Friday, June 11, 2010

Size Matters

The aspect of my work that provokes the most ascerbic criticism is its easy accessibility.
My best-known paintings are big, brightly coloured and shiney, like ads in a glossy magazine, and they depict idealised, sexy women. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be any more to them than this. They can be easily dismissed as outsized graphic design rather than serious art – at best, afflicted by the "subversive and slick trademarks of contemporary consumer culture", as the Australian critic Ashley Crawford once put it; at worst, "predictable".
One of the drawbacks of having my work recognisable mainly from its wide distribution across the web is that its essential elements of repetition and scale are overlooked. For example, the 24 Dangerous Career Babes are basically identical, even if the clothes, accessories and backgrounds are different. They share exactly the same dimensions and are over two metres (just under seven feet) in height.
Individual Babes have been bought by more than a dozen collectors but the series was conceived as a single work, an installation intended to occupy several thousand square feet of wall space. It isn't until you've stood among half a dozen or more in the same room that you begin to feel the almost claustrophobic oppression these deliberately clich├ęd depictions of modern women – "part action figure, part Barbie doll" – impose. The insidious taint of advertising and entertainment stereotypes on the contemporary female psyche is a conceptual trace element in many of my works.
Scale is also important to my latest series of enamels, Big Pin-Ups (Miss April pictured above). I wanted these unabashedly Pop portraits of 21st century adult performers to be just as prim yet as seductively appealing as illustrated pin-ups from the 1930s and '40s. But by painting them big enough to loom over the viewer, in noxiously pretty, 'girly' pastel hues, our "predictable" responses – regardless of how they're keyed by our individual sexuality – are subverted.
Which is another way of saying, yes, my work is accessible and quickly 'read' when you first encounter it. But it's what happens next that argues for its power and validity as art.


Wendy Olsen said...

Thanks for posting what you is all I needed to hear to put my own ideas in place.
Im not going to fear it now!
Similarly my own work can be described as illusration over art.
I am going try HUGE!
Life size at least...Then the message may just get across loud and clear!
Thanks again Hazel!

Karen Martin Sampson said...

Hazel, you don't need to explain anything as far as I'm concerned... I do get it and have come to respect what you're doing the longer I become familiar with your work. Seeing the series in person, in a single room would be quite an experience I'm sure. Just take care of your health and well being while you continue to pursue your art. Your fans want you around for a long time!

Rachelle said...


While I agree with Karen that you don't NEED to expain anything...I'm certainly grateful that you did.

I've only seen your art online, so it is fascinating for me to hear your description of what one might experiencing seeing -- say, the entire collection of Dangerous Babes -- in a showing. It totally shifted my understanding for that series. Thank you.

Once I sat nursing one of my daughters in a room filled with hundreds of small oils of birds. The artist was mid-installation and was discussing with her partner what it would be like to sell them one at a time, instead of as a complete collection. I fet sad that she would most likely have to break the series up. The impact of the piece was largely held in it's collective size. But I could tell by the tone of her voice, that she understood this was part of the nature of art as a business; and also part of the evolution of the artworks as they passed through time and viewing experience.

It's interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how the creators of such pieces must learn to interact with that show/sales reality.

Thank you for telling us your story.