Petals and Panties: Artwork by Jillian Dickson at Forest Hills Fine Art Center

by Tamara Fox

The Forest Hills Fine Art Center is currently hosting an exhibition of drawings by Jillian Dickson through June 22, 2018. The seventeen jewel-like compositions created in graphite, colored pencil, and marker, include six large drawings of composite botanical/viscera, and eleven drawings of women’s underpants.

Dickson large

Jillian Dickson, Bloom, 2015

The large pieces feature arrangements of flowers, ribbons, human tissue, butterflies, and fruit. Like traditional botanical illustrations, the images are centrally placed on a blank background, absent of any setting or context. These elaborate confections look like hybrids of pinatas and baroque vanitas paintings.

Underwear is twisted into shapes that resemble flowers, and drawn from directly above. Upon close examination, about half show traces of menstrual bloodstains. Admittedly this sounds rather unappealing, however because of the ambiguous compositions and presentation in oval or round frames, the panty pieces have a vaguely kitschy presence that intrigue and disarm the viewer.

Dickson panties 7

Jillian Dickson, 7, 2017

According to the statement, the series was inspired by the artist’s experience of pregnancy and birth. One might assume that Dickson’s subjects would feature vulva-centric art in the manner of The Dinner Party, (1979) or confrontational documentation of menstruation like Carolee Schneemann’s, Blood Work Diary, (1972), but Dickson’s works at the FHFAC are more lighthearted than much of the essentialist feminist art from the 1970s. For example, the underpants are not A-list fancy panties, but the comfy full-coverage variety that many women prefer to wear, particularly during their period.

Dickson has managed to effectively navigate around the pitfalls that might otherwise create resistance towards such intimate themes. Instead of feeling like you’ve been tricked into an uncomfortable confrontation with something personal or abject, the viewer is able to recognize her common messy humanity.

This exhibition is in conjunction with the FHFAC Artist-in-Residence Program. The public is invited to meet the artist at the reception 6-7 PM, Wednesday, June 6 at the FHFAC Lobby. All works are available for sale.

Admission to the FHFAC is free.
Summer Hours are 9 AM-5 PM Monday-Thursday

Forest Hills Fine Arts Center
600 Forest Hill Avenue SE
Grand Rapids, MI 40546


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