Monday, July 09, 2012

The Second Act

I have been painting in high gloss enamel for seventeen years now, nearly half my life.
My first works in the medium, undertaken when I was just a teenager, were intended as 'anti-paintings', their smooth, seamless surfaces devoid of brush strokes or any other apparent evidence of human touch. My signature was stamped on them like a brand, as if to emphasise their 'roles' as products. As an artist, I viewed myself as both producer and product. I happily objectified myself in my work.
For a time, when I was in my early 20s, the women in my enamels (or, rather, the women I pretended to be in them) were unlikely ideals, hyper-stylised and unencumbered by imperfections. They were always pretty, their poses frozen in 'perfect moments'. The 'contexts', such as they were, were intentionally superficial, the surfaces shiny and ever-new, like advertising images or fashion layouts in glossy magazines.
This was intentional. For much of the past 100 years, advertising has shaped female identity, defining they way they should be seen and desired: women have learned to acquire power from their appearance. My early enamels reflected my contradictory responses when such power (in the form of good looks and desirability) were pressed upon me as a young woman.
My earliest paintings were designed to be reproduced in the fashion and lifestyle publications they mimicked – the proportions of the frames matched those of a double-paged spread in an A4-format magazine (or a billboard). Which is to say, they were intended to work themselves as advertising. As I noted above, both they and I were 'product'. They were also designed to be easily consumable. Brightly colored, candy-coated, and glib, they were 'pop' in all the obvious ways.
But they were also troubling. Easy to access and absorb, to a point, looking at them too long could make one uncomfortable. Men always looked away from them before women, maybe because they recognised that they were being played – that what they were really looking at was a lot more critical and political than they'd bargained for. They had been encouraged to look without self-awareness or shame through decades of all the wrong messages from mass media and advertising but now they could see themselves reflected in these brittle, glass-like surfaces, too-vividly-tinted mirrors held up to their prurience and smug assumptions.
Two later series played on this further. Dangerous Career Babes was an unsubtle throw-down to the post-feminist Noughties, taking hyper-mediated, hyper-productised, power-dressing, but ultimately play-acting 'independent' women to task for the shallow depth of commitment to their own progress. The Big Pin-Ups that followed a year or so later were my last gasp of frustration: portraits conceived at a remove from their subjects, who were all idealised, larger-than-life-sized, slightly-too-obtainable playthings, smooth-skinned, sexually pliant, and pretty vacant.
For years, I kept my work impersonal, even if it included my own image: the art as product, devoid of meaning, available to any (or no) interpretation. But now I have grown up. No longer a teenager or an angsty twenty-something, I care less about how identity can be 'coerced' by media and advertising (maybe I know, too well, who and why I am). I like ambiguity but I've grown out of saccahrine prettiness, even when its suffused with irony.
I am not abandoning my hard-edged painting style – even if I am, increasingly, doing other things in other media. I still like its crispness and craftsmanship. But I want it to change as radically as I have changed in these past several months. I want it to deliver more – from less.


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charlotte said...

Your ideal sound really interresting and very adventurous to move forward instead of remaing standing still. i do like your early works that to me look quite challenging the sets. The "Career" works are beautiful in the sensuality of the object called "woman" like in magazine. I found them less agressive, more in line with ideas in " sexual pop art", less political in their aesthetic (I do love the girl with the bird, the one with the gun) so I am quite frill by your desire changes.
Best wishes, Charrlote