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!