Tuesday, March 8, 2011

About the Nude

A month ago, I hosted an event in my capacity as an RA. People who live on my floor had complained about the lack of decoration in the hallways (apparently, cinder block is not an appealing pattern. You learn something every day!), so I told them I would buy some art supplies and we could all decorate the hallways together (awww). The resulting event was wildly successful; everyone had fun, someone painted a portrait of me, and the halls looked pretty darn cool. I congratulated myself heartily, submitted an evaluation telling my bosses how wonderful I am, and assumed I had heard the last of the event.

Time passed. My portrait was ripped down :( . Life continued. Weeks later, I received an email from my boss.

Hey, Brendan -

Can you tell me a little about the nude that's in one of your murals? I'm not quite sure what to make of it. When you get a chance, can you fill me in?

(your boss)*
*This is not the actual signature.

In case you were wondering, this is the offending mural:
Carman 12, by Auntie Lay Zee*
*This is an anagram of the artists name for privacy's sake
Here, unedited, is my response.

Hey (Boss)*
*not actual name
Your prompt was a little vague, but I answered to the best of my ability.
Carman 12 is a relatively new work from upcoming artist Auntie Lay Zee (*see above). The painting is done in acrylic paint on butcher paper, a medium that showcases Zee's versatility and skill. The materials are of poor quality, indicating that Zee probably received them from an RA working on a limited budget with no knowledge of good artistry supplies. The work was begun and finished in her studio, Carman 12, during a floor arts and crafts event.
Carman 12 creates a frantic, nightmarish feeling using a few, relatively simple elements. The painting has two separate spaces. Zee uses the boundaries of the paper to frame the foreground upon which the woman runs across the space; the background is determined by the dark red stripe of ground upon which the snail crawls, and out of which the horrifying plant/monster grows. The painting is united by the warm palate of colors and the smooth, flowing lines that characterize much of Zee's work.
The painting speaks to the themes of sexuality and drug use that so occupy the minds of freshmen. The nude is both sexual and abhorrent. She has over-exaggerated womanly curves and soft-toned skin; the only clothing she is wearing are the high heels, footwear commonly associated with the sexual nature of women. At the same time, she has features often derided in popular discourse on sexuality of women; her flaming “ginger” hair, unshaven armpits and her bold unibrow make her not only unappealing, but terrifying.
At the same time, her genitalia are covered with what appears to be a marijuana leaf. The marijuana leaf is not the only appearance of mind altering substances; in the background, one sees a snail munching happily away on a magical mushroom. The swirl of colors surrounding him are evocative of a halucination. The effects of the trip are most clearly seen on the flower to the right of the painting; these drugs have the ability to turn mundane, perhaps beautiful things into frightening monsters. The continuum of possible effects is showcased in the background. On the left, there are abstract, non representational forms that seem to emit happiness like a ray gun emits lasers; it is only as one’s eyes move to the right does one comprehend the abject dread of a trip gone bad.
In this light, one possible interpretation of the marijuana leaf covering her genitalia becomes clear: what should be sexual is replaced with drugs. Zee brilliantly relates the darker undertones of sexual awakening so many first-years go through with the dangers of drug use that many are exposed to for the first time. The painting juxtaposes sex with drugs, but glorifies neither. Alternatively, it is possible that Zu'is RA was uncomfortable with a depiction of female genitalia in a public space and asked Zee to cover it up. X-Ray analysis would be a good way to determine the history of this portion of the painting.
According to Zee herself, the painting deals with several issues, ranging from the ‘dehumanization of gingers’ to “the extreme dearth of palatable males at Columbia and excess of ugly and pretty girls alike desperate to ‘get some.’ ” For Zee, this is what makes women a frightening subject: the uninhibited desire of the female libido. Zee writes, “She's savage and a reason to be afraid because girls are vicious and savage in pursuing their desire.”
As far as the value of the work, it has been lessened by contributions from Zee's understudies. As you can see, some of the brushstrokes, particularly in the area around the snail, are less masterly, and seem to have been painted by her apprentices in her studio. A reasonable estimate of the actual value of the painting would be someplace around $50-100.

Hope that helps!

So I know it's been a while since I've posted anything. I'd like to say it's because I've got bigger fish to fry, but that's not true. The real issue is bigger fish are trying to fry me. Yeah... But, I hope you're all doing well!

Also, (boss), if you're reading this, I meant this in good humor!

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