Wild Things

Austin artist's new exhibition is refreshingly modern take on history's wild women

Austin artist's new exhibition is modern take on history's wild women

Whitney Turetzky
Mother by Whitney Turetzky. By Whitney Turetzky

"What’s her story?" That is the question mixed-media artist Whitney Turetzky constantly asks herself. Austin-based Turetzky is known for her eye-catching work celebrating feminine grandeur and showcasing women in all forms, from the headstrong heroine to the battle-worn woman on the run.

Her newest exhibition, "Wild Women," now showing at Nina Berenato in Domain Northside, features vintage photographs of saloon girls and outlaws during pre-Gold Rush times.

“In the five 4-by-6 pieces are saloon girls or prostitutes,” she says. “That was a very viable way to make an income back then. A lot of women escaped situations and fled to the West. There was something so empowering in that for me in how these women were taking control of their situations.”

Turetzky, an Arkansas native, has always been drawn to vintage photography, and has an old-is-better-than-new mentality. To find inspiration for her collections, she scours local antique stores like Uncommon Objects, as well as internet records.

Once the artist comes across an inspiring photo, so begins a new set of work. To create her signature style, Turetzky adds vibrant acrylic paint and embroidery thread, casting a new light on women of the past — a past which Turetzky makes sure no one forgets. “I always [ask] questions,” she says. “Who’s grandma is this and why does their family not remember her?"

"There is a 20-by-30 piece [in "Wild Women"] of a woman and she looks like she could do just about anything to anybody. She was known for being a sharpshooter," Turetzky says. "That’s the thing about storytelling that I love is that whoever is telling the story will highlight the part they think is the coolest or the best. Those are the pieces that have been passed down.”

As a creative, Turetzky originally viewed her work as more craftwork than artwork. It was only at the urging of friends that she began transitioning out of corporate American and into being a professional artist. “I don’t make art. That is crazy,” Turetzky remembers saying.

Leaving her 9-to-5 gig behind, she has spent the last four years as a full-time artist, a career Turetzky says continuously brings her both joy and allows her to keep the stories of these women alive. Her work has been shown in both the East and West Austin Studio Tours, the Elisabet Ney Museum, Soma Vida, and now as artist-in-residence at Nina Berenato headquarters. 

So what’s next for this wild woman? Stay tuned for her next collection based women from the Edwardian era, each donning larger-than-life hats. Her artwork is available for purchase on her website and will be on display at the Nina Berenato store through December 31.