Shae DeTar doesn’t just take photos—she paints them. And her romantic mix of film and artistry leaves her work somewhere between reality and fantasy. Capturing naked women in landscapes across the world, the New York artist explores cultural notions of femininity in a much different way than her peers. Sure, DeTar showcases different ethnicities and body types, challenging the thin, white girl aesthetic we’ve all gotten used to. But painting her subjects pink and green, the 39-year-old highlights the beauty in strangeness—the banality of perfection. Even through her medium. While most photographers retouch their images, DeTar revels in her mistakes. A sloppy brushstroke, a smeared thumbprint—for her, are reminders of humanity. It’s this dichotomy—between the fantasy of blue bodies and the reality of human error—that makes her work so appealing. It’s also what’s inspired her to quit. Through her multi-disciplinary process, DeTar uncovered her passion for classical painting. So, she’s given up photography to pursue it full-time. Still, her colorful pieces go beyond the ability to capture a moment, and transport you to another world.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk about her move from photography and the power of art.
Why combine painting and photography?
I love taking a photograph and re-imagining it into something more than what exists on the negative. Combining paint onto the photograph allows me to be more creative by bringing a surreal and otherworldly feeling to the surface in a tangible way—you can physically see the hand made marks from the paint and it adds something to the image that a photograph on it’s own just doesn’t give me.
It just feels more special. You look at the image and then you realize, ‘Oh wow, there’s actual paint on this—someone spent weeks, or months working on this piece by hand.’ You can see the smudge marks and the imperfections on it if you are in front of it at a gallery, and I think it’s cool to know when something is hand-made. Also, in a world where so much of what people do is digital, I think things that are hand-made are that much more precious. It’s sort of a notion from the past—to take the long and slow way to make something. People sometimes say, ‘Why don’t you just use Photoshop to make the girls blue? Why do you bother painting it when it can be made on a computer?’ I’m like, ‘Because I wanted to actually paint her blue and have this be a one-of-a-kind painted piece that’s special and has a human touch.’
How did you get into doing it?
I did paint on magazine photos as a young kid, and collaged a lot, but I never considered that a real thing—it was merely my form of self expression. I started taking photographs about 7 years ago after my husband suggested I might like it. From the very beginning, I painted on the prints I made, as I had done as a kid. But really quickly, I realized I didn’t want to do painted photos in a traditional, historical way—using oil on silver gelatin prints. So I spent years trying to figure out my own process that would work for my vision.
‘Master Of My Fate’
Your work showcases a lot of female nudity. Is that intentional?
I never set out with the intention for my work to be provocative or sexual—I was more inspired by the classical nude sculptures and paintings I grew up seeing in museums by my favorite artists.
How do you present nude female figures without feeling like you’re exploiting them?
I think being authentic and genuine is important, and I do believe that people can sense an artist’s intention pretty quickly. I’m very sensitive about how I photograph women and how the images are presented. When people see my work, it’s pretty obvious I’m not out to objectify women—there are a lot of classical poses in my work and the overall tone tends to reflect surreal, dreamy atmospheres with women seen more as strong, calm Goddesses.
Your work also showcases a number of different body types. Is that important to you?
Completely. I really love to photograph everyday women with varied body types. I have nothing against models, they are wonderful too, but they already have a huge platform in images—they are always being projected as the beauty ideal and I just like to show other forms of beauty.
So it’s important for you to fight back against traditional standards of beauty.
I definitely have had encounters with industry people who have told me that the women I photograph aren’t beautiful enough. In fact, one of the reasons I couldn’t get an agent after years of trying was because they kept telling me I needed to photograph ‘prettier women.’ I just thought, ‘Well, if that’s what it takes to work in fashion, then that world is of no interest to me.’ I think the women all women in the world are beautiful.
Do you consider your work feminist?
I am an artist. I am a woman. And I am a feminist. But I wouldn’t say my work is about feminism.
Does your medium effect your process?
I just try and leave myself open to being super creative and let whatever happens, happen. Like when a child works on art—you never see them over-thinking their creative choices. They sit down, they pick up the crayons and they just go for it—that’s how I work, too.
‘Solemn, Slight Or Beautiful’
I know you recently moved away from photography, to pursue traditional painting full-time. What influenced that choice?
With painting and drawing, these are mediums that people spend years studying and practicing and they are really hard to do well. Photography is much easier—you can just pick it up and learn it fast. I love being challenged and I love growing. I knew that painting in oil with figurative realism was going to be really hard, but I made up my mind to go for it and to give it everything I’ve got. Also, these stories I am beginning to paint of particular individuals from around the world—I couldn’t have done this with photography, not in the style and way that I am doing it.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
When I look at Vincent Van Gogh’s work in person—or Caravaggio, or any of the great painters I look up to—I literally feel inspired. I can stand in front of Van Gogh and tear up—or I can read a poem by William Ernest Henley, John Keats or Emily Dickinson and it moves me so deeply, or it inspires me and motivates me to write something. I hope people sometimes feel even just a tiny fraction of how that feels for me when an artist, a writer, a musician or a filmmaker, moves me with their art. If it inspires something inside of them even just a little—then that’s pretty cool.
Shae will show her work in London this September, and will have her first solo exhibition in Russia on October 20.