Purple Diagonal


Joan Semmel ( American, 1932 )

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General Description

Joan Semmel is one of the original and most influential participants in the feminist art movement of the 1970s. During this time, artists, often using their own bodies as subjects, explored issues of sexuality and femininity, asserting autonomy over their artwork’s content and the conditions in which their work would be displayed. While many artists turned to performance art and photography, Semmel remained a painter. As a result, her paintings of nude female bodies challenged the male-dominated art-historical canon and the conventions of figurative painting.

Purple Diagonal is characterized by the repetition of the main compositional figure in a smaller realist form and in a large expressionistic version. Her working process included the use of a color Xerox—a rather new technology at the time—to create collages. Using the machine, Semmel could transfer and manipulate imagery, combining manual and mechanical forms of inscription to create a double image. The first-person view of Purple Diagonal captures the casual touching of the body that accompanies natural recumbent postures. By presenting the nude body from this perspective, Semmel forces viewers to imagine becoming the image rather than objectifying it.

Excerpt from

  • Anna Katherine Brodbeck, ed., TWO X TWO X TWENTY: Two Decades Supporting Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art), 2018, 266-267.

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