I own a ridiculous number of old fashion magazines. They are stacked deep on my books shelves both at home and at the studio. Every move, and very financial driven downsizing since I’m forced to purge a pile that goes back about 15 to 20 years. A painful exercise when I count up the price tags on the imported British and French titles. One move I’m convinced I threw out close to a small downpayment on a pied-a-terre in foreign rags. I shamelessly love and have participated in the drama of the fashion industry over the years and have subscribed, rightly or wrongly, in my formative years to the glossy, smooth skin of the models in beauty and makeup advertising. However, I’ve never found a satisfying or logical avenue for the expression of this obsession in my art practice.
I’ve followed Sylvie Fleury’s work from a near distance over the years, understanding the “post appropriatism” label and also smirking at her subtle jokes about female consumerism and desire. The chromed Prada shoes and Birken bag that freeze those objects into the canon of the “permanent” sculpture and create a space for contemplation. Her work plays with the obvious way in which women are marketed to in the media with the promise of consumer objects to achieve certain social and economic goals. Fleury’s work is a glossy commentary on consumerism, in particular, the way in which consumerism appeals to female insecurities while also creating the conditions in which female insecurities (body and beauty) anxieties. The other way I think her work functions is to be up-to-the minute in it’s contemporariness (so much so that it can be dismissed by many). Fleury understands that consumer mass-produced objects, even when priced and positioned as luxury are a marker of the everyday; and the everyday can appear banal in the present time because a lens of distance cannot yet be applied to see the shape or the object in the gallery and elevated from the same shape or object at department or grocery store.
Pop art dealt also with this phenomenon. Pop artists “began to look for inspiration and materials in their immediate environment. They made art that mirrored, critiqued, and, at times, incorporated everyday items, consumer goods, and mass media messaging and imagery. Pop artists strove for straightforwardness in their work…favoured realism, everyday (even mundane) imagery, and heavy doses of irony and wit.” (MOMA)
Fleury’s recent makeup palette sculptures (painted, dimensional sculptures) struck a self conscious chord with me. They seem too simple to be “art” yet at the same time are highly meaningful whilst being seductive in form and colour. At approximately the same time I discovered these work, I was going through another library purge. Licking and flicking through my magazine stash in order to downsize, I started ripping out images of perfume, cream, and potion ads. There was something there that resonated for me.
I’m aggressively re-examining my painting practice at the moment, and recognizing a thread in my pursuits that related to the contemporary female experience as filtered through the media and marketing advertising. I have several series of photographic proto-selfies stashed away from the days before smart phone cameras, and I’ve always been dazzled by the fine line between fashion and high art. I’m fascinated with #mirrorselfies and #ootd photos posted by women on Instagram.The me diation of the female experience and most recently, the taking back of the gaze with the use of technology-driven marketing platforms (all the social media giants). We all know that media, in particular social media, is a double-edged razor that can harm as much as it creates a free and open platform.
I’m also aware of entering an age where the depreciation of superficial social value for a woman as young, vibrant, fertile and attractive starts to become noticeable to the woman herself. Many women talk about the “invisible” years where due to a collective, media-driven obsession with ageism and youthfulness a women fades into the wallpaper at social occasions. The straight men with power and or bravado are biochemically seduced by the waft of youthful pheromones and I’m sure similar prejudices can and do exist outside of the standard (and boring) cis gender, heteronormative sphere of play. However, that is an entirely other, fascinating and frustrating conversation about desire, power, attraction, money, sex and influence.
A series of bottle and jar paintings on shaped canvases come from the “hope in a bottle” references I collected. True to my interests, they are also very much about painting and being as painterly as possible with materials.