As promised, for the lovely little ones back in Cali, my version of kid-friendly art.
The apartment I grew up in was filled with the artwork of my parents’ friends, and it was incredibly important to me. The pictures were like portals into the mysterious capacities of adulthood and the mystery of my parents’ past.
(Patrons receive a high-resolution file to print and frame, perfect for the goth-industrial nursery.)
I’ve always loved doing silhouettes of children, and the idea for this one popped into my head last week when I saw our furious kitty parading her outrage at us around the house.
I have very clear memories of being an angry little girl, stomping out to the yard at our ramshackle country house in Maine.
My generation of kids, the latchkey generation, was the last one to have the freedom to go fuck around outside unsupervised. We could walk away from our parents, and nobody would come after us. Later we loved Calvin and Hobbes so much because it was a document of a vanished kids’ world, one of wayward, lackadaisical freedom where tins cans, rusty nails and broken glass were just part of the environment.
Sharp things and junk were toys to me, interesting items, as much as sea slugs and birch bark.
Pull tabs and browned barb wire were components of my miniature worlds, like Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. I loved the flowers of high summer, the Black-Eyed Susans and Indian Paintbrush in the drawing, and the fishhooks and lures in my father’s tackle box. I loved to make stuff, and to be left alone.
At the same time, I was fascinated with performative femininity and the armature of created identity from babyhood.
There’s a family story about how when I was three, my godmother Sandy (who will appear in a future post!) asked me why I never wore pants. “Sandra, I’m not into pants”, I told her archly. I was a frankly beautiful child, both inappropriately sexualized and innately self-absorbed, and there are pictures of me in pretty dresses where I am absolutely vamping. I got that “pretty” was a key to power. I was looking for tools, and power, and I always cobbled them together from my environment.
That’s why when I saw Mark Tansey’s painting “The Bricoleur’s Daughter” in 1990 it hit me like a Mack truck.
This huge work addresses Derrida’s notion of bricolage, Plato’s Cave, and a half a dozen other heavyweight philosophical and art-historical constructs while presenting as a visually pleasing and apparently traditional painting. It’s stealth discourse! Sometimes the simplest, most literal things tell the complicated stories best.
There’s nothing I like better than using the formatted iconography of traditional illustration to frame a new discussion.
You can see the legacy of pulp immediately, as well as something else. Although it’s not part of the critical dialogue about the work, I’m pretty confident that art-history maniac Tansey intended the disturbing objectification of the young girl.
I see her Balthus-like pose as placing that objectification within the discourse about the complicity of the viewer’s gaze, which moves through Caravaggio to Emma Sulkowicz.
There’s a reason it’s the Bricoleur’s Daughter, not his son. I love that she’s casting the Plato’s cave shadow herself- knowing is half the battle!
So to me, my silhouette drawing is a stealth message about the righteous rage of little girls.
They will be, despite your best intentions and hard work, inculcated into a culture of performative self-objectification.
It sucks, but they have you (even when they’re mad at you), they have allies, they have tools to parse unique identities, they have their marvelous resourcefulness, and they have their beautiful, sacred fury.
lagniappe: Interested in political silhouette art? Kara Walker is everything. Interested in abandoned lot art? Lonnie Holley is amazing.