In my recent work, I combine imagery from fashion advertising with disruptive elements in order to consider ideas of femininity and female power. I’m interested in fashion—and particularly the fashion advertising that appears in women’s magazines—as a place of fantasy that both proposes and prescribes ideas of female power. As a consumer of these images, and as an ardent feminist, I seek to explore my own desire to both inhabit and critique the standards these images create.
I’m interested in women’s magazines and the images therein because they serve as one of the only resources for women to learn what female power looks like, and yet so often this power is coupled with disempowerment. The strong woman appears off balance; the sensuously parted lips share a face with fearful eyes; the romantic kiss contains a hint of sadness. These images teach a careful game of control and moderation.
The vast majority of paintings in art history assume the gaze and desire of a male viewer. Contemporary fashion images, however, assume a female viewer and invite her to imagine a product-based metamorphosis wherein her own body might inspire adoration from another’s gaze. With this in mind, I select images from fashion advertisements that propose the possibility of transformation: a lipstick that promises more kissable lips, a diamond ring that might summon augmented power, a bottle of sweet perfume that might attract a lover. I see in the act of painting a vampiric element, wherein I the painter take ownership of—and in a way become—that which I paint. In a way, these paintings become self-portraits of my own acquisition of new bodies and newfound adoration. They confirm my complicity with the proffered transaction, allowing me the identity of both viewer and viewed.
Parallel to my search for fashion imagery, I seek images from art history that present a feeling of femininity. In particular, I’m drawn to the paintings of nineteenth century painter Henri Fantin Latour, who gained prominence for his beautiful paintings of floral still lifes. With their softness and frontal presentation, these still lifes remind me of odalisques in that they invite consumption. I borrow elements from these still lifes—a vase, a flower, or a full composition—and incorporate them into my fashion paintings in order to create disruption within the composition. These historical references—as well as more formal disruptions such are blurring, drips, and occasional impasto—serve to express my ambivalence regarding the fashion images I use.
‘Objectification’ is a word often used to describe the process of transforming a body into a something that can be owned. I see a danger in re-presenting the images I find in fashion magazines, because these images already go so far in objectifying their models, and to re-present these images through painting can potentially reify the violence of the original presentation. However, by incorporating the genre of still life—which focuses on the presentation of objects—I seek to obviate the consumability of these images while resituating them in a space of new potential power.