Monday, 9 December 2019

Feminine Pursuits at Manchester Jewish Museum

I'm very excited to share that I will be doing a week long artist residency at Manchester Jewish Museum beginning next Monday!

This will be a perfect opportunity for me to explore certain strands of my new project looking into 'feminine pursuits', specifically women's history of needlework and its ties to acts of devotion.

Manchester Jewish Museum has a vast collection of artefacts dating back to the 1800's and I've already been told a little bit about some of the textile and craft pieces that I'm keen to look at.

I'll also get the chance to meet and chat to the museum's Women's Textile Group, a collective of women from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds, to find out about what they do and ask more about the whys and hows behind their shared activities.

I'm keen to find out more about the history of women's needlework in Jewish history and culture and how it has helped to shape a sense of identity for the individual, the community and the subjects it represents. I also want to look into the universal language of needle based crafts and try to unpick some of it's meanings to translate into my own work.

My Dolly Parton embroidery in process

I do a lot of embroidering in my art practice and my current stitched portraits of glamorous iconic women from popular culture has been my own act of worship or devotion to them. It's made me want to know more about this way of communicating ideas and also why things like glamour and needlework are classed as 'feminine pursuits', and as such are down graded in artistic importance.

I hope that from my research at Manchester Jewish Museum I'll get a good start in finding out some of the answers or leads to what I want to know and be able to frame my ideas in new ways. I'd like to find a way in the future to use 'feminine pursuits' to empower their users, regardless of gender, and help to give the acts themselves more artistic significance while retaining all the fun and fabulousness they evoke!

During the week long residency I hope to blog regularly about the things I find and share my thoughts with you! So stay tuned, much more to come!...

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Becoming Miss Scarlet...

I regularly costume model for drawing events and recently did a Cluedo themed drawing night where I got the opportunity to play Miss Scarlet! It was such a fun night and I loved the opportunity to get my murderess on! For this post I thought I'd share a bit about what went into costume modelling behind the scenes.

Firstly I searched for images of Miss Scarlet from the famous board game and various TV shows to get an idea of how she looks. I then compiled an outfit to fit the character. Usually I use things I already have, but sometimes I borrow items from friends. I rarely buy any new bits unless they are something I know I'll love and want to wear again.

For this outfit I put together a vampy red dress with a fascinator and some black leather gloves I thought would be perfect for murdering someone and not leaving any prints!

I then worked with the event organiser to put together an itinerary for the evening including the number of poses and the length of each pose. This was a drawing session for all levels so I wanted to keep it fun and mix up short poses with longer ones. I also like to take into consideration what props I can use and this time I had the full compliment of Cluedo weapons! With this in mind I tried out different poses in front of a mirror and jotted down the ones I thought worked well. When posing I like to keep things interesting and think about shapes and angles as well as staying in character to give the drawers something different each time.

On the day I took some time to do my hair and makeup then packed my case, traveled to the venue and got changed there. Changing rooms for this type of thing are usually a back room or toilet as can be seen in this ever so glamorous toilet selfie at the Cluedo night.

It was a really fun evening with my posing accompanied by a playlist of jazz classics to help further set the mood. The participants really got into the spirit of things and created some brilliant drawings. I love to check out what everyone has captured and thought this night's work was especially good.

I'll be modeling again THIS Thursday (5th Dec) at Bloom Coffee Co in Bury for a special Christmas themed drawing event with Ale and Arty. There'll be an amazing playlist of cool seasonal music as well as prizes to be won and some fun costumes to draw. Hope to see you there!

Friday, 29 November 2019

Glamour: The Real Fake

In my last post I explained my fascination for people who use glamour to assert their identity. People who curate a specific image on the outside to express who they are on the inside.

To some extent we all construct an image every day and we all wear the way we are perceived by the rest of the world. Every outfit and the way we style them are the psychical manifestations of our current situation and mindset. Whether we think about it much or not, our outward appearance is more than just clothes and make up. As RuPaul  says, 'we are all born naked, and the rest is drag'.

Yet, there are some people who are able to tap into their genuine selves and tell us the story of who they are through their cosmetic surface with extra flair and fantasy.

For this post I thought I'd go a bit further in pinning down what this magical quality of glamour is and show how it's not just a case of frippery or charade which makes it so easy to dismiss as trivial (although there's nothing wrong with a bit of these too). Glamour is constructed, but it can project a very powerful form of expression, freedom and creativity. It can be the real fake.

Talking to Dolly Parton for an interview on Australia's '60 Minutes', the presenter said,'You were once described as being part sincere, part synthetic', to which she replied, 'Well, I think that's probably true. I think part of what magic I may have as far as my personality, is the fact I look totally fake, and I like to think I'm totally real'.

There are many examples of other individuals who fit this idea. People who have devoted their time and energy to creating a little bit of magic every time they dress. These men and women have used glamour to satisfy their need to project the inside out and in most cases their personal branding has lead in some part to their success and a sense of self...

True style is unique to the person and to copy someone's glamour is to never really capture them, all you will ever get is a caricature. How many Marilyn Monroe wannabe's have you seen sporting the same blonde hair and white dress yet never coming close to the real thing? Glamour in it's truest sense comes from within, and of course, it's not just the rich and famous who follow this rule, I often see remarkable people out and about who trigger my admiration and fascination.

In the most recent edition of The Chap magazine, there is a snappy little article about Marilyn Monroe and the image she built and maintained with thorough dedication. The Chap calls this her 'dandyism', which I think is a brilliant way of labeling this use of glamour. 

Catherine Spooner, the author of Fasioning Gothic Bodies states, 'Dandyism is not merely surface, but rather the managing of surface'. This is certainly something that can be attributed to Marilyn, who worked hard to maintain her outward image at all times and literally became the 'wonderful', her private self aspired to be.

There was no set of rules to being Marilyn Monroe, she just tapped into something inside of herself and projected it out, it was clothing and hair, make up and talent, her own special brand of glamour. Marilyn was one of those people who naturally tuned into their inner self and turned the dial all the way up to 11. 

Baudelaire once said, 'The dandy should aspire to be uninterruptedly sublime. He should live and sleep in front of a mirror'. I don't think this means dandy's are vain or self absorbed, more that they see themselves as an ongoing creative project. Even if they don't have an audience they are still able to enjoy the image they have constructed for the sake of itself... and why not?

This has been my second post for the new project (as yet untitled) where I am looking at ideas of gender and identity through the lens of 'Feminine Pursuits', specifically at needlework and cosmetics. This began when I started creating embroideries of inspiring individuals who use glamour to express their identities.  Please take a look at my last post for more background and a fuller explanation of the work so far.

 The art of make up and styling is truly a powerful tool that can create a work of art, empower an individual and leave an indelible impression on the cultural landscape. For this reason I am a devotee of cosmetics and styling. I see them as wonderful tools to be used for our sense of well being, as little or much as you need. As we've seen, they are not exclusively just for women, though why they are associated mostly to the feminine is something I hope to find out. The art of glamour, is a true art form yet rarely recongnised as such. I hope in the work to come I can help to question and change that.

Join me next time to find out more...

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

An act of worship...

 I never thought I'd be writing a post that puts Dolly Parton in the same bracket as Elizabeth 1st, yet here I am. Bear with me...

A few weeks ago I began a new embroidery portrait of Dolly as I'd wanted to create a 'sister piece' to the Joan Collins one I did a year or so ago.

Why these two?

I am drawn to people who use glamour as a way to express an identity yet stay completely true to themselves. People who know who they are, stay grounded, yet project a sense of genuine fantasy. I don't mean your average face of make up, they seem to be fulfilling something real but extra about themselves. These people are ambassadors of success through the created image. It's a very special trait, that to me, makes for a fascinating person and I want to capture some of what I feel through my work.

Each embroidery takes hours, and I mean hours to do. Stitch after stitch, sometimes unpicking whole sections in order to redo them. I fall into a kind of meditative state as I stare intently at Dolly Parton's face, all the while stitching with conviction... because I think she's great.

Then a friend pointed out the simple fact that there's no irony to what I'm doing; my work is in a sense, an act of worship. Suddenly I had an epiphany, like Dolly herself had reached down from the heavens and touched me!

My friend was right, these portraits encompass so much of what is important to me, ideas of identity, artifice and story telling. They speak of personal empowerment, celebration and a type of truth. They are my way of giving something usually thought of as trivial, sometimes even faintly ridiculous (Dolly would be the first to revel in her ridiculousness), a sense of gravity.

It was like a window opened up in my head...

...and that's where Elizabeth 1st comes into it...

A couple of weeks ago I happened across a video about a richly embroidered antique altar cloth which had been framed and hung in a small village church for decades. It was thought to have been dedicated to the church by one of Queen Elizabeth's 1st's servants, however on closer inspection, it turned out to be a dress that had been gifted to the servant by the queen and turned into an altar cloth. It is the only known surviving example of the monarch's clothing.

There is so much to unpack here; Firstly, the idea that the queen was held in such high regard by her people that her very garb was used as part of a religious act and given the highest honour.

During her reign Elizabeth constructed a powerful image for herself playing on the concept of the 'Virgin Queen', a being who blurred the lines of reality and myth to became an icon in her lifetime. She did this not just through her actions and words but through a very clever branding scheme that used cosmetics and clothing to speak the language of superiority and 'otherness'

Using the tools available to her as a woman to stake her claim, Elizabeth invested in the same balance of fantasy and truth that I venerate in Dolly and Joan.

There's also the fact the dress/altar cloth was hand embroidered. Elizabeth's women in waiting and servants would have stitched the fabric as their own acts of worship to the living icon, taking hours in doing so.

Both these acts of artifice and craftsmanship are generally regarded as female pursuits in the wider world and as such are not given the credence they deserve, yet they helped to cement Elizabeth in our minds as one of England's greatest monarchs.

There's a layering of ideas here where the similarities peak in the work I have been doing on my portraits. They speak the same language of glamour and female weighted craft both cosmetic and textile. This is something I really want to look deeper into.

I want to explore the language of worship through hand crafted images looking into how they have been used in the past and the present. I want to know why 'women's pursuits' such as needlework and beautifying have been down graded in importance and if they are now being embraced by a wider culture where gender fluidity is more accepted. With a glut of make up guru's across the gender spectrum ruling Youtube, are attitudes really changing?

I want to take a deep dive into the world of cosmetics and ask how making up helps and hinders the individual while closer examining the power of the artistry that can be created.

Not least of all I want to celebrate those individuals who inspire because of the 'otherness' they project through their flair for fantasy and finesse and try to pin down something of the essence that makes them the icons they are. 

In doing all of this I intend to expand upon the work I've been doing finding new ways to frame it's meaning.

This is a very exciting project to me and I'll be posting about it as I go, so join me next time to see where the glamour takes us...

Monday, 11 November 2019

The Page Dipper

I recently started up a new blog called The Page Dipper. It's a place where I write reviews and general thoughts about the books I've read.

I love to read about fiction, biographies, history and art and sometimes a book will stay with me because of the ideas it's shaken up or the feelings it's evoked. Often I'll start telling my friends and family about something I've read or am currently reading because I just need to share! So I thought, why not put that need into a blog and post those thoughts out there?

Please go and take a look HERE. It's early days yet so I'm still playing with layout and themes for the look of the blog and I'm still figuring out how to write about each book I read so each post is different in tone at this point. However I'd love to know if you've read the same books or similar and what your thoughts are so please leave comments and interact with The Page Dipper!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The Chantilly Belles

Back in the late 2000's burlesque was THE buzz word that was taking over the world. It was a time when every bar, pub and community hall was hosting its own burlesque night and you couldn't move for new acts called, 'Von' this, or 'Kitty' that. Even Ann Summers cashed in and nipple tassels suddenly became a top seller. It was amidst this chaos of glitter and false eyelashes that a little burlesque duo began to carve a niche for itself.

A pair of opposites, one short and blonde, one tall and dark, both with a drive to make their act something different and not take themselves too seriously, The Chantilly Belles comprised of two idiots with a creative flair for the absurd. Namely, myself and my friend Rene.

We were both artists and had become friends while at Uni doing an MA together some years before. I'd never imagined that down the line we would end up spanking each other on stage in front of 500 people.

It was out of the blue one evening when Rene rang me to ask if I fancied teaming up to do some sort of performance art. She'd just been to a private view and seen a woman singing as part of the exhibition. She thought 'I could do that', and then immediately wondered who would be daft enough to join her for moral support.

I'm no singer so that avenue was out of the equation, but I do love to dress up and prance about, so how about something like that? It just so happened Rene had attended a burlesque class for beginners and the idea of a burlesque duo was formed. Neither of us had an urge to take our clothes off in front of an audience so we knew our USP had to come from our physical differences and our artistic talents. We soon realised we had an uncanny skill for morphing into a cartoonish version of ourselves once we started trying ideas out, think Morcambe and Wise or Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

Rene was always willing to try out ideas and amazing at coming up with details that made things gel perfectly. She was completely out of her comfort zone but determined to give it her all. We would take it in turns to perform our parts in front of the other to see how the act was coming along and give each other pointers and praise. Rene was more of a natural than she ever gave herself credit for.

The Chantilly Belles brand of comedy and dance told stories inspired by music, costumes and silly props, and in perfecting it, we'd spend hours rehearsing routines in Rene's living room. Every Saturday morning I would walk up to her house and for the next few hours I'd be gasping for air as we made each other laugh till we cried. I'd literally collapse on the floor convulsed while she sat chuckling with mascara running down her face.

 Our debut performance 2007

As the Chantilly Belles we performed across the UK at various events and burlesque nights. We debuted at Dukes 52 in Manchester as part of a variety fundraiser compared by the policeman with the funny accent from 'Allo Allo' and went on from there to take part in local nights with other newbies. In time we took part in talent shows, charity gigs, art events and headlined at the Oxford O2 Academy.

When you think of burlesque it conjures up images of sexy ladies with long gloves and high heels, suggestively removing satin robes and silk stockings so that soft gossamer feathers are the only things to stand between their naked forms and the eyes of the audience, it's effortless and tantalising and oh so glamorous. Well yes, it is all of these things, but it's also getting lost trying to find the venue, sharing a broom cupboard with six other girls all attempting to apply tit tape and not ladder their nylons, and the last minute calamity just before you're about to go on stage. As The Chantilly Belles, we had a lot of those!

I remember painting Rene's nails bright red while she bombed it one handed down the M40 because she hadn't had time to paint them before we left. I also remember stopping off at a service station in the middle of the night after one performance still dressed in our goat and goat herder costumes and the cashier not batting an eyelid.

Before one memorable performance (the big one in Oxford) we were getting ready for our Fox and Hunter routine when Rene's recurring Spondylitis flared up. Out of the blue her knee swelled to three times it's normal size and her riding boot wouldn't fit over her calf. As we got the 2 minute call to show time I was on the floor wrestling with the boot while Rene tussled with her leg. 'Push, Push!' I yelled as sweat dripped down both our foreheads and Rene grunted. It was like a scene from a delivery room. I felt my heart galloping and anxiety racing through every ounce of my being. Yet, somehow, finally, said boot moved into place and like the professionals we were we stumbled to the side of the stage before pulling off the act without a single hitch to the biggest audience we had ever had.

The Chantilly Belles achieved so much in the short time we were performing. We made the grade to take part in the Big Burlesque Bout which featured international contenders all battling to be crowned the number one burlesque act of 2008

We were filmed and interviewed as part of a massive summer exhibition 'Express Yourself' at The Lowry celebrating dance, which gave us a chance to show burlesque could be about story telling and fun for everyone.

 Rene's interview with BBC Radio Manchester for Express Yourself

We performed as part of Comedy 4 Christie's at The Lowry helping to raise thousands for a brilliant cause, were commissioned by The Whitworth Art Gallery to create an act to showcase their new wallpaper collection, and took part in countless Dr Sketchy's around the North West which blended our love of art and creativity with burlesque performance.

Over the years we met some fabulous people too, our good friends Scarlet Fever and her husband Tony who had their own burlesque story from appearing on Channel 4's Faking It, and many talented performers such as Immodesty Blaize, Beatrix Von Bourbon and Kitten on the Keys. I have fond memories of meeting and performing alongside some lovely people and I wonder where they are now (Anna Fur Laxis, you were a total doll!)

We performed in venues where we had to get changed in the disabled toilets, the kitchen, the pub's upstairs room, the cupboard under the stairs, right through to a real dressing room with our name on the door!

Rene was such fun to work with and together we had a great chemistry that translated perfectly to the stage. Above all my memories of The Chantilly Belles, my outstanding one is my mate Reens who drove me crazy at times (the woman had the craziest life) but gave me such joy and the chance to explore my creativity in a way I would never have done without her. It's led to new friends and ventures for me and even though I go to them alone her memory is always with me.

I'm so happy we had this chapter together Rene. Thank you girlfriend x

Rene Lumley 1972 - 2019

For more on The Chantilly Belles, type 'The Chantilly Belles' in the search box above

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Goodbye Doris

Have you ever seen Calamity Jane? Its the 1953 technicolor musical that follows the story of the wild west heroine with her sharp shootin', rootin' tootin' ways and her secret love for Wild Bill Hicock. 

BUT, basics aside, have you ever REALLY watched Calamity Jane, and by that I mean Doris Day's extraordinary performance? She bolts off the screen like a ray of golden light all energy and purpose. As Calam', Doris fully embodies every ounce of the loud, bragging, arm flailing heroine. She is a powerhouse of acting. It's amazing when you see her move, when you hear her sing!

Doris' honey smooth voice was both soothing and invigorating, it could be lilting and soft or ramped up to full force, but never anything but perfection. 

How bothersome then, that Doris' talents not just for musicals but comedies and dramas too have been overshadowed by her branding as the virginal all American goody two shoes, that has become a kitsch cliche at best and a false caricature at worst.

In reality she wasn't all apple pie. She was a women making her way in a male dominated industry. She was taken advantage of and betrayed by those closest to her (three marriages, one bankruptcy and an ageist Hollywood system) and pigeonholed into money making projects that kept her in a safe two dimensional bracket, that she somehow manged to rise above and shine.

My appreciation for Doris didn't truly begin until my 20's. Before that I'd always assumed she was too blandly wholesome. My god, how wrong I was! Watching Calamity Jane for the second time as an adult I realised I too had massively underrated her. I was grabbed by her vitality and her ability to go full force into a character while never veering into absurdity. She owned every scene she was in, her very physicality projecting her beyond the surface of the screen.

Spending time with her well known later films, those screwball 60's romance comedies she's so well known for, its wonderful to see how she embraces the campness and runs with it. These films cemented the whiter than white stereotype associated with Doris but she made what could have been flimsy character roles into memorable iconic performances that defined an era of golden Hollywood and popular culture to come.

Doris' will always be linked with Wake Me Up before You Go Go

Iconic work by artist Alejandro Mogollo (used with kind permission by the artist) 

Doris Day has been there my entire life, a legend hidden somewhere in California. It was enough to know she still existed; one of the Hollywood greats. I fully respected her decision to retire in the 1980's and focus on her charity work for the Doris Day Animal Foundation, yet when she released her album My Heart, at the age 89 it was exciting to hear her lovely voice once more and know she was still working her magic.

To know that Doris has gone is a great loss. I hope that people look back at her catalogue of work and feel as wowed as I have. I hope she is always remembered for the right reasons, for her undeniable talent and skill as a performer and the charity work that will continue in her name. I hope that right now Doris is having the best time, her glorious mega watt smile lighting up the heavens, because, after all, who can make 'the sun shine brighter than Doris Day'?