ARTISTS REVEAL THEIR BREAKTHROUGH WORK | MATTHEW QUICK
Invariably when I try to plan a series it turns out to be unsustainable. Maybe the idea is too thin to be expanded across many pictures, or sometimes its simply not enjoyable enough to want to continue. So for me a series begins simply with a picture I want to paint. I don’t know if it has legs. I just want to do it. Over the first few pictures the idea is being refined and gradually I write a brief for myself that becomes tighter in concept and visual language.
I was making a series based on the poem Ozymandias; about the monuments left behind after the culture that created them has passed. And I was doing this by combining iconography contemporary imagery with historical relics. After several paintings I had pretty much exhausted the idea. Yet, I still liked the juxtaposition of old and new.
So I deviated from the original theme and continued with the juxtaposition. The breakthrough piece was Object of Beauty, which combines Playboy bunny ears with a 19th Century sculpture of a nymph. It was a revelation both technically and conceptually. Charvin paints, with their unusual color range and a high transparency, helped make the veins really appear INSIDE the stone.
It really came together with the concept. It worked by saying something about both the old and new objects: The Playboy bunny ears are everywhere, from tattoos to bumper stickers, so much a part of the zeitgeist it is difficult to maintain perspective on how ridiculous they really are. Yet on the 19th Century sculpture the contemporary context is easily stripped away to reveal the inherent sexism.
Similarly when paired with the contemporary Bunny ears, the 19th Century sculpture, itself a study of what sexuality and femininity was supposed to look like at the time of its creation, is revealed to be an equally distorted construct.
In researching this picture the unlikely and frail origins of this commonly ideal were uncovered: As a student Hugh Hefner frequented Bunny’s Tavern, named after the proprietor Bernard “Bunny” Fitzsimmons, where the staff wore cocktail dresses fashioned after the namesake. When Hugh unveiled his ultimate showgirl in 1960, he adapted the uniform and somehow the ears, tail, collar and cuffs transcended their own preposterousness to become a global icon.
Which all leaves one wondering; what if Fitzsimmons nickname had been “Chicken”?