I grew up at the intersection of mid-western, Methodist, puritanism, and sex-negative, second wave feminism. Though my coastal contemporaries may see those two influences as irreconcilable opposites, my childhood was sheltered beneath this uniquely restrictive brand of big tent politics that sought social justice and women’s liberation by means of sexual repression and self-imposed sumptuary laws. Sex led to the objectification/subjugation of women, ostentatious display was déclassé, capitalist consumerism led to exploitation, and drugs would rot your brain. My youth was filled not with KISS and Madonna, but Carol King and NPR. It was a head spinning, ideological melee combining the most restrictive elements of Feminism, Marxism, and Reaganism. The only thing I felt sure of was that for every pleasure, someone paid the price. Yet all human beings seek pleasure and avoid pain. The Dionysian impulse is an innate part of human nature, and a life devoid of pleasure has little appeal. Even the three Abrahamic religions that preach so vigorously against pursuing worldly pleasures visualize heaven in sensual, materialistic terms. Heaven has pearly gates and streets of gold, the martyr will be rewarded in heaven with a bevy of beautiful virgins, and those who keep God’s commandments will be rewarded with prime, oceanfront real estate and a Mediterranean climate. But unlike the Church that touts the existence of an attainable absolute truth, absolute beauty, and absolute justice, I feel that truth, beauty, and justice are often in direct competition, if not mutually exclusive. Though I cannot deny that a Faberge egg is beautiful, it also represents an unjust and exploitative class structure that I cannot defend. My ambivalence toward beauty and the fraught negotiation between justice and pleasure forms the generative impulse of my work throughout the past twenty years.
A subset of this larger interest, my current work explores shifting gender norms and power dynamics within our culture and what they imply for the negotiation between justice and pleasure. Of particular relevance to my work is the tension between the sexual mores advocated by the various “waves” of feminism from the 1970’s to today’s flowering Trump era/# Me Too movement of feminist activism and how this interacts with both “traditional” and evolving notions of masculinity. Essential to this exploration are issues of the gaze and its role in inter-gender and intra-gender power dynamics. Equally important are the giving, receiving, and taking of pleasure; and the pleasures, powers, and risks of sensual beauty to both beholder and beheld.
The body is central to these issues, and as such I feel that representational figuration is the best vehicle for this exploration. Furthermore, I see a natural analog between todays media and art of the Baroque/Rococo eras in which the figure, ostentatious display, luxury, class, subjective emotionalism, sensuality, and a complex negotiation between worldly sophistication and vulgarity stand in such contrast to Neo-Classicism’s priggish, paternalistic moralizing, the Renaissance’s emotionally detached, near mathematical obsession with geometric perfection, and Modernisms brutally domineering machismo. Another influential parallel in cultural production of the 17th-18th century and that of the contemporary era is the growing sense of gender fluidity, and a waxing of women’s influence on cultural, political, and intellectual life. For all of these reasons, I very intentionally court a Baroque/Rococo aesthetic in my work.