Tuesday 30 April 2013

Work included in Nyx!

I got invited to include some of my work in the next issue of Nyx journal, a publication of critical theory, politics and art, funded by Goldsmiths and available online and in print from bookshops around London.

The theme for Nyx Issue 8 is 'Skin', quite apt don't you think? I have seen the final proof and it looks fabulous! The launch is 10th May.

Saturday 27 April 2013

New art project part 2: Something about Grace...

Last week myself and Grace Oni Smith, visited Manchester Art Gallery to view some of the Pre-Raphaelite works there in preparation for the new art piece based on her. (find out about this spectacular lady in my last post: New art project: A date with Grace)

More specifically, we went to perv at the lovely Pre-Raphaelite models who take pride of place in many of the paintings. These lovely gals are to be the inspiration for my portrait of Grace, a stunning transgender woman who put me in mind of the Victorian pin ups; Something about Grace was niggling me for ages after I first met her. Then weeks later while waiting for the bus it hit me. Not the bus....a thought! Grace reminds me of Jane Morris. She is tall and willowy with strong features and dark hair. Was it the shape of her nose, the placement of her lips? I'm not sure but that similarity fueled my ideas and now here we are staring dreamily at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Bower Meadow.

'Look at her nose!' Grace said running a well manicured finger down her own work of art, her newly refurbished schnoz (not long tweaked by a nose job). 'It's me!'. It's true, looking at any of the Pre-Raphaelite girls especially Rossetti's, it's easy to find elements that ring true with Grace's features.

Pre nose job, Grace is still reminiscent of a Pre-Raphaelite stunner!

The Victorian models were painted as ideals of femininity. Yet it's interesting to note many of the women who found acclaim through their modelling were originally a bit, how can I put it, odd looking for the fashions of the time. It was the artists' vision and ideas which helped to open society's mind and soon had the art crowd knocking down the doors to celebrate these unique women.

Far from claiming that vision as my own I want to use the Pre-Raphaelite ideal as a platform to air Grace's story and challenge our society's views on femininity. Using two of my favourite things artifice and theatrics I want to stage a Pre-Raphaelite style scene with Grace as the icon and muse.

Lots of things need to be taken into consideration for this piece: Story, styling, symbolism, pose and paint technique to name but a few. But during our visit to the gallery, Grace and I were most involved in looking at the details in the paintings; the beautiful way hands and shoulders were showcased; the models never really revealing much but still oozing sensuality and fierce femininity.

Joli Coeur by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is one of the paintings we went to see at Manchester Art Gallery. This small and intimate picture has pin up girl written all over it! Looking like she just threw her jacket on to open the front door to the milkman this minx embodies the Pre-Raphaelite style. Her decolletage hands and wrists are the only flesh on show heightening the eroticism of her pose and expression.

Words which Grace and I used to describe the feel and look of these paintings included:

Lit from within...

Certainly when looking at works such as Vivien by Frederick Sandys you get a feeling this lady is lit from within. Grace and I spent a good while studying this work. Not only did we like the way she dominated the viewers attention, we were intrigued by the items placed in the painting with her. What did they tell us about her, and what did they symbolize?

In case you're wondering, Vivien here is not a very nice piece of work. She is an evil enchantress from Arthurian legend and this can be backed up by reading the symbols around her. The apple for instance, represents man's fall, the flowers she toys with are poisonous Daphne and the all obliterating Opium Poppy. Teamed with her aloo look, I think she's best kept at arms length
We discussed possible items to be placed within Grace's portrait and played around with the ideas of the Star of David and menorah to symbolize her Jewish faith and upbringing and butterfly motifs as used to reference transformation and transgender. But I feel the items need to be cohesive so maybe placing Grace as a mythical/historical character who shares similar cross references of transformation and strength might work too. This needs to be looked into further. One thing I really want to do is create something that references Pre-Raphaelites but is still contemporary, so I definitely want to put modern items and references in with the classic styling.

Grace was inspired by the clothes and faces we saw and has already begun to plan her look. Being a professional make up artist I know she will come up with something striking and spot on. I've asked her to keep me posted with any experiments she does and I will post them up here to share with you. You can see an example of Grace's fabulous work in this video for Tranarchy. She certainly isn't afraid of a little lipstick put it that way:

I think the next step in this project will be to get some drawings of Grace done, so I can get used to representing her face, and start to experiment with poses and ideas, kind of like brainstorming with pictures. This will be a good chance gather our ideas and work with what we have already thought about. I'll let you know how we get on next time...

Saturday 20 April 2013

New art project: A date with Grace

We met over a make up counter, I looked up and gasped. 'I love your eyebrows!' I said.
'Thanks, I'm trying to channel Liz Taylor' she replied. It was the beginning of something fabulous, the meeting of two minds, the beginning of a new art project!

Grace is a stunner, tall and slender with striking features and raven hair: She is a burlesque performer, drag artiste and professional make up artist. All these things tick my boxes and excite me! With my work exploring themes of femininity I couldn't miss the opportunity to work with her and I knew I wanted to paint her!

We met up some time later to chat about ideas at Manchester's Richmond Tea Rooms. Over a civilized afternoon tea I asked Grace what make up meant to her. The answer to this simple question gave me a candid insight into her life and, as a transgender woman, it helped to explain what makes Grace who she is. She once told me 'I'm an open book' so with her blessing I will transcribe her story in brief here to help set the scene...

As a child growing up in a small town she knew she was different from the other boys in school but she wasn't like the girls either (one sweet story she told me about was, when asked by her teacher what she wanted to be when she grew up she answered "a mermaid"). As a teen she began to experiment with make up to explore her identity. In a small town a boy wearing make up couldn't help but stick out like a sore thumb and her increasingly individual style soon began to get attention.Unfortunately it wasn't the best attention; getting beaten up and being verbally abused soon became the norm on an everyday basis.

Some people might have tried to conform to stop the bullying, but Grace being the free spirit she is made her appearance more provocative, goth like and severe. At this point in her life make up became her armor. The more she wore the more it stated, stay the f*ck away from me! It was her mental shield, yet ironically it was also the very thing which drew attention to her in the first place.

Make up however was to be Grace's key to success. After beginning a fashion course at college her make up got noticed once more but this time people were asking why she wasn't a make up artist, her skills were amazing! It was then she took up make up seriously and studied it. Her work was so good she landed a role as make up artist to The Irrepressibles on their world tour.

Now living in Manchester Grace continues to work as a professional make up artist. She also performs regularly at nights such as Bollox and the soon to open Cha Cha Boudoir with her brand of glamorous drag/burlesque. This type of performance is a chance to create characters and embody another person but it isn't about escapism, Grace says that it allows her to hold up a magnifying glass to herself and invite others to do the same. It is empowering and joyful. I feel it is her way of taking control. In this way, make up is now an extension of her personality and an act of liberation. It is exactly this philosophy that I stand by and try to celebrate in my own art work!

Grace's strong looks put me in mind of Pre-Raphaelite models, those women with the towering necks, voluptuous mouths and abundant hair. I knew this was going to be our starting point. If you've read my blog before you will know that I am a huge Pre-Raphaelite fan and have often put forward my theory that those paintings depicted one of the first brand of pin up girl. Those women are painted as uber versions of themselves, with heightened sexuality and feminine power. In many cases as goddesses and femme fatales. 

I feel this will be an interesting platform to use in my painting of Grace. I also want to reference the Pre-Raphaelite's use of symbolism. I would like to use classic and modern symbolism to tell Grace's story and create a picture that is both a mix of Victorian and contemporary in flavour. I am aiming to paint something that will ultimately question the ideals of beauty and what it means to be a female in the eyes of the world in general. This project will bring up issues of identity, objectification, sexuality and empowerment to name but a few.

With our of  love of theatrics and artifice I think this is going to be a really exciting project! Keep posted to find out more as we work step by step through the process. Next post will be about our visit to Manchester Art Gallery where we met some of the Pre-Raphaelite girls face to face!

Friday 19 April 2013

Paper Dolls

Do you remember those paper dolls you got as a kid, the one's you cut out and then made clothes for? They came with a little stand and a choice of outfits....

Well, following my research earlier this year into costume (see Playing Dress Up and Hollywood Costume at the V&A) I decided to create my own paper dolls.

I wanted to use a subject matter that excites me and gives me the chance to focus on costume and theatrics. So I chose to make burlesque paper dolls, dolls that had all the glitz and glam of a Hollywood starlet, but with a cheeky twist that put the emphasis on taking the clothes off rather than dressing up.

My first choice was to create a doll of a vintage performer and someone that would give me the opportunity to play around with ideas without infringing upon their copyright.

I immediately thought of Noel Toy, a beautiful lady I have painted in the past and one who still intrigues me. Miss Toy was a Chinese/American burlesque performer from the 1940's and has an exotic glamour all of her own.

My design for the my paper doll based on Noel Toy. I had to really think about arm placement, as arms held away from the body would easily bend and get weakened. After lots of playing around with ideas I chose to have her hands on her hips

I began by researching the costumes Noel used to perform in, but quickly decided to add my own take on what I could do with them in order to create the idea of a full character doll. For instance I definitely wanted to recreate the Chinese style robe as seen in the video of Noel's act:

In this film you can also see her using small fans as props but I decided to enlarge these fans and create them as full scale burlesque Chinese fans in order to use them as another layer to be removed before the big reveal (images of the fans yet to be uploaded!)

The first garment to dress up/undress my paper doll, this Chinese style robe is based on the one Miss Toy wore for one of her acts, but my design was also inspired by one worn by Claudette Colbert for her role as Cleopatra as seen at the Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V&A (see below)

I definitely want to represent the 1940's vintage era but also the individual glamour of a Chinese performer, so I am using colours and textures which are evocative and sumptuous.

This was an early design for a second costume based on Chinese style pyjamas, but I quickly abandoned this as it distracted from the idea of recreating one act.

At present I am working on background ideas for the paper doll so that even before cutting out, the piece is a complete work. I am experimenting with ideas of Chinese paper and More updates will be posted as and when. My time in the studio is pretty limited at present so this may be a long project to complete, but one I am thoroughly enjoying! More images of this project and updates as it progresses can be seen on my facebook page

Friday 5 April 2013

Savage Sisters

Some time ago I began a set of embroideries based on the legend of the Femme Fatale. I worked on them on and off over the year. Skip to now and you can see the finished pieces the Savage Sisters!

This deadly duo are inspired by my love of history and also my interest in the Femme Fatale; I wanted to create the ultimate dangerous and macabre women. Like all the best Femme Fatales they posses a superficial  allure which jars with their true nature.

The pair represent two of histories most violent inventions which changed the world forever, the guillotine and gunpowder.

Both embroideries are stretched and fixed into dark wood frames 8x10 inches and are ready for hanging. Available from www.thegemmaparkerartshop.bigcartel.com