Drama Queens, 2017
Drama Queens is a series of paintings on paper that was initiated as a storyboard sequence for my next video, a visual opera entitled Who Do You Love. Begun at the Vermont Studio Center's January 2017 visual artist residency, these paintings offer objects and abbreviated gestures to signify character and narrative arc. In this manner, Drama Queens extends and reintroduces the visual lexicon that I have been developing, formerly with the specific objective to portray a theatrical femaleness. Here, the gender-play broadens to meditations and strategies of love and desire.
The imagery is culled from a collective unconscious, framed, of course, by personal attachments that reveal larger temporal political narratives; for me, this source-realm exists somewhere between the ether of memory and the corporeality of dinosaur tar. The cast of feathered fans, old suitcases, switchblades, sentinel horses, and Carmen's rose (a la Bizet) reveal tiny intrigues. While the Drama Queens paintings consist of such totems incised into fields of gooey black oil paint, the video will revel in saturated colorscapes inspired by the likes of director Michael Powell and of Carnival.
My film, PASSENGER, employs trauma and melancholia as generative tools for transformation. To this end, I mine the locations where personal and collective narratives intersect with the detritus of American capital. PASSENGER evolved out of a ten-year photographic exploration of abandoned cars in the woods and junkyards of rural Maine. In identifying my own unsettled relationship with cars, I could then extend such experience and sensation to broader polarities of empowerment and disempowerment. Here, the body of the car door - the literal and figurative portal - signals a pathway to catharsis.
PASSENGER also extends my ongoing investigations into representations of the female-gendered body in the iconic treatment of the car door. Countless songs, prose, and commercial copy have equated cars to girls. As surrogate to my gender's objectified, fetishized and thus disembodied state, the door functions as a "silent twin" to stories untold as author Jeanette Winterson may have envisioned. My own stylized body in performance enacts both takeover and memorial of environs both psychic and tangible. The performative lexicon used in the film derives from rituals rooted in a broad range of sources that include cleansing rites, New Orleans Jazz Funeral and Second Line traditions, the Veil of Veronica, the enchanting power of glitter in burlesque and queer performance, and punk DIY aesthetics. In my employment of second-hand objects as narrative props, I strive to tap both the archetypal and the personal in a populist, post-consumer manner.
PASSENGER's soundtrack is comprised of musical works both commissioned for this project and perviously published by Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, Bob Bert, and Rafael Attias. As abstract vignettes in themselves, these songs speak to the aural archives of popular American memory.
SHE'S (NOT) THERE: THE RE-MIX, 2015
My studio practice is rooted in constructing an evolving conversation using a series of questions, both for myself and the viewer. The work of the past year initiated with an investigation into the devotional and socio-political application of the Veil upon the female body. During my research, it became evident that I am most drawn to the effect of the Veil, as it simultaneously obfuscates and draws attention to a body’s femaleness.
So I asked what it would look like if the female figure were absent but her presence seemed tangible. I responded with compositions in which the silhouette of the female form is cut away from her given environment. In these works, the figures and poses are hijacked from art historical references and from vintage and contemporary media and pin-up imagery; I use my own body as well. The conceptual “blank canvas” of the figure’s vacant body is like a screen onto which we can project our desires.
While these figures certainly do not emote the whole story of Woman, they relate to distinct segments of Western visual culture to which we have been exposed for centuries. These are some of the icons that inform the “stories” that we construct around gender, repeatedly. The past is present in the imagery and conventions that we repeat: fashion editorials recall Greek sculpture or Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings, for example.
In my works, some figures are placed into dramatic settings, some retain strains of the original context, and others are placed into a composite of references to produce a new effect. I am also interested in creating an artificial naturalism.
I envision these works as anti-paintings, a space of altarity within the canon of Painting. The earlier works in this body of work are comprised of cut paper and paint. Recent works are made of oil paint that has been scraped away to create the form; this reductive method inverts traditional painting practice.
As allegory, scratching is a declaration – it functions to eradicate, to “own” (scratchitti), to bring something to the surface, and to inscribe onto the memory. My restrained color palette that wavers between filmy and murky represents that space in the subconscious that is both ether and dinosaur tar simultaneously.
The “doubled” images in my works are never true doppelgangers but are more akin to inversions of one another. I am not interested in creating a bias that poses one as more “real” than the other, but I do wish to present them as simultaneous phantasms, as shifting constructions of an idea.
But inversion is an interesting idea that provides alternate pathways – night/day, dominant/subordinate, dark/light. What if the transition between these binaries were more malleable? Or what if the veil between the conscious and the unconscious were pierced? What would night vision during the day seem like, for example?
I deconstruct elements that would suggest this theatrical kind of femaleness and presentation – stage curtains, ostrich feathers and hair: wild hair. While, again, this is not the full story of Woman, these elements have certain cultural associations. Hair as an opportunity conjures the most animal and the most primped, it is a powerful signifier of class, race and gender. I unearth these symbolic elements while drawing when I’m very tired or just waking. This process permits me to work associatively.
What began as an exploration into an unfamiliar cultural construction returned me to my own fluid notions of femaleness, feminism and sexuality. I recall questioning as a child the difference between Ingres’ hallowed reclining nude painting La Grande Odalisque and my uncle’s velvet girlie paintings in his French Quarter home.
I return to certain imagery again and again – I see the familiar in unlikely places; it is an uncanny and inexplicable effect that I wish to share with the viewer. I ask: Where have I seen that before? Why does it impact me? I make connections between appearance and ideas, raiding both the realm of my personal experience and a broader cultural image bank, searching for meaning as I put the ideas to flesh. I offer a dark theater in which imagination and desire can freely roam.