Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Not Your Mother's Dress-Up Dolls
The production of the Dangerous Career Babes series accelerated when I set up a studio just to handle these large enamel paintings, late last year. It slowed only when I had to travel to Melbourne, three weeks ago, to be with my father, who has been diagnosed with cancer. This week, I got back to work. I supervised the repair and re-finishing of three works in the series that were damaged because of carelessness in my old studio. I also began two completely new additions – The Race Car Driver (Homage To Hellé Nice) and The Card Hustler – both commissions.The Race Car Driver was a particular challenge. It was devised for a collector who was a fan of the early years of car racing, from the the 1930s to '50s, when glamorous figures such as Tazio Nuvolari and later, Juan Manuel Fangio and Jack Brabham, dominated European tracks. A different breed from 21st century Formula One drivers, with their fire-proof underwear, reinforced Kevlar and carbon-fibre helmets, and body-hugging Nomex suits covered with team and sponsor logos, mid-20th century drivers valued style over safety. They wore stylishly cut street clothes with quilted cloth head-warmers – similar to the leather head-gear favoured by early aviators – as well as aviator goggles and occasionally, a silk scarf.One of the hardest things when painting any Dangerous Career Babe is to keep it simple, to let the clothing and accessories speak and not distract from them with complicated, detailed backgrounds. I have always to remind myself that the series is, very genuinely, a conceptual work – it just happens to comprise twenty-four, 2.0m by 1.6m paintings. As I wrote, last year:As female children, we create an extension of ourselves by dressing up dolls. In a similar way, a lot of women still dress up to pretend roles as adults. This is different to actually being something – a real career babe. Rather, it's a form of play-acting. No skills are needed, and the career can change every day. Feminism made a broader range of female career characters believable. Post-feminism, we not only see imagery of women posing in various uniforms and career-outfits, we watch them enacted in mainstream films – Angelina Jolie as tomb-raider Lara Croft or a sexy assassin in Mr & Mrs Smith, Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux, or Salma Hayek as vampire Santanico Pandemonium in From Dusk Till Dawn.When I drew the first Dangerous Career Babe, I intended the torso and legs to remain the same in each painting but to adapt the arms according to the props. Instead, I have been able to use exactly the same pose. The images are a lot stronger this way. I've realised that it's because it makes the figure seem more like a combination of an action figure and a Barbie doll. One hand is designed for holding, and props can be slid into it. The other is gestural, indicating some kind of communication or action that can be interpreted according to the qualities associated with each costume the figure wears. Mostly, the props are unnecessary. I just think it's fun to include them.Just as in real life, the costumes are the key. The figure is a dress-up doll. The career the figure assumes in each painting is identifiable because of the clothes.