Monday, February 16, 2009

Artist Spotlight: Mary Overman

Questions from Andy Ducett

1. Who do you want your ideal audience to be? What decisions (both materially and conceptually) can you make to better reach your target group?

I’m not concerned so much with a target group as I am with making sure there is a balance between content and visual imagery. I don’t consider the target group, because I don’t intend on changing my work based on how a target group may feel about it. Instead, I believe it’s more pertinent to think about how well the content works with the visual imagery and if the viewer is able to understand my ideas without being too conspicuous.

Of course, I take into consideration how the viewer sees the work, but again, that’s based on finding a balance between those elements, rather than making work that one bracket of people could appreciate.

2. Where do we as viewers position you in relationship to your subject matter? 

I don’t know where the viewer might think of the artist in relation to the work, but I can tell you where I see myself. My interest in cosmetic surgery initially arose from my mom having had a few procedures. The social interactions in the family because of them, was really fascinating. After one of her procedures, my mom gave my brother, sister, and I a call, crying, and told us what she had done. This really affected my younger sister who had had an eating disorder and was very responsive and vulnerable to these issues. I, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why she’d done it. Me being the older sister, I felt a parental anger at my mom for having gotten surgery without possibly thinking how it might affect my sister.

But those were the initial responses, and there is more than just the present. My mom had an insane childhood. Her mom was an alcoholic and verbal and physical abuse was severe, but a certainty. Her mom died when she was 16, and left behind 10 children, and my mom wasn’t the youngest. I’ve considered how those events might affect her internal reasons for making this choice. Through my readings on the psychological side of cosmetic surgery, I’ve noticed there have been postulations concerning a desire of love, of acceptance and of a physical normality felt through the changing of one’s body by people who have been abused.

Even more than that, though, I’ve simply become enthralled with plastic surgery as a whole. Those were my initial and personal reasons for choosing the subject, and although those thoughts still remain with me, my research is taking a different turn. As well as the psychological side, I’m studying the different procedures and how they are accomplished, the social interactions between surgeon and patient, the collective vs. personal view of identity, and what cosmetic surgery can implicate in terms of the direction of society and technology.

3. What role will titles play in the work... how leading/specific/ambiguous do you want to be?

I’ve been holding off on titling until I have a larger body of work complete. Titles are extremely significant, of course, and I need to visually understand how a group of my work will function together before I can title them. I’m doing this because I don’t want to be too specific, but I also don’t want the viewers to be lost in ambivalence; there is a specific concept that I want them to discern.

Questions from Tamara Brantmeier

1. On one hand your paintings could be considered self-portraits, and on the other hand using oneself (artist) as subject can be interpreted as universal (“every woman”); talk about your decision to use your likeness in your work, how it affects the content, if the self-portrait adds to or diverts from your 
narrative and if you will use other women as subjects (why/why not).

I distort all the images I work from; none of them are self-portraits. In fact, all of them are fictional characters, which is one reason for changing the likeness of features. Distortions can add a peculiar beauty to a figure. Idealized distortions like the heavy eyelids from the renaissance, or the unusually high and rounded breasts of the 15th century are uncanny, but attractive. It’s the idea of this strange beauty, who overall is a Venus, but when looked at in segments, is slightly grotesque.

I also play with inconspicuous distortions, ones that cause a figure to look slightly off but without it being obvious why. It’s possible to make a slightly turned face isometric, which allows almost imperceptible enlargement of one eye. Eyes too close together give an overall odd appearance, and dainty lips in their “prettiness” can give an artificial impression.

I plan to use different models as a means to show gender and age, but also because the distortions made are guided not only by my final intentions conceptually, but by the genuine image of the model. Still, the models I work from, whether others or myself are inconsequential regarding who they are in reality. What’s significant is their transferred life; their personal and social conduct in a painting.

2. Why does/is the variation of paint application/technique become important in your work and how is it connected to your content, narrative and overall concept? What have you discovered by utilizing distinctly different techniques and what is your central struggle regarding this approach?

The textured paint application is a narrative all it’s own. It’s distinct, but contingent upon the characters I portray. It very much represents the psychological states of the characters, but also creates a path to guide the eye through a painting. The backgrounds, more so than the figures, are meant to illustrate beauty in a fixed state of turmoil, emphasizing the questions that come with our contemporary ideals of beauty. Are they healthy or reasonable, and now that they are feasible, are they desirable?

Our physical world is fashioned by a multitude of textures, and the question is, how can these textures come together in a world that exists in determined dimensions. My struggle has been in the reconciliation between the handful of different painting styles used in one work. Still, I am investigating this, and exploring different techniques, integrations, and styles in order to find a successful way to convey my content.

3. How do you think about the use of imagery of women in your work? More precisely, how and why do (potential) feminist implications/perceptions connect with your content in an historical and contemporary framework?

Since I am a woman using cosmetic surgery to talk about identity and beauty, I realize the implications of feminism. It’s difficult to get away from that label, especially because thus far, my imagery has been principally of women. But I am not a feminist. I intend to incorporate more images of men in order to divert ideas of feminism.

I chose cosmetic surgery because it’s an engaging way to talk about the transience of identity and beauty. Both are ever changing in their ideals and personal and social perceptions, yet both are ever lasting in the moments in which they are captured in a work of art. Most paintings, historical and contemporary, deal with images attached to a moment. If the imagery is not concrete, the medium is, hence that moment will last on that canvas forever.

Besides what I am thinking about in terms of content, I also chose cosmetic surgery because I am simply fascinated with the technical aspects. Our wealth of knowledge always amazes me, yet particularly in medical fields our lack of understanding is clearly visible.

Questions from Charlie Lume

1. Do you think visual pleasure plays a role your in paintings, either in the making of them and/or in looking at them?

The making of a painting entails visceral pleasure that, no doubt, transfers to visual pleasure for the viewer, but this can be one of the adverse effects of the medium. A beautiful painting can disrupt proper thought. It’s easy to get wrapped up in color, texture, light and overall imagery without being perceptive about the idea in the work. One of the questions I’ve been asking myself is how can I paint beautifully but still push content? I’m investigating a reconciliation between the two.

A good example of this is Jenny Saville’s paintings. Close up, her marks have an elegant disorder to them; they’re really lovely. Far away, they represent flesh in such a suitable manner that the viewer is able to see the image as a whole and isn’t easily distracted from content.
Application of paint, when it is used insightfully, can impart an energy and vitality on a painting. Thus far there is a lot of investigation into the reconciliation of a handful of different painting styles in one work. Our physical world is fashioned by a multitude of textures, and the question is, how can these textures come together in a world that exists in determined dimensions. Unless it is intentional or integral to the work, there needs to be a certain amount of harmony between the textures, the figures, and the background.

2. What other artists/painters’ art traffics in issues about the flesh? How might their art shape your approaches both in paint application and conceptual consideration?

Orlan is a French artist who does what she calls “carnal art”. She has a series called “The Reincarnation of St. Orlan”, in which she took features from women in art historical paintings, such as Botticelli’s Venus, and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and had them surgically reproduced on her face. These were performance surgeries where she was given local anesthetic and viewed live from galleries all over the world.

She talks about not being interested in the final result, but in the constant modifications and the indefinite nature of identity. She says that her work “is not a stand against cosmetic surgery, but against the standards of beauty, against the dictates of a dominant ideology that impresses itself more and more on the feminine flesh.”1

She speaks about cosmetic surgery and identity in a unique and powerful way. The stigmas attached to cosmetic surgery are something I seek to avoid. Like Orlan, I don't intend to protest cosmetic surgery, but instead to question the ideals it makes possible, the new ideals it creates, and the impact this has on relationships, identity and society.

Cosmetic surgery is a field all it's own. It's the only field in medicine that doesn't deal with diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease, and is, in fact, all about harming the body. All cosmetic procedures entail deliberate trauma and involuntary restoration. When discussing his pharmaceutical pieces, Damien Hirst talks about medicine evoking "an idea of confidence, of trust in minimalism", and adds, "there's something dumb about it". 2

There is a confidence in medicine that often exceeds logic. Patients have credence for doctors and what they say, and in their trust or desire, forget the doctor's fallibility. Cosmetic surgeries are serious procedures that defy the definition of medicine. They don't deal with disease, but they still carry the idea of cheating death, even while the biological factors are still in play.

Jenny Saville's use of paint is luscious and expressive, yet frank. Simon Schama said about the way she handles the medium, it "is really about the anatomy of paint as it construct the body."3 Her mark making and exploration of contemporary bodies are often referenced in my own exploration. She deals with identity from the outside vs. the inside; how society views a body type contrasted to the individual's view. She's exemplifies the use of this medium as a way to transform the repulsive into the resplendent.

3. In what ways can paint “be” flesh and “represent” it? And can it be done simultaneously in one painting?

Paint can “literally” and conceptually be flesh. Literally, it can be shown figuratively, it can be represented as actual flesh. Through the tactile application, light, color and texture of paint, it can conceptually embody the idea of flesh. The myriad textures, forms, and colors pose multiple levels of formal investigation into anatomy, pigment and paint.

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