Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Performance Arse

From the beginning of my career as an artist, men have made the mistake of thinking that the strong, sexy women in my paintings are me.
At a gallery party, a few years ago, a middle-aged executive type looked me up and down and said, "You're different to what I thought you'd be."
He took my silence as an invitation to describe some twisted fantasy derived from the gun-toting women in my Lake Eyre series of enamel paintings: "I figured a white, tight wife-beater, denim cut-offs, oh, and long boots, as if you were, y'know, up for anything."
"Up for anything," I repeated, blankly. How had I ended up in a conversation with a dickhead like him?
"Yeah," he said. "I'd show you to my mates and pay for you and me to fly to..." I walked away, leaving him to talk to the empty space where I'd stood.
As my reputation as an artist grew, I expected never again to have these sorts of encounters. I've fought hard to be respected and I've taken every opportunity to articulate in public the post-feminist perspective of my work.
The severe, monochrome, shaven-skull head-shot of me used on this blog and in all my publicity materials makes it plain that I'm not exactly user-friendly when it comes to sexist fools.
Today, I received an email from a married, 30-something guy who bought a painting from me a few years back. He and a friend – who "also owns one of your works" – were throwing a stag party for "an avid art collector". The theme of the stag night was to be an art exhibition so he was "just wondering" whether I'd consider (as a favour to them, as collectors) "tastefully painting" the groom-to-be "naked with some props" as a kind of performance piece in front of the other party goers.
At first, I tried to stifle my astonishment and anger. Then I thought, why the hell should I? I emailed back and told him bluntly that I had no interest at all in this puerile idea. I also asked him whether such a proposition would have been put to me if I was a late middle-aged, male artist.
Probably not.


Sarah Marie Lacy said...

Gross. That's pretty much all I can say about that.

I was talking about this same thing the other day - that far too often what I look like gets brought up in relation to my art career. But if I was a boy, would it even matter?

I'm sure I bring a certain amount of it on myself - I do my hair, I wear make up, I like to wear nice clothes. The picture of me on my site is an attractive one.

At the same time, would a guy who took the same cares get the same comments? Shouldn't I be allowed to do those things without worrying if someone's going to make a sexist remark?

Who knows what the solution is. Except to not tolerate it when it happens.

Lorna L. Effler said...

It's mind-boggling what people will say...or have the nerve to request of an artist, especially a female artist!
I've experienced some of this "stuff" myself, it's an insult & disturbing.

Where do these "preconceptions" come from...it's crazy!?!
Obviously these types are insensitive, arrogant---jerks, that feel there are no lines "they" can't cross.
Glad you wrote about it...people need to know that female artists get many "approaches".

Lorna Effler

Tai said...

Hi..I'm a 'male artist' who does male modelling, been involved in fashion design, published a running-triathlon sport magazine and also produced a monthly sports cycling television show. I'm not gay and I've never had that particular type of proposition placed before me but I do recall 'curiosities' wanting discounts and offering 'funny haha' amounts for a painting.

One such local woman lawyer asked if she could have a sizeable discount because she was 'a local' and I politely asked if she was available for consultation the following week to which she replied, yes, of course! When I asked if she could offer me the same discount, she promptly replied, "I'm sorry, we don't give discounts!!"

Yes, unfortunately 'performance arses' do come with the territory under; 'shady raincoats' but just remember, it's because we lack many things that human beings are just so creative and ingenious and, we must always remain above 'them' : )

One day I swear, I'm going to just paint nude figuratives and maybe, I will become known as that; late middle-aged, artist who paints stunning, beautiful nude women.... how cool and, classy would that be!?

Mike Wood said...

That guy was F'd up. well the guy you walked away from, and the one who emailed you the absurd stag request.

I guess an alternative could have been to suggest a ridiculous commission price. Or to do it in exchange for taking the pieces they own back - plus a huge fee. Morons.

Maybe I am naive, but I don't know how people act like that and don't expect to get kicked in the nuts.

ArneA said...

Well, you never know.
Everything is possible in human communication

ArtBloke said...

Don't pretend you haven't traded on sexuality when it suited you - your work and blog is littered with it and you revell in it.

On top of that, you clearly manipulate a substantial segment of your collector base with images based on sexualised themes, sell them the source polaroids and you're quite happy to bank the cheques.

When you're 'mis-interpreted' don't feign this kind of shock - you're sharper than that, and we know it.

Hazel Dooney said...

I usually don't bother responding to impotent bitchy spews from anonymous authors but in this case, I thought I might point out that in his over-ripe resentment, Art Bloke underestimates the intelligence (and even gender balance and sexual preference) of my collectors.

Is there also the whiff of sour grapes? Just asking...

ArtBloke said...

Hazel, please don't interpret what I said as assuming anything about your collectors - especially their intelligence. They're collecting you, that's great and they are who they are. I wish I could afford your work.

You are producing art which is intended to appeal, you're doing it well and working bloody hard doing it. Absolutely no resentment or sour grapes about that. Kudos to you.

But sex and sexuality are clearly at the centre of your creative output since the earliest work shown on your site. So from my viewpoint, in using that sexuality - some of it very explicit - you are manipulating your audience.

Yes, that bloke's approach was gross, un-warranted and offensive but it didn't come out of nowhere and I think you're way sharp enough to know that.

Hazel Dooney said...

Art Bloke,

You shift tone to one of phoney reasonableness only to labour an easy-to-argue yet fatuous point.

Let's address another: my life and art are in the open, exposed almost daily in words or images. Judge them as you will but have the balls to stand in plain sight if/when you do. Don't cloak your identity and snipe from the shadows.

If you've read previous posts, you should know I make it a policy to reject anonymous critics. I've made an exception twice for you: I won't again.

3brainer said...

I agree that it is a cheap shot for ArtBloke to hide behind anonymity. And I disagree that your work is manipulative in the way s/he describes. On the other hand, I think s/he has a point in that we have to realize that our audience will identify us with our work. If the themes are violent, sexual, religous etc. we will often be seen as embodying those perspectives. I've seen this with my theatre work, and I suspect visual art is no different.

But I think you may have schooled the ass a bit. He clearly mingled the art (and his associated fantasies) with the artist, the human, the woman, the individual. Of course he never would have made the offer to the middle aged man, (unless of course the middle aged-man painted like you do and was lovely enough to pass as a beautiful woman.) If he's smart, he learned something.

Thanks for posting this. You very well could get more of these type of rude propositions in your career, and it will be interesting to see what you do with the poor blokes who make the mistake.

Dorothy Jones said...

"When you're 'mis-interpreted' don't feign this kind of shock"

Artbloke's rationale is the same as the idea that women who wear short skirts shouldn't feign shock when they're 'misinterpreted' and sexually harassed (or even raped).

It's merely a way of excusing and justifying the debasing behavior of men like Artbloke and the example in this blog entry. I am sure I am not alone in suspecting Artbloke is the same person.

david kramer said...

Lighten up, everyone. It's all one big holy, goof!