OCEANSIDE — Rancho Santa Fe artist Deena Altman explores women’s lifetime of unspoken challenges in her upcoming “Female Rising” exhibit opening Sept. 23 at the Oceanside Museum of Art.
Altman, originally from Escondido, began her journey as an artist 12 years ago. While she was interested in painting as a child, her family didn’t value the profession at the time.
As an adult, Altman began a plant nursery business with her husband, which they ran for several years before she extricated herself from her job to pursue her artistic dreams.
Altman is an accomplished watercolor painter. Since becoming an artist over a decade ago, she has become a signature member of three different artistic entities — the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies, Watercolor USA Honor Society and San Diego Watercolor Society — a feat that isn’t easy to accomplish as an artist.
“It’s hard to get those signatures,” Altman said. “It makes you feel like you’re on the right track.”
Since beginning as a watercolor painter, Altman has transitioned to using more acrylic painting in her work. But beyond her preferred medium, Altman’s artwork tells a deeper story, one of second-class citizenship, inequality and diminishing cultural norms.
“I come from a time when we wore skirts to school when it was more restrictive to be female,” she said. “I always questioned why I needed to carry a purse, why there were no women in the news and why we weren’t taken more seriously.”
Despite being the co-owner of her own business, bank representatives only seemed to want to speak to her husband.
“I would say, ‘Hey, I’m here too, you need to talk to me,’” she said. “As women, we’re minimized. It feels as though we’re second-class citizens.”
She began a series of works that detailed her frustrations with gender inequality and its pressures, which start in the earlier stages of life.
In her “Heroic!” piece, Altman depicts a toddler girl wearing sunglasses and a black shirt that says “Hero Mode” in bold white.
“She’s not wearing the pretty little things girls are usually put in,” Altman said. “Instead, she’s in hero mode, ready to rock-n-roll, and we can only hope that she keeps that spirit for what’s coming ahead of her in life.”
In another piece of art, “Setting Boundaries (How?),” a carefree young woman is depicted wearing a fashionable, slightly revealing outfit and star-shaped sunglasses while smiling. Although she is in good spirits, Altman describes a “shadow of violence” depicted with the red hands painted over the character’s breasts.
“She knows she may be doing too much, but she’s doing it anyway,” Altman said. “In life, there is always that balance of what’s safe and what’s not safe.”
Altman noted she likes to portray the unexpected in her work, like the hands, or like in “Challenger,” which depicts an older woman holding paint brushes as if she were an archer in another piece of art.
“In this one, she is a survivor of the gender wars and she understands what it’s like to have second-class citizenship,” she said. “In a sense, she hopes her daughters and granddaughters are less encumbered by her experiences.”
Altman said excluding women and things considered too feminine negatively impacts everyone.
“We all lose out in the end,” she said.
Altman’s work will be displayed at the Oceanside Museum of Art from Sept. 23 to Feb. 4, 2024.