June 5, 2015

A Few Superheroes I Know

Time to go Inside the Agnes Studio again!  Humor, pop culture, and food are all fast access points to enjoy most of what I do, but if you'd like to dig deeper, please pull up your comfy chair and several handfuls of snacks.  Here's a peek into how some recent paintings took shape in my brain which might give you some important clues about inspiration and context.  The images below are works I completed in early 2015 and exhibited at Sally Centigrade in a show with Sara M. Lyons and Mandy Hazell.  These paintings developed as a natural continuation of some of the ideas I kick around with my wrestling drawings (see a recent interview here) and my Eye Sharpener products.  Their existence began with some pages in my sketchbook labeled "Lady Business."  Your host over there to the left is James Lipton.

Ms. Turbo, what is Lady Business?  Lady Business refers to the general business of being a lady, serves as a euphemism for lady things and lady parts, and is also a title for a superhero who we perhaps don't know yet but certainly need.  I set out on a quest to depict (and if necessary invent) some representations of who Lady Business could be.  I wondered about how we model excellence (now and throughout history), who we celebrate, what we learn from our mothers, what makes us feel powerful, how we costume ourselves, and what superpowers we might have.  This is what I came up with!

Jane as Joan

What is going on here? Is that the broad from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure?  Yes! My favorite scene in this film is when Joan of Arc takes over the aerobics class in the mall, and this stunned expression (not taken from the scene I mentioned) really summed up the total insanity of that cultural collision for me.  In addition to the interesting juxtaposition of Joan of Arc and some 80s aerobics babes, Joan was played by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos, who deserves superhero status in her own right! 

Norway and Mum

What movie are these from? I don't recognize these people!  These people are folks I know, who posted some totally inspiring photographs on the internet.  I found myself staring at these images again and again. They contain a very unique yet somehow universal magic and some important essence of girlhood.  I gave Chelsea, enjoying all the ice cream she deserves, a bullfighter-inspired jacket because I was determined some incarnation of Lady Business would be a fighter of Bull.  Additionally, the world of actual bullfighting (about which I admittedly know little) is so overwhelmingly male-dominated, yet the bright shiny costumes would fit in any professional wrestling ring both on level of outrageousness and as a puzzling choice for demonstrating masculinity.  Norway helping her mum put on makeup was such a great moment as a slice of essential lady activity in a literal sense, but also in a broader sense of looking at beauty culture and our methods of decorating and armoring ourselves for our journeys out into the world.

Wait! I know this one! Julia Child, right?  But of course.  Julia, perhaps the most recognizable of anyone in this series, made a perfect addition to the lineup.  I am struck by what a warrior she was, and the impact she made with her work and even just her physical presence.  She is an inspirational figure who always reminds me to be fearless and blaze the necessary trails to do what I gotta do.  The sledgehammer is a favorite tool/weapon of mine, so when I came across an image of Julia with a kitchen mallet I couldn't resist.

But what's with the mask?  A mask, whether of the luchador, or superhero, or another variety, takes its wearer beyond the personal and specific, to stand for something greater and more powerful.  It's Julia but... it could be any of us, you know?  It's a larger-than-life presence whose magic is more than one person.  Masked wrestlers are played by multiple actual people over the years! In a quest for archetypal superbabes to fight on behalf of ladies everywhere, I definitely think masks would enter into the equation.

Laura Becoming Prickly

And this lady is... getting some acupuncture?  This creature is also someone I know!  Laura posted a picture that struck me as really beautiful in its simplicity.  Self portraits and looking at ourselves in the mirror are images that we see EVERYWHERE these days and I for one... am still really interested in them.  There was such honesty and calm in this picture, but it felt vulnerable at the same time.  A magical element which I wanted to incorporate somewhere was from last year in Alaska when I saw a HUGE ASS PORCUPINE.  After this encounter I looked up porcupine symbolism and was sure Lady Business would need to have some porcupine powers.  What's that you said, porcupine?  Calm, confident, nonchalant?  Self defense carried in quills representing the storytelling and wisdom of your ancestors? Yes please. I had the word "prickly" circled in my sketchbook as a note that really resonated with me in consideration of women warriors.  Prickly is seen so negatively, whether it is a convoluted politicalization of the very hair on our bodies, or the bristling of those self-defense quills that might be invisible on most of us.  Definitely gonna collect more porcupine mojo.

The Great Birdie
Is there somebody famous under that baggy mask? They look quite small...  This is also someone whom I admire on the interwebs, who is still a fresh enough human to readily embody pure joy and creative expression.  I deeply enjoy her exploits and adventures with her very artistic and fun parents (inasmuch as I can observe the highlights online) which remind of being a crazy little girl in the olden times, before I felt certain societal pressures.  I will also admit I did zero to embellish this costume and pose, it's straight outta real life magic.  I  would like to bestow all the medals and trophys on little girls exploding with self-confidence and pizzazz and hope that they hold on to that zest as long as possible.  

What are all the doodles in the backgrounds of these paintings?  For more on my personal use of diamonds and the eye images, please consult the Eye Sharpener Manifesto and/or consider the actual useful properties of diamonds!  The larger crystal things are sort of magical gemstones related to the diamonds, but were shaped in imitation of an object you can see in "the future" in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure! Perhaps it's used for time travel.  The elements individual to each painting represent tools or magic talismans specific to their respective portraits: Joan's sword, Chelsea's ice cream, Norway's lipstick, Julia's sledgehammer, Laura's quills (and bonus prickliness in cactus form), and Birdie's gold trophy.  I am very interested in the use of recurring motifs for storytelling purposes and you will see many of these images used in other work of mine as well.  

Thank you to James Lipton for conducting this interview, and thank you very much to Chelsea and her photographer friend, Norway and her family, Laura, and Birdie and her family, for letting me use their wonderful photos and faces for inspiration.

Betty Turbo

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