tucson.

In the late '70s, while she was in her last year at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, her talent was recognized by a recruiter from Yale University and Queens College. She was invited to study for an advanced degree at either of those two schools, which at the time shared faculty. Yale was too intimidating. “A gay Sicilian female at Yale? Forget about it,” recalled Inzalaco. “I had no confidence to say yes. I took the alternative program at Queens College, which was probably four times harder than Yale.”

About the same time, Inzalaco, who had been “out” in her personal life for many years, was “coming out” on canvas. “Women with women in all circumstances,” she explained. “The way I live my life with women resonated deeply with me.” But it didn't resonate with her professors at Queens College.

One day, one of her male professors walked into her studio and saw an art book of David Hockney – Hockney is a gay man – and her paintings of women. “He said to me, 'If that's what you're interested in, then I'm not interested in you.'”

He ignored her, and her work. “He finally told me my work gave him a big problem,” said Inzalaco. It wasn't her technique. It was her subject matter. “Your painting world is male-exclusive,' he said.” The professor was one of an all-male committee that was to work with her throughout the school's two-year program.

“I painted and painted,” she recalled. “I was going to fight this. They would knock on the door, and I wouldn't let them in. They knew I was painting.”

Finally, in her last year there, she was ready to show her work, which was necessary before she could be awarded her degree. She opened her studio doors and installed her paintings in the campus gallery. What her professors saw were vibrant, fluid paintings of women together, nude women, life-sized women.

“I was crossing into a domain that had been men's exclusively,” she said.

Because she had completed the requirements for graduation, Inzalaco was awarded her degree. Then she hit the New York galleries. When she showed her more mainstream work, interest was high. When she brought out her paintings of women, it turned cold. Her work ended up in the few GLBT centers that were receptive to gay- and lesbian-themed artwork, but she couldn't place it anywhere else.

Finally, in 1995, she left New York. “My spirit was tired,” she said. “I couldn't do it anymore.”

She moved to Chicago, and last year, to Tucson. And her spirit has revived.

“I'm fueled,” said Inzalaco. “Now I really want to get my work out there. Lesbian artists have been closeted for too long.” The show at WomanKraft Gallery, which has always been receptive to art by and about lesbians, is a retrospective of Inzalaco's paintings. It contains about 40 pieces, some as large at 71 by 95 inches.

One oil of that size, “The Inspiratress,” is of a languid, nude woman lying on a sofa, her eyes closed and her long hair blowing over a deep red pillow. A white sheet is draped over her, one breast exposed. The setting is a homey room with an upright lamp, bookshelves and plants. A dog lies at her feet, as though protecting this private moment. The subdued shades of greens and yellows, the soft blue of the sky outside the window in the background, give the painting gentleness and intimacy. The oil would be compelling enough, just because of its size. But the painting carries an emotional wallop, as well. It is sensual, tender, and packed with feeling.

The show also includes charcoal and graphite drawings, pastels and oils with appliqués.

One self-portrait, painted shortly after those tumultuous school days in New York, features a woman jumping through a mirror and pulling a closet door open. Behind her she drags a bright pink sheet, appliquéd onto the canvas. Her body carries a sense of freedom, her face a slightly curious look.

Inzalaco painted it while working in a borrowed loft in New York. She remembered the male student across the hall from her at school. He had painted a graphic, painful scene of a woman being raped by two men – a painting her male professors loved.

Paintings of women by men were acceptable, even when they were violent and demeaning. But when a woman paints a woman in a tender, loving pose, the acceptance stops.

“I started getting really pissed off,” she recalled about the moment she began the self-portrait. “I pulled the sheet off the bed and draped it over me. The mirror became the symbol of a double life I was not willing to portray on canvas. It made sense to me. Inzalaco's show continues through Oct. 29.

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