Artwork by Carla Ruffino

Artwork by Carla Ruffino

The power of capturing femininity in art through the female gaze

Carla Ruffino speaks about the representation of women in art and the reality of being a female artist.

Having grown up with virtually no family photos around the house, but instead “really eclectic art” and a grandmother who painted, it makes sense that Carla Ruffino has since built an impressive career of her own in the art world. 

Not only does her work hang in the homes of celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron, but it speaks beautifully to a wide female audience thanks to its considerate approach in capturing raw, expressive and intricate moments of women, both clothed and naked. 

With her latest showcase in Sydney featuring a series of portraits and nudes, Ruffino says it’s powerful to present women’s bodies in art through the female gaze. In a world that still oversexualises or misrepresents women, whether that be through visual art, pop culture or on the internet, seeing representations of women – from the perspective and gaze of women – is celebratory and empowering. 

“It's interesting because often we'll go to a life drawing group together, and his drawings are very different to mine,” Ruffino says of another male artist she knows. “[They’re] similar in a sense, but it’s exactly the gaze [that’s different].” 

“For thousands of years, art has just been about depicting people. I've never really strayed from that,” she explains of her focus on drawing and painting human subjects. “I've never been that interested in doing landscapes or abstract art. This work feels a bit more expressive. I've tried to use a lot more colour and tried to be a little bit more free and less controlled.” 

Ten percent of the proceeds from her new exhibition will go to the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC) in Redfern, a grassroots organisation supporting women and families in crisis. It’s a cause close to Ruffino’s heart, as she reveals that “growing up I had personal experience with friends that went through violence”. 

“Recently, in the last couple of years, one of my closest friends has been through a really difficult time and I just thought, I want to bring a bit more awareness and give back to people that need it.” 

Artwork by Carla Ruffino

Like in most industries, women in the art space face sexism and other challenges as well. Ruffino recalls instances where she’s been alone in a room with a male model who’s posing for a life drawing she’s doing. These moments haven’t always felt the safest, and it’s one of the reasons she particularly enjoys focusing on female portraits nowadays. 

“Interestingly, years ago, I had male sitters,” she says, “and it just often became quite uncomfortable. It actually got to the point where it just didn't feel safe. 

“You have a model, but for some reason, men just assume that they've got their clothes off so it means something totally different. It's definitely non-threatening when you have a female sitting for you, so yeah [I like to] celebrate women and their beauty in all different ways.” 

As she looks forward to people checking out her latest pieces in person, Ruffino says her husband (who happens to be film director and actor Nash Edgerton) reminds her to enjoy the moment that’s been in the works for a very long time. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ruffino hit pause on her work to focus on homeschooling the couple’s children.

“Instead of it being like a six-month or a year process, this has really paced itself out. So as much as I myself have seen this [art] for what feels like forever, as my husband keeps reminding me, it's fresh for everyone else,” she laughs. 

There may have been some unexpected interruptions that put a pause in her initial flow, but now is Ruffino’s moment for her and these women to shine – and nothing will stop that. 

Carla Ruffino’s exhibition is at Peach Black Gallery in Sydney until Sunday, December 10.