When I arrive at Reisha Perlmutter's Brooklyn apartment studio, she's gearing up to paint another one of her hyperrealistic aquatic portraits. This particular piece is of a woman who she recently met and photographed in Cuba. The canvas hangs on a wooden rig that Perlmutter constructed against a wall just a few feet from her bedroom. The frame anchors a clever pulley system that allows her to maneuver the canvas and position it onto different areas on the wall. Her rough outline is sketched in pencil, and dollops of oil paint surround the perimeter of a large glass window that she uses as her palette.
The painting is part of an ongoing series Perlmutter started a little over year ago: nude portraits that capture women immersed, in or emerging from water. The goal of this collection is to show the biological connection between the body and water, and how it is shared by women across different cultures. For this project, Perlmutter traveled to different places around the world, photographing aquatic scenes with women local to the areas, and painting them back at her studio.
The majority of her subjects had never modeled before, and weren't necessarily "prepared" for a photoshoot. They're shot without any clothing or jewelry because Perlmutter wants to remove anything that might reference a particular culture or religion. In this way, the focus is placed purely on the fundamental relationship we have with our bodies. "I think women need to see images of real women," the artist says. "Within this capitalist economy we're constantly being bombarded with these idealized images of women that are supposed to coax us into buying stuff we think we need because it will make us look a certain way. And I think putting images out there of normal women, and just being like, 'OK this is a body, you don't have to make a statement about it,' and being able to see the beauty in just being empowered by your body, is a lot better."
For Perlmutter, painting is an exceptionally powerful vehicle to communicate this message. Although her work is often compared to photorealistic painting, the artist explains, "I think there's something about photography that's really stark. There's something that happens when you start painting, it adds another layer of interpretation so it doesn't seem so direct and feels more poetic in a way."
The presence of water and the natural environment play major roles in the project. Her work plays with reflection and way the color and light move across the water, creating abstraction and blurring the line between her subjects and the organic environments surrounding them. "That's the great thing about water: it really abstracts a lot of things. So when things move, you don't get really focused on an arm or a muscle, you just sort of of see it as this single connected entity." Perlmutter adds, "I think that making organic images of people just existing and being totally in the moment, feeling the sun on you and the sensation of water, it brings you awareness. Which is something that's really hard to find out in the world if you're not looking for it." Her work not only encourages the acceptance of different body types, it shows the connection that all women feel to their bodies in hopes they find a comfortability in their own skin.
Creators recently sat down with the artist to try and better understand how her paintings work to empower women. You can watch the short video here:
Reisha Perlmutter will be exhibiting works from this series in an upcoming show entitled Immerse at Roman Fine Art. Learn more about the show, here, and check out more works by Reisha Perlmutter on her website.