Were you aware that Kurt Vonnegut had a daughter who paints? Neither was I.
The humorist/prophet/author’s daughter Edith Vonnegut was born in 1949 in Schnectady, NY and attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. Throughout her career, Ms Vonnegut has chosen the subject matter of women (most commonly presented as angels of nudes) in a variety of poses that replicate canonical nude and Madonna paintings with a wink. There can be found running throughout her slightly surreal work a feminist-by-way-of-humorous streak that seems to be a hereditary blessing for those familiar with her father’s absurdist stories that contain serious philosophical explorations. Whether the women are “Domestic Goddesses” – as Ms Vonnegut named one series of her paintings – or angels, the subjects of her paintings are always depicted as heroic and powerful: in fact, the visual references of attitude are coupled with a full-figured similarity in the subjects’ shape, closer of Renoir, Durer, or Titian than the stick-thin models plaster on what seems like every magazine in America. Along with their powerful bodies these women are armed with the tools and agency to take care of the tasks presented before them. In Slaying Dragon Two Boys Ms Vonnegut reimagines St. George as a mother of two who can take care of her children’s needs even when attending to the immediate danger of a dragon; Sweeping and Eternal Mopping 3 (both from “Domestic Goddesses”) both show the Sisyphean nature of housework as strong female subjects take on impossible tasks; even the angel with a crutch in Injured Angel Front stands tall and confident, unlike how one expects to see one using such a tool. In other paintings a woman stop a car from running into their baby with one hand, Diana (the goddess) literally hunts for food in a grocery store, an angel put on pantyhose, and many of the women calmly look danger – and mind-numbingly dull tasks – in the face while taking care of business.
If one thing is clear by her artwork Edith Vonnegut thinks that women should be celebrated for persevering in the face of innumerable forces that work against them every day. They may come from within or without and Ms Vonnegut literally paints the picture of woman as she believes they should be seen. Her artwork is undeniably feminist in its intentions and by linking women conceptually to goddesses and angels, she imbues her women with a power that cannot come from legislation or by winning arguments but only from that mysterious place from which Life comes from. Since we are still in the month in which we celebrate International Women’s Day I encourage you to take some time with Ms Vonnegut’s work, let it speak to you, see the humor in the paintings but also the Truth that women have a different experience than men and that this experience puts them in the position of having to deal with so many different aspects of life. Thank the women in your life for being who they are and may God and the angels help them as they move forward through this world.