Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Bloomer Costume

"I feel no more like a man now than I did in long skirts, unless it be that enjoying more freedom and cutting off the fetters is to be like a man. I suppose in that respect we are more mannish, for we know that in dress, as in all things else, we have been and are slaves, while man in dress and all things else is free." - Amelia Bloomer 

In my painting and study of modern dress, it is essential for me to look to the past as well. I recently read about the 'Bloomer Costume' of the 1850's. It was meant to be a trend to begin the women's liberation movement but it was cast aside as a sideshow. At the time, women's dress was restrictive, heavy and even spread illness - by the long skirts sweeping the floor's dirt. Instead of being the catalyst for a new freedom for women, it was ridiculed. Any woman who dared parade the streets in one became a spectacle. British explorer Richard Francis Burton, travelling across the United States in 1860 noted that he saw only one woman (whom he called a "hermaphrodite") wearing bloomers.*

For my next mannequin painting I think I will use a source that I captured in Palm Springs. Much like city itself, she seems to be imported from the 1950s. She is wearing a polka dot suit. Unlike the bloomer, in the last century and a half, this costume has become socially accepted. It has enough frills, darts and adornments to keep her out of the "hermaphrodite" category. When drawing her, it is almost like she is selling the suit by saying 'Don't you see? We are liberated now.' 

I do not consider myself much of a feminist, but I was taken aback by the recent presidential election bringing back some archaic stereotypes. A suit like this makes me think of how Mitt Romney justified - no equal pay, but he’ll get you home in time to cook dinner.

I wonder if Ameila Bloomer would be contented to see where we are now?


Friday, January 11, 2013

Why mannequins?

It was 4:00 in the morning at my friend Christine's apartment in NYC, when I woke up with the idea to paint mannequins. Usually my visits to NYC result in some wonderful candid photographs of unusual dress, but this time the plastic ones behind the glass were catching my eye.

With the idea born, I set out to photograph different mannequins in Manhattan. As you can imagine, there were plenty to choose from. These subjects are not shy but I did need to be cautious of glare. This is where I found my subject from the previous post, "Couture Leopard."

Why mannequins? Part of what drew me to the idea was the challenge that would come with painting people made of plastic. Their skin is hard, the stares are blank, the proportions are skewed. Conceptually they also serve as a commonplace tool showing onlookers what they should be wearing. Although a departure, they still fit within my theme and support it in a new way.

I've also used this opportunity to seek out some examples of dress that I haven't run into as easily. For example, my bride to the right. There was something eerie about her that I wanted to capture. I think she has been on display in this shop window for a while, so why not take it a step further immortalize her in painting.

The wedding dress on its own is such an important garment in our society. It resurfaces across every level of income and is prominent in many cultures around the world. It is worn for one day, but remembered for a lifetime. Still, at the end of the day, it is just fabric. I love to bring focus to the power of dress, and this is a monumental example.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beginning to Elaborate

With a new year, I, like many am reflecting on ways better my process. I decided this was a good time to start documenting my work with a blog. My favorite part about hosting exhibitions is explaining to viewers my methods and thoughts behind the pieces that interest them. So I am attempting to recreate this experience in an online format for any who wishes to join in.

At my latest show, Fabricating Realities, the painting that I saw most attendees drawn to was "Couture Leopard." (right) I initially feared her patterning might cause a feeling of vertigo - fortunately, there was just enough difference in my painting of her dress and the real fabric in the background to create a graphic and dynamic juxtaposition.

You may notice if you are familiar with my work that there is something different about my subject - that she looks plastic. This is because I have recently taken interest in painting mannequins. She is one of three in my series so far. I will post photos of the other two and expand on my inspiration behind them soon. For those who prefer my paintings of real subjects, worry not - I have not given up on them. In fact, I am working on a new one now of a fellow artist - more on this later as well.

Till the next post,