Presenting body positivity through the female gaze
By Emily Tanner
Artwork photos courtesy of Xandi Rybczynski.
Xandi Rybczynski knew that Western was her college of choice when she came with her family for a campus visit and the chair of the Art Department, Professor Chase Hutchison, remembered her and her graphic design work from previous conversations. “It’s better to be a big fish in a small sea rather than a small fish in a big sea” she recalls, “I don’t want to go to an art school where somebody won’t know me by name, especially the chair.”
Rybczynski loves the small community that Gunnison provides, which allows her to make personal connections and stand out as an artist. Western’s Art Department requires a variety of courses and mediums, along with a student’s selected emphasis. Foundation classes, art history courses, and a variety of electives provide students with a well-rounded education. This gave Rybczynski an opportunity to explore different disciplines within art.
“I have loved art ever since I was little. I have always wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know what realm of art I wanted to do. In high school, I was in dual enrollment with a college and took graphic design classes and really fell in love with it… Coming here, I heard good things about the graphic design within the Art Department, so I thought it was a good fit.”
During her foundation courses, Rybczynski’s figures class allowed her to draw a nude model for the first time. That course had a big influence on her BFA gallery show, “Extol Inamorata,” which included seven works.
“Women in art have a challenge where they want to represent their sexuality, sensuality, and eroticism, and all that; but there’s a fine line between representation and exploitation, and it all comes down to the gaze.” To contrast societal norms that center the male gaze, she wanted to create a show for the female gaze, specifically.
Xandi was taking a printmaking class when she first drew a woman’s body with a goat head and hooved feet. “Going into the show, I knew that I wanted to use that character.” “Extol Inamorata” was created by starting with reference photos, mostly of women from the 1950’s. Dissatisfied with a lack of body variety, she later reached out to an online photographer for more nude portraits.
“I started drawing mainly thin women at first because that was all I could find, but then I thought I should be more inclusive and [incorporate] body positivity,” says Rybczynski of an aspect that became the main focus of her BFA gallery show. By removing the women’s faces, an audience cannot judge the women based on their facial appearance. “I didn’t want to just do the typical media version of a thin woman, I wanted to do more,” she adds.
Spirituality also inspires Rybczynski’s work: “I really enjoy spirituality and deeper meanings in things. The weird thing about my art process is that I make a piece because I think it looks good, but always find deeper meaning later on.”
In “Extol Inamorata,” the rainbows within the horns represent new beginning and a message around starting a self-love journey. Goats represent creative energy, revelry, and surefootedness, “They stand very confidently with their heads held tall. They stand on the side of a mountain and they’re not afraid. I wanted this to be that [but] for women.”
Body positivity is the main message of Rybczynski’s artwork: “I am a huge advocate for self-love, so I think it’s important to do as many body types as I can and present them in a way that shows their beauty.” Xandi wants women to know that they are okay as they are, and that they have the power to change the things they want to.
“It’s important to acknowledge yourself as beautiful, handsome or whatever you want to say you are; and then acknowledge life as beautiful…You only have one life to live and one body to live in, so why not learn to fall in love with yourself?”
In the future, Xandi hopes to work in graphic design, and aims to complete a tattoo apprenticeship so that she can translate her art onto people’s bodies. She can be found on Instagram @xandiruart.