Thomas Cooper Gotch: A Golden Dream

Thomas Cooper Gotch began his professional life in the boot and shoe business.  Then it happened that in his twenties he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.  There he was friendly with Henry Scott Tuke; Tuke is distinguished for having almost his entire oeuvre consisting of nude boys.  Tuke, Gotch and fellow Slade student and Gotch’s future wife, Caroline Burland Yates, became associated with the Newlyn art colony, first visiting in the late 1870s and residing there during the late 1880s.  The Newlyners were mostly Methodist teetotalers and are remembered for their en plein air realist rural style.  Gotch, however, is not remembered for his Newlyn period works despite being an associate of James Whistler and one of the founding members of the New English Art Club.

Gotch and his wife relocated to Florence in 1891 which had a significant effect on his style.

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Child Enthroned (1894)

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Child Enthroned (1894)

Gotch then began to compose in the manner for which he is best known: called by Pamela Lomax “imaginative symbolism” in her book, The Golden Dream.

“His new combination of symbolic female figures, decorative Italian textiles and the static order of early Renaissance art finally brought him recognition.” (Betsy Cogger Rezelman)

Together with the other Pre-Raphaelites, Gotch was inspired by Medievalism as is evident in his Alleluia (1896).

Thomas Cooper Gotch  – Alleluia (1896)

Thomas Cooper Gotch – Alleluia (1896)

Gotch’s daughter Phyllis appeared in several of his paintings, as well as modeling for the Newlyn-associated artist Elizabeth Forbes.  The Gotchs traveled extensively, not only in Italy, but France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Australia and South Africa too.  Gotch was fortunate to have enjoyed recognition during his lifetime.  In his older years he continued to paint children in an increasingly textured style.

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Flag (1910)

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Flag (1910)

David Hofmann: Dream Job

David Hofmann is a photographer of girls’ dance.  He’s a commercial photographer based in Los Angeles who has worked on seven feature films, does nature photography, editorial photography and has become well known in certain circles for his characteristic photography of girls’ dance under the name “SharkCookie”.

David Hofmann, David and Friends (2014)

David Hofmann – David and Friends (2014)

David prefers to use natural light and aims for an “uncontrived” style that stands out from typical studio sessions.  He capitalizes on the natural assets of his SoCal environs, often working with the urban backdrop of LA or on seaside beaches for his shoots.

Many of David’s subjects are superstars within the world of American girls’ dance—the foremost being Maddie Ziegler who has become well-known after appearing in three of rock-star Sia’s videos, Chandelier, Elastic Heart, and Big Girls Cry.  In fact Maddie has previously been featured on Pigtails in Paint.

David and Maddie Ziegler (2013)

David Hofmann – David and Maddie Ziegler (2014)

Maddie started dancing very young with the notoriously loudmouthed and domineering Abby Lee; Abby’s dance company would later be featured on the popular American television show Dance Moms which has now run five seasons.  The success of the show rocketed not only Maddie, but several of her co-stars to relative fame and contributed greatly to the mass appeal of girls’ dance around the world.

David Hofmann - Maddie Ziegler (2013)

David Hofmann – Maddie Ziegler (2014)

Chloe Lukasiak is another of the Dance Moms stars to grace David’s lens.  She too started dancing for Abby Lee at a very young age.

David Hofmann – David and Chloe Lukasiak (2014)

David Hofmann – David and Chloe Lukasiak (2014)

Like Maddie, Chloe has also made numerous other television appearances besides Dance Moms and has performed in several music videos.

David Hofmann – Chloe Lukasiak (2014)

David Hofmann – Chloe Lukasiak (2014)

Sophia Lucia, while not a regular on Dance Moms, nevertheless made four appearances on the show.  She is arguably the most technically virtuosic of American girl dancers having won mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for performing fifty-five consecutive pirouettes.

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David Hofmann – David and Sophia Lucia (2013)

Like the other girls, Sophia has made numerous television appearances including Dancing with the Stars, Shake it Up, So You Think You Can Dance, the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and even a McDonald’s commercial.  She has her own line of dance gear marketed via “California Kisses”.

David Hofmann – Sophia Lucia (2014)

David Hofmann – Sophia Lucia (2014)

Unlike the above girls, Autumn Miller declined to participate in Dance Moms, her mother apparently rejecting the overture.  Still she has followed a similar career path, appearing on Shake it Up, Dancing with the Stars and so on; she was featured in Willow Smith’s music video Whip My Hair and various commercial and modeling gigs.  Autie too was also featured on Pigtails in Paint.

David Hofmann – David with Autumn Miller (2012)

David Hofmann – David with Autumn Miller (2012)

Although Autumn never had the television exposure some of David’s other stars did, she is perhaps the most popular and well-known in girls’ dance due to her repeated successes at Dance Nationals and her creative YouTube show, “Autie’s Freestyle Friday“.

David Hofmann – Autumn Miller (2012)

David Hofmann – Autumn Miller (2012)

While David has photographed numerous girls who dance, a few others are popular and worthy of mention.

David Hofmann – Mia Diaz (2013)

David Hofmann – Mia Diaz (2013)

Mia Diaz appeared only once on Dance Moms but is very well-known and liked in the world of girls’ dance.  Like the other girls, she began dancing as a toddler and has won oodles of dance competitions.

David Hofmann – Jordyn Jones with David’s camera (2014)

Jordyn Jones is another popular young dancer who moves in the Hollywood set.  Incidentally Jordyn has produced a series of high quality music videos showcasing her dance covering a number of current pop songs such as “Fancy“, “Lip Gloss“, and “Banji“.

David coincidentally has a young daughter himself, Avaree, who is a dancer and whom he often photographs.

David Hofmann – David and daughter Avaree (2014)

David Hofmann – David and daughter Avaree (2014)

While Avaree may not be the super star dancer that some of David’s clients are, it seems she has at least one die-hard fan!

David Hoffman – Daughter Avaree (2015)

David Hoffman – Daughter Avaree (2015)

David’s professional site can be found here and his very active Instagram account is here.  There are several behind-the-scenes videos of David’s photo shoots, one of which can be viewed here.

12 and in Love

***SPOILER ALERT***

12 and Holding was billed as a coming-of-age movie; and despite some very serious themes, it still manages to come off as a comedy with a deadpan and dark sense of humor.  Directed by Michael Cuesta, who is best known for his work on the TV shows Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Homeland, the film’s biggest star is Jeremy Renner.  Less well known is the young actress Zoe Weizenbaum who plays the determined, out-spoken and precocious Malee Chuang.  Zoe also appeared in Memoirs of a Geisha.

Dispensing with any idea that this story of twelve-year-old friends might be light, the film opens with the murder of Malee’s friend Rudy, leaving Rudy’s twin brother Jacob, who has a birth mark over half his face, Leonard, who is morbidly obese, and Malee to cope with the loss.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (1)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (1)

In the next scene, Malee is having her first period, but her mother is too busy to realize and Malee has to figure out how to use a tampon herself.  On the way to school she gloats to Leonard that she could now conceive and give birth to a child.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (2)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (2)

After the funeral, Malee stops in at her mother’s psychotherapy practice where in the waiting room she happens to meet one of her mother’s clients, Gus, a former firefighter dealing with PTSD.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (3)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (3)

Malee is smitten with Gus despite his being thirty-something years-old and she only twelve.  While hanging out with Jacob and Leonard, Malee discovers that Gus is working at a nearby construction site, which also happens to be the location of Ruby’s murder.  She resolves to make lunch for Gus and invite him to a picnic during his lunch-break.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (4)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (4)

Having had the fact of her mortality stirred by Rudy’s murder, Malee commits to living boldly.  She dares to sign up for a flute solo at her school music show, and mentioning this to Gus, he promises to attend.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (5)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (5)

In her curiosity to learn more about Gus, Malee had eavesdropped on his therapy session with her mother and discovered that a certain song figures prominently in his dreams.  This culminates in one of the comic highlights of the film as Malee plays Blue Oyster Cult’s Burning For You on the flute and then sings the lyrics in possibly one of the worst renditions of the song ever.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (6)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (6)

Gus is nonetheless extremely touched and Malee and he share a few moments together after the show.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (7)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (7)

Having fallen for Gus, Malee resolves to visit his house.  Finding that he is not at home, she happens upon the key and lets herself in.  As she snoops around Gus’s place, she uncovers a pistol, which she takes.  When Gus returns home, Malee hides under the bed, but when he goes straight into the shower and begins weeping, Malee, out of fascination, is drawn out and is tempted to comfort him but instead decides to let herself out quietly.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (8)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (8)

Concerned that her mother will find the pistol, Malee passes the weapon off to Jacob to hide.  Jacob will later use the gun to avenge the murder of his brother, and in the original version of the film, Malee returns it to Gus in the last scene.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (9)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (9)

By now Malee has decided to raise the stakes in her pursuit of Gus.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (10)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (10)

She makes herself up and joins Gus again for a lunch-break picnic; this is presumably the first time she has recognized and expressed herself as a sexual being.  Unwittingly, Gus leads Malee on when the conversation turns to sex and he is forced to admit that it was not because of the age difference that his previous relationship had failed.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (11)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (11)

Malee falls out even further with her mother.  Because she is also estranged from her father, the viewer is lead to believe that this lack of a supportive male presence in her life may be what is driving her infatuation with Gus.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (12)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (12)

Malee returns to Gus’s house a second time.  She cleans up the place, prepares dinner,  then puts on stockings and a negligee awaiting his return.  Gus is not altogether surprised to discover her in his home, having surmised that she had previously been there and well aware of her crush on him.  Gus reacts awkwardly, not wanting to destroy her, but at the same time realistically aware of the problematic nature of what is happening.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (12)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (12)

Malee is not discouraged and approaches Gus, asking him, “Don’t you like my body?” and telling him, “Touch me.”

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (13)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (13)

The two briefly come together but they do not consummate their affection.  Instead, Gus calls Malee’s mother and tells her what has been happening.  Her mother is extremely shocked to the point that she acknowledges what a poor mother she has been and Malee’s need for a male connection.  She finally agrees to take Malee to see the father she never really knew.  And for Gus, his brief but profound relationship with Malee finally brings him release from the guilt he was suffering over the death by his own hand of a little girl in a devastating fire while he was a firefighter.

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (14)

Michael Cuesta – 12 and Holding (2005) (14)

One cut of the film can be seen in full on Youtube.

Becoming-Girl

Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman began working collaboratively in the very early 1990s.  Their work then, as now, featured mannequins in dark and provocative scenes.  A number of their installations seem to deal with the subject of girls, despite denial by the artists.  The Chapman brothers’ art deals with some heavy ideas and during interviews they quote readily from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Deleuze.  Jake has discussed being strongly influenced by Georges Bataille’s On Nietzsche, Tears of Eros, and Documents magazine.

Nietzsche had opined in Birth of Tragedy that art redeems life from the terrible truth that existence is a horror.  With the Chapman brothers’ art, this appears to be in a way reversed: something good and beautiful in reality is perverted by art into the horrible.

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

“There’s nothing we’ve done here that can rival the darkness of the imaginations of children. They aren’t the innocents that adults want them to be.” – Jake Chapman

The brothers’ alleged aim is to incite political dialogue through provocation, while at the same time acknowledging that transgressing boundaries in modern art is no longer possible.  (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: an Interview with Simon Baker.)

A number of critics speculated that Zygotic Acceleration (1995) or Tragic Anatomies (1996) were about the danger of the sexualization of girls: penises and vaginas attached to the faces of the girls and so on.  Despite the death of the author, the brothers nonetheless interjected in the discussion and denied that this is what their collections were about—perhaps sensing that that would truly have been a provocative topic and preferring to stay in the safe-zone of traditional patriarchal politics and sexual discourse as in Sex (2009), which is a scene of torture, or Death (2003) which is a pair of cheap sex dolls cast in bronze.  The brothers go so far as to claim that the life size models are not even girls.

“For example, a journalist said to us, ‘How can you dare do these things to small girls?’ So you think, well, hold on a minute, let’s just take that question apart – why is it a girl? So the journalist replies and says, ‘Well it’s got long hair and freckles.’ OK. When Jake was a little child he had long hair and freckles, does that mean that he was a girl then and now, miraculously, he’s turned into a man because he’s got short hair and his freckles have gone? He says, ‘No, no, you know what I mean.’ We’re like, no, we actually don’t know what you mean. You’re applying rules to something that they don’t actually apply to. This thing is inanimate, it’s made from resin and paint. It bears 90% relationship to a mannequin, and maybe less than 10% to things that you can buy in Ann Summers [a chain of sex-toy shops]. There’s no point at which you can say this is a child. It might look like a child from the back, but from the front it doesn’t. And then the idea that something with an erect penis on its nose could ever be female is also another problem… It’s an attempt to force people to take into account their bad thinking. ‘Zygotic acceleration…,’ for example, it doesn’t work if you say it’s a child or it’s children; I’ve never seen 20 children fused together with adult genitalia on their faces. […] With the full title of that work, ‘Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000),’ the final part tells you that this is not even a child-sized creature” (Jake & Dinos Chapman Interview, David Barett).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

The Chapman brothers insist that Zygotic Acceleration or Tragic Anatomies are really about moral panic and this is expressed via the subject of genetic engineering (Press Release, Jake and Dinos Chapman: Explaining Christians to Dinosaurs).  Meanwhile, Jake and Dinos are aware that their works have gotten away from them, and Jake acknowledges that their Deleuzian-Guattarian collaboration could not have a single author, purpose or meaning (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: An Interview with Simon Baker).  And indeed, many critics recognized these girls as sexual.

“In relation to the mutant mannequins, we can also speak of the possibilities of a Bataille-like transgression that is closely tied to the experiences of sexuality and the overcoming of sexual taboos” (Press release, SLEPÝ VEDE SLEPÉHO).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

“Shocking, no doubt, the piece is also a discomfiting representation of the sexualisation of children, possibly registering either sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or society’s fears about these crimes. Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is first and foremost a stark way of confronting an audience with a tremendously unpleasant image, alluding to science fiction and medical research and so implicating an aesthetic genre and scientific research in the production of these problematic images; science fiction and scientific research are, respectively, aesthetic and intellectual domains where the horrible and the unsettling become possibilities. Any audience is welcome to view this piece to consider what it says about childhood and sexuality in modern society, providing the audience is willing to see past the piece’s antagonistic visual pun on “in your face” art. […] They usurp childhood innocence with these grotesque hypersexualized plastic replicas, part fashion (mannequins, the signifying sneakers), part “biogenetic” and very disturbing” (John A. Walker and Sarah Chaplin. Visual Culture: An Introduction).

By denying the child sexuality implicit in their work, the Chapman brothers can maintain an artistic respectability and have shows at the Tate gallery, while other artists who have broached the subject of child sexuality and the sexuality of girls have had this possibility taken from them.  The following critic for instance observes how the hideous art of the Chapman brothers maintains its aesthetic value, while by contrast, the beautiful sexualized girls of Graham Ovenden must be bereft of significant value.

“There are a number of contemporary artists who work with controversial imagery, images that when compared to the work of Ovenden (before his conviction), appear much more graphic and overtly perverse. What is it that makes such an extreme form of art no longer suggestive of a lack of moral value? How is it possible that the image of a nude child by Ovenden is worse than a sculpture that at a glance, appears to depict several? Could it be that the extreme nature of works by artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman cause us to no longer associate their work with the human condition, as their work appears so non-human, so detached from our own reality. Their 1995 work Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is often misread as the sculpture appears to depict nude, gender neutral children with facial deformations resembling genitalia. It appears particularly grotesque, a sort of macabre reoccurring joke between the two brothers‟ works. […] Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) has a higher value than say an image by Ovenden, as it is not about what you see initially, aesthetically, it is how what you see makes you feel; thus making it a better work of art in comparison. The higher the moral value, the higher the artistic integrity, the higher the merit of the artist and the better the work of art. […] In the past, there have been many instances where art has been deemed immoral and unfit for display, where it was put away, hidden from public view or completely destroyed. […] They were decisions made solely on what a group of people thought was either good or bad art. Questioning the moral value of art and the integrity of the artists who created it was in part responsible for the events that took place during World War II. The Nazis began to make their way into all levels of German society” (Tiffany Horan, Does Art Have Moral Value, and If so, Is Such Value Relevant to Its Assessment as Art?)

Another of the Chapman brothers’ projects that involved the defacing of girls was advertized to the public recently with this quote:

“Children are not human yet” (BBC, August 4, 2014).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

One of the brothers’ installations was at one location, while the other brother showed at a different site, and it was left open as to who created which.  One visitor described the girls as follows:

“The Minderwertigkinder – inferior children (NTS) –  are dressed in black, hoods on, and their back are turned to the entrance. They face One Rabbit Contemplating the Moon (2011) a grimy painting of an extasied cartoon’ish rabbit. The middle of each children’s face is tore apart where a snout, a beak, a trunk bulges out as if in the process of a collective shapeshift. A swastika circled by the message ‘They Teach Us Nothing’ is printed on their jumper – one you can purchase at the entrance.  Up a flight of stairs, one of the Minderwertigkinder – mouse child sits on the ledge of the first floor window. It seems impossible to escape from debilitating dream” (Part #1, Hoxton Square, Jake?)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

The animal feature is described variously as rupturing from the face of the girl or metamorphosing.  Some commentators saw a connection to fairy tales or horror films.  As with the 90s works, is there some redeeming interpretation possible alluding to the Deleuzian-Guattarian “becoming-girl”?  While the Chapmans reject any teleological interpretations of their work, their girl mannequin series might still be read not as an insult to or desecration of the girl, but as an evolutionary pathway through and even the transcendence of girls, who are never static but always in a state of becoming.

“[G]irls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce in molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through. […] The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. […] The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. […] It is Age itself that is a becoming-child, just as Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).

The complete works of Jake and Dinos Chapman can be found at this link.

Geisha Girl

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) is primarily a movie about a girl.  The film can still be subjected to feminist critique because the patriarchy functions on two axes:  the sexist man-woman and the ageist adult-child.

While Chiyo was not sold for a bride price and younger than she might have anticipated— only nine—she nonetheless leaves her father’s house in the manner of any female, Japanese or otherwise, as part of a financial transaction.  As Gayle Rubin tells us,

“If it is women who are being transacted, then it is the men who give and take them… the woman being a conduit of relationship rather than a partner to it… it is men who are the beneficiaries of the product of such exchanges” (The Traffic in Women).

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (1)

The heavy rain shower when Chiyo and her sister Satsu are sold and leave home may represent water breaking as she is ejected from the womb of the patriarchal household.  Or, it could symbolize a kind of Zen Buddhist ritual purification, as when a renunciate bhikkhuni washes to signify disavowal of family.  Chiyo has “deFOOed” as Stefan Molyneux might put it.  She should be utterly free.  But then, why all the prison bars imagery as Chiyo alights from the petty-cab in front of the okiya? Because the patriarchal family and the capitalist economy form one integrated system.  Liberated from the father, she now reckons with the Man.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (2)

Despite what conservatives fear, prostitution (hanamachi) does not challenge the integrity of the family—it supports the family wherever the family structure fails, by providing security and support to females left out in the cold and intimacy and sex to men of frigid families.

“There are 80,000 prostitutes in London alone and what are they, if not bloody sacrifices on the altar of monogamy?”  (Schopenhauer, On Women)

Heavy rain falls again while Chiyo searches for Satsu.  Chiyo’s running through the drenched streets will shortly precipitate the permanent loss of her sister.   At this point Mother gives Chiyo a package which turns out to contain a letter informing her that her mother and her father have died. Now utterly without family ties, Chiyo might have moved seamlessly from the microcosmic familial unit onto the macrocosmic space of the patriarchal capitalist order.  Instead, however, Mother has had enough of Chiyo’s trouble-making and rather than training her as a geisha, she reduces the girl to slavery to recover financial losses.

Ironically, only as a slave is Chiyo free, both from the family unit and from personal investment in the statist market economy.  She is liberated totally; and so, in the next scene Chiyo sits symbolically on a bridge, as if between these two worlds.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (3)

But who could betray the patriarchy?  Within seconds she is approached across the river by a charming older gentleman, and instantly she is emotionally enmeshed in capitalism and the patriarchy through its most sacred and unquestioned institution—the romantic couple.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (4)

Like any man seducing a little girl, the Chairman first grooms her by buying her ice cream and then slips her some money.  “In that moment I changed from a girl, facing nothing but emptiness, into someone with purpose.”  From Zen-like emptiness and with “nothing to attain” (Heart Sutra), Chiyo is once again made a tool of a man’s world; specifically, she says she desires “a place in his world.”

Six years pass.  Chiyo still pines for and desires the Chairman as strongly at fifteen as she had at nine, but unexpectedly, fortune and the politics of the Pleasure District supply her another chance to train as a maiko—and perhaps an opportunity to become intimate with the Chairman.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (5)

Chiyo must study hard.  Her peer, Pumpkin, and the other aspiring geishas are years ahead of her in the art of sexual seduction, grace and conversation.  “You will not be a true geisha until you can stop a man in his tracks with a single look,” chides Chiyo’s new mother, Mameha.  Chiyo is a natural and is soon declared ready.

“’Today you leave your childhood and cast away your name, from this day forward you will be known as Sayuri.’  I felt little Chiyo disappear behind a white mask with red lips.   I was a maiko now, an apprentice geisha. From that moment I told myself when I make tea, when I pour sake, when I dance, when I tie my kimono… it will be for the chairman, until he finds me… until I am his.”

Geisha, meaning “artist,” are different from the prostitutes called yujo or tayuu from whom they evolved.  Geisha, while seductive, do not sell sex, and so Chiyo—even as she becomes the geisha Sayuri—remains a girl.

“The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman.” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)

Sayuri however will have her virginity auctioned off.  Once again, the symbol of the rain-shower repeats when at the performance preceding the bidding war to ensue, she dances under staged falling rain.  Chiyo/Sayuri’s aqueous blue eyes are another allusion to this water.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (6)

“Girls… elud[e] the theological order of rationality that fixes identities into being not becoming” (McAvan, The Becoming Girl of the Virgin Mary, Rhizomes, Issues 22,  2011).

The theme repeats in the film: “she told me I was like water,” “I see water in you,” and so on.  Like the Deleuzian-Guattarian “becoming-girl,” water is always flowing and not easily blocked.  Sayuri rides a “plane of consistency” through every crooked alley of the Pleasure District and dramatic complication.  “[T]he becoming-girl ‘slips through’ orders” (McAvan), and so at last, in the final scene of the film, Chiyo and the Chairman embrace, seeming to reaffirm patriarchy, capitalism, familism and the romantic couple.

“To a man, Geisha can only be half a wife.  We are the wives of nightfall. And yet… a little girl with more courage than she knew, would find that her prayers were answered. Can that not be called happiness?”

Akiane, Indigo Child Prodigy

Akiane Kramarik was born in 1994 in Mount Morris, Illinois.  Her American father and Lithuanian mother identified themselves as atheists; and then surprisingly, their daughter began to have intense spiritual visions in which she would meet God “face to face”.

Akiane Kramarik

Photographer Unknown – Akiane: Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry (book cover) (2006)

This was not initially easy to accept as her mother Forelli remembered, “At first I thought it was a nightmare.” (Evening Magazine.) Her father Mark was also caught off-guard, “It sort of took me aback because we never read the Bible and didn’t have any kind of spiritual connection.” (CNN)

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'On My Knees' (2005)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘On My Knees’ (2005)

Akiane began having spiritual visions at age three; the following year she picked up art tools to express the things she was experiencing.  “I was just so surprised at the impeccable images I had in my head that I just had to express them in some sort of physical matter.”  (Sally Lee, Daily Mail, January 30, 2015.)  She quickly progressed from sketching to pastel by five, then to acrylic at six, and finally to oil.

Akiane Kramarik – On My Knees, 2005

Akiane Kramarik – On My Knees, (2005)

Her mother speaks of this process as follows,

It wasn’t just art that was happening. Simultaneous with art was a spiritual awakening…. It all began to happen when she started to share her dreams and visions. … We didn’t pray together, there was no discussion about God, and we didn’t go to church. Then all of a sudden, Akiane was starting to talk about God. … We were with the kids all the time, and so these words from Akiane about God didn’t come from the outside—we knew that. But there suddenly were intense conversations about God’s love, His place [in our lives], and she would describe everything in detail.” (Marry Berryhill, Today’s Christian, July/August 2004.)

Akiane’s parents soon joined the church, while she herself remains spiritual but does not consider herself a member of any denomination or religion despite frequent Christian references in her art.

Akiane’s family did not have an artistic character.  Akiane describes her painterly education thus, “I am self-taught. In other words, God is my teacher.” (In5d, Indigos, April 26, 2011).  Nonetheless, she was soon recognized as a prodigy.  In a few short years she appeared with Oprah, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, ABC’s Peter Jennings, Katie Couric and  Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, Craig Ferguson of The Late Late Show, and Robert Schuller on the Hour of Power.  Her paintings sold for upwards of fifty-thousand dollars, and hung in locations such as the U.S. embassy in Singapore.

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'My Sight Cannot Wait for Me' (2002)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘My Sight Cannot Wait for Me’ (2002)

Akiane is highly dedicated.  She paints six days a week, rising at three or four a.m. and paints for as many as fourteen hours a day; some works take months and hundreds of hours to complete.

Akiane Kramarik – My Sight Cannot Wait for Me (2002)

Akiane Kramarik – My Sight Cannot Wait for Me (2002)

Akiane’s art can mostly be described as either realist or surrealist.  Often times, she herself does not know the meaning of the images she has seen in visions and feels compelled to paint.  She said, “God gave me more ideas I don’t even know what the meaning is, like pyramids, I really don’t even know that meaning….” (CNN)  Her mother said of these fantastic dream images,

“When she was talking about these galaxies and intergalactic experiences and God, I knew whatever she was seeing, something was really there for her.”  (CNN)

Akiane Kramarik – Faithfulness (2010)

Akiane Kramarik – Faithfulness (2010)

As a girl artist who often made a girl the subject of her work, she might be doubly interesting to Pigtails readers.  In fact, many times that girl subject was a self-portrait.  Described as an indigo child and dedicated to God and love, it’s probably appropriate to find girls and particularly one so angelic as herself in her paintings.

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'Turquoise Eyes' (2005)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘Turquoise Eyes’ (2005)

Akiane has traveled to thirty different countries and is currently residing on the Gold Coast in Australia.  She is fond of animals and since the age of twelve, her compassion for other living souls has motivated her to practice veganism.  She is home-schooled and studies largely only what is interesting to her personally.  Akiane speaks five languages including American Sign Language and has contributed significant funds to children’s charities.

Akiane Kramarik – Turquoise Eyes (2005)

Akiane Kramarik – Turquoise Eyes (2005)

Akiane’s painting and the publication of two books have earned her millions of dollars.  Rich, beautiful and genius, she has quite a lot going for her.  Despite all that, she remains humble and committed to sharing what she’s been given.  “I really love sharing my gift with others. At the same time, I’m just a normal kid having fun and that’s what life is all about—having fun at the same time as helping people.”  (rememberwhoweare, October 20, 2011.)

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'Innocence' (2006)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘Innocence’ (2006)

Akiane has occasionally faced criticism.  Some people accused her of being a fraud; others called her technical proficiency lacking, and some were offended by the religious content.  She recalls, “People wanted to burn all my works when we tried to display them in public.” (Sally Lee, Daily Mail, January 30, 2015.)

Akiane Kramarik – Innocence (2006)

Akiane Kramarik – Innocence (2006)

Akiane had some profound insights on art and children,

“Portals of divinity are everywhere. I believe that children may enter these divine portals easier, because they are seeking for answers in the purest way.” (In5d, Indigos, April 26, 2011)

“Infinity imagines curiosity from the wild abyss—Only the child makes a swing-set view of the worlds upside down. Unwatched truth is the enchantment of childhood.  And we never grow out of it…” (rememberwhoweare, October 20, 2011)

Akiane Kramarik – Co-Creation (2005)

Akiane Kramarik – Co-Creation (2005)

Akiane has a personal site online which can be found here.

Construction of Girl Identity

Diyan Achjadi spent her girlhood in Soeharto-era Indonesia before settling on the trendy Canadian West Coast as associate professor of visual arts at Emily Carr University.  Sometime in the early 2000s the idea for her Girl character came to her as an understated and ironic way of commenting on heavy issues.  Her first show set Girl in various hot-topic settings usually in play or where people were naive to the danger or seriousness of the subject.  Achjadi commented,

“I have been particularly interested in the potential of illustrated narratives, and in the ways the fictionalized environments have the potential to unpack real-world situations, and question and critique the world that we physically inhabit. I use a visual vocabulary borrowed from children’s media – toys, books, objects, and other forms of productions aimed at children – which often depicts the adult world in a miniaturized, simplified, and sanitized form, representing it under a guise of play, innocence, and harmlessness.”

Diyan Achjadi – See Girl, 2004

Diyan Achjadi – See Girl, 2004

Shortly thereafter, in the wake of the tsunami that wiped out coastal Aceh in northern Sumatra, Girl became a way for Achjadi to explore impressions of the way reports of disasters were covered far from her new locale.  Distanced from her homeland, Achjadi’s only connection with the enormous things happening in Indonesia was through the internet, television and telephone.  Her Girl works from 2007 through ’09 featured her signature character in the midst of invasions, bombings, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions.  Girl largely maintained her indifferent composure—maybe an allusion to the tidak apa apa resignation of Indonesians or the passive nature of the stereotypical little girl?

Diyan Achjadi – We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 2009

Diyan Achjadi – We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 2009

At the end of the decade, Achjadi’s use of Girl shifted again.  Now she began to play with the machinery informing identity.  Achjadi had grown up in a new nation, with shifting boundaries, and threatening to rip apart in violence.  The dictatorial government bombarded the people through every medium with nation-building propaganda.  Achjadi herself was made to participate in considerable flag raising, marching, “group calisthenics” and singing to the glory of her recently manufactured country during her school-girl years.  In retrospect she had a kind of fascination with the process.

Diyan Achjadi – Onward, fearlessly, 2007

Diyan Achjadi – Onward, fearlessly, 2007

As the series progressed, it became deeper, and took on a kind of eerie metaphysical character.  Achjadi writes,

“Girl is both singular and plural: she is a figure that exists in a world populated only by other Girls, seemingly identical in features and dress. Sometimes she is alone and isolated; other times she is multiplied into a perfectly uniform army, marching, saluting, and exercising in formation.”

Diyan Achjadi – Ceremony, 2007

Diyan Achjadi – Ceremony, 2007

Far from cute and innocent, the girl becomes something surreal as endless uniformed girls salute in allegiance to the image of themselves.  The following piece might remind one of the North Korean Mass Games.

Diyan Achjadi – Stadium, 2008

Diyan Achjadi – Stadium, 2008

This all culminates in her “The Further Adventures of Girl” show.  Critic, Malakoteron, wrote quite insightfully on this compilation of works,

“From wall to wall one encounters the face of the iconic ‘girl’ who is multiplied in each medium. She’s a flat and simplified medley of many of the cliches of girlhood rendered into an easy to swallow and mass produced form. Cartoons, posters, flags and little sculptures reminiscent of lawn ornaments all cross reference her figure in a series of reds and lush colours. Sometimes it feels like looking at Dora The Explorer filtered through a post-Superflat version of Maoist propaganda.

It starts out seemingly innocuous, like a little bit of children’s TV and, through its repetition and its re-articulation, gradually becomes obvious as a technique of aggression.

They’re attractive and decorative and this is self-consciously reflected in the work, with the girl waving flags of herself, perfectly enclosed in her own narcissistic paradise. As Momus once said in respect to certain trends in Japanese youth culture, it’s a celebration of ‘cute fascism’.”

Diyan Achjadi – Oboro gallery, 2010

Diyan Achjadi – Oboro gallery, 2010

By her later showings of Girl, it would be difficult for most to intuit a commentary on Indonesian national identity.  At face value, the show had evolved into an analysis of the coding of girl identity itself: the girlification of girls.  But Achjadi does not regard girls as made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”; instead, we are shown a process of violence, mass indoctrination, intimidation, superficial molds and robotic conformity.

And then like almost anything artificially impressed into the living body, it is rejected.  Girl finally screams, gesticulates, riots and rebels against herself; she fights herself, tears herself down and attempts to escape the Girl space.

Diyan Achjadi – Protest, 2011

Diyan Achjadi – Protest, 2011

Diyan Achjadi’s personal site is here,  while she delivers a thorough lecture on Girl at this link.  An animated assemblage of her Girl work is also available.

Affandi and Kartika

Rarely did Indonesia’s most well known painter, Affandi, stray from his usual subjects: himself and the difficult lives of the ordinary people.

Affand – Affandi & Kartika (1943)

Affand – Affandi & Kartika (1943)

Indonesian artists were radically cut off from the outside world; there were no shows of modern art until the late 1930s.  And conversely, when Affandi toured in India, Europe, America, and Brazil in the ’40s and ’50s he was one of the few artists from his young country to show abroad.

Affandi – Kartika (1941)

Affandi – Kartika (1941)

Affandi did not work in a studio, but outdoors in the open and he was sometimes attacked by the same common people he chose as his subjects; on one occasion sand was apparently thrown at him and the villagers taunted him—calling his painting incomprehensible.

Affandi – Kartika (1943)

Affandi – Kartika  (1943)

Affandi eventually gave up using a brush and applied paint directly from the tube onto the canvass; he painted with his hands and mixed paint on his wrist.

Affandi – Potret met dochter (1939)

Affandi – Potret met dochter (1939)

Affandi had a very close relationship with his daughter from his first wife.  He traveled together with Kartika and began teaching her to paint from age seven.  In fact, Kartika went on to a career as an impressionist artist herself—also painting many self-portraits and the ordinary Indonesian people.

Affandi – Kartika menggambar babaknya (1943)

Affandi – Kartika menggambar bapaknya, “Kartika drawing father” (1943)

Affandi remarked on the topic of girls and his painterly motivations,

“One day an art collector looked in my studio and said he couldn’t select any of my paintings because the paintings he saw hurt his feelings. He asked me why I didn’t make paintings of beautiful objects: landscapes, girls, and so forth. I too like beautiful things, but they do not necessary provide inspiration for my work. My subjects are expressive rather than beautiful. I paint suffering – an old woman, a beggar, a black mountain … I do know the danger of doing paintings with this in mind. I have no intention of becoming a social propagandist, and I must be careful. One day, in India, visiting a village with my daughter Kartika, I saw a dead body covered by a mattress.  Kartika said, ‘That’s a good subject for you.’ I felt very touched by what we had seen, but I told her I would not paint it. My next painting was of a flower, in reality very fresh, but which on my canvas lacked all life.”

Affandi – Kartika tidur, "Kartika sleeping" (1936)

Affandi – Kartika tidur, “Kartika sleeping” (1936)

Affandi’s legacy, not withstanding his works and his painter daughter who survives him, is his museum in Jogjakarta, which he designed himself in the later years of his life, here is the link to the Affandi Museum site.

Marcel Marlier: Lifetime with Martine

Marcel Marlier started his artistic career with the Belgian Board of Education, illustrating a school reader called Michel et Nicole.  His work caught the eye of publishing director Pierre Servais, and in 1951 he joined Casterman.  He initially illustrated classic stories like Beauty and the Beast and the works of Alexandre Dumas.  Soon, he paired up with poet and author Gilbert Delahaye to create the first Martine story which came out in 1954.

Marcel Marlier – Martine est malade (1976)

Marcel Marlier – Martine est malade (1976)

Martine is the story of a sugar-sweet and proper girl and her many adventures together with her small dog Patapouf.  The stories are generally conservative and contain moral messages such as the value of honesty or environmental protection as in Martine se déguise or Martine protège la nature respectively.

Marcel Marlier – Debbie learns to dance (1972)

Marcel Marlier – Debbie learns to dance (1972)

The series eventually grew to include sixty titles; the first was Martine à la ferme and the final book was Martine et le prince mystérieux.  Martine was translated into sixty languages; she became known as Debbie in English, Anita in Galician, Ayşegül in Turkish, Tini in Malay and so on.  As time passed, Marlier created fresh illustrations for some of the books; Martine à la ferme was reissued with new art at least three times.

Marcel Marlier – Martine, drôles de fantômes! (2005)

Marcel Marlier – Martine drôles de fantômes! (2005)

Unfortunately, in 1997 Gilbert Delahaye passed away prematurely and Marlier’s son, Jean-Louis, took over as writer.  Marlier lived to an old age and continued to illustrate Martine until his passing in 2011.

Marcel Marlier – Martine à la fête des fleurs (1973)

Marcel Marlier – Martine à la fête des fleurs (1973)

All together there have been one-hundred-million Martine books sold—that’s a little more than Pippi Longstockings and somewhat less than Nancy Drew.  A great deal of Martine merchandise is produced today including special editions, comics, DVDs, websites and a video game in which she is called Emma.

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie découvrent la mer (1969)

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie découvrent la mer (1969)

Martine was not Marlier’s only project with Casterman.  Starting in 1969, he began both writing and illustrating his own series: Jean-Lou et Sophie.

Marcel Marlier – Martine petit rat de l'opéra (1972)

Marcel Marlier – Martine petit rat de l’opéra (1972)

Michael Jackson was apparently a great fan of Marcel Marlier and Martine.  Michael came across her image on a puzzle game while in Germany and then contacted the artist.  Marlier did not know who Michael was and bought some DVDs to familiarize himself with the pop-star.  Michael and Marlier met three times.  Michael was reported to have been extremely excited during his visit which initially surprised Marlier who nonetheless warmed to Michael’s personality.  Michael offered to purchase Marlier’s entire portfolio, but Marlier declined and instead supplied him with a sketch. (“Michael Jackson était comme un enfant”, Bernard Libert, SudPress.)

Marcel Marlier – Martine au zoo (1963)

Marcel Marlier – Martine au zoo (1963)

But not everyone loved Martine.  Her widespread influence on young impressionable readers together with her orthodox ladylike manner made her the subject of 1980s French feminist critique for whom she was labeled “docile”.  (“Marcel Marlier, l’illustrateur de Martine est mort”, Charlotte Pudlowski, 20 minutes.)

Marcel Marlier – J’adore mon frère (2007)

Marcel Marlier – J’adore mon frère (2007)

Most recently, Martine became a Web meme when a program went online to modify the title of the text, for example to “Martine – first space cake”, “Martine – desperate housewife” and so on.  Casterman did not feel the web site was in the spirit they envisioned for Martine and politely asked the site owners to take down their project and they obliged. (Alice Antheaume, “Martine s’offre une seconde jeunesse sur le Net”, 20 minutes.)

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie en Bretagne (2002)

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie en Bretagne (2002)

The Martine illustrations were created over a lifetime and by so talented an artist as Marcel Marlier that many of the works are really art, expressing social commentary about the time or seem to include deep and religious themes in the symbolism.  Even for those not so interested in children’s stories, Martine would be a joy to open.

Martine on Casterman

Martine has appeared once before on Pigtails in Paint here.

The Little Girl in Mark Ryden

The first thing someone might be interested to know about Mark Ryden is that in the 90s when he was still working as a commercial artist, years before he was to became “the grandfather of pop-surrealism”, he was acquainted with Michael Jackson and did the album cover for Dangerous. Mark is unfortunately mum about the time they spent together.

Mark Ryden - album cover Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" (1991)

Mark Ryden – album cover Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” (1991)

Ten years later, Mark was on a new career path. Having shifted from commercial to fine art, he rose to Art World superstar—selling his paintings for six figures and having his exploits followed by celebrities like Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.

“His work had become increasingly popular through mass exposure, particularly in the Low Brow Art publications HI-FRUCTOSE and Juxtapoz.” (Joseph R. Givens, LOWBROW ART)

Mark Ryden - Incarnation (2010); Magazine Cover "Juxtapoz" December '11

Mark Ryden – Incarnation (2010); Magazine Cover “Juxtapoz” December ’11

Lowbrow Art emerged in the 70s and its unofficial spokesman is Robert Williams, who coined the phrase. But by the late 90s the movement was splitting in two. In one camp were the loud, sarcastic, anti-establishment originators while in the other were a new breed of artist who painted with exacting technique, referenced the Old Masters and began to appear in major galleries, being accepted by the canon. The term “Pop Surrealism” was first used by the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum for their 1998 show. Mark, and others like him, who had been educated by the very artists the early Lowbrow artists rejected, brought figurative art back to the fine art scene for nearly the first time since Abstract Expressionism had wiped it out almost a century ago.

Mark Ryden - Instagram; Queen Bee (2013)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; Queen Bee (2013)

Mark Ryden names as his own classical artistic inspirations: David, Ingres, Bougereau, and Bronzino (BL!SSS Magazine). Girl art fans will realize that Bougereau painted Before the Bath, The Little Thief, The Nut Gatherers and so on, while Bronzino immortalized Bia de’ Medici. Contemporary artists who inspired Mark include Marion Peck, James Rosenquist, Loretta Lux, Ana Bagayan, Julie Heffernan, John Currin, Darren Waterston, Neo Rauch, and maybe not surprisingly, Balthus (Brian Sherwin, Fanny Giniès, HI-FRUCTOSE, The World Observer).

Marion Peck is none other than Mark’s ex-wife. They were powerfully inspired by one another.

Marion Peck - Peaceful Slumber (2007)

Marion Peck – Peaceful Slumber (2007)

The same clean, cutesy sentimentality often pervades both their paintings.

Mark Ryden - Awakening the Moon (2010)

Mark Ryden – Awakening the Moon (2010)

Mark attributes his deep realizations about philosophy to Marion: “he had been asleep; his spirituality was ‘isolated, and…progressed slowly’ before they met” (Amanda Erlanson, Juxtapoz, 2011).

Mark Ryden - The Apology (2007)

Mark Ryden – The Apology (2007)

Not a few of Mark’s little girls on wood panels are reminiscent of another artist who graced the covers of HI-FRUCTOSE and Juxtapoz: Audrey Kawasaki.

Mark Ryden - Oak Tree Nymph (2006)

Mark Ryden – Oak Tree Nymph (2006)

Or from this series painted on wood slabs:

Mark Ryden - Girl Color Study (2006)

Mark Ryden – Girl Color Study (2006)

Mark is trying to evoke wonder. His paintings are laden with metaphysical allusions and all sorts of things which are puzzling and ponderous: Cyrillic and Chinese script, numerology, religious iconography, meat and little girls and on and on. Of meat, Mark explains, “it’s dualistic: it’s just a packaged product, and at the same time it is a symbol of the other side, meat is our living avatar in the world.”

Mark Ryden - The Meat Train (2000)

Mark Ryden – The Meat Train (2000)

But Mark’s signature inspiration, which gives his work it’s idiomatic style, is swap-meet junk: kitsch, sentimental, nostalgic, melodramatic camp such as figurines of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, big eyed bobble-headed dolls, old toys, and taxidermied animals. Mark’s flea-market finds define his painting—a regular cast of which appear in nearly every one of his works.

Mark Ryden - The Piano Player (2010)

Mark Ryden – The Piano Player (2010)

Mark has also been influenced and inspired by his daughter Rosie.

Eric Minh Swenson - Marion, Mark, and daughter Rosie (2014)

Eric Minh Swenson – Marion, Mark, and Daughter Rosie (2014)

He included Rosie in many of his paintings, one of which later appeared on the cover of HI-FRUCTOSE.

HI-FRUCTOSE Vol.3 - Mark Ryden - Rosie's Tea Party (2006)

HI-FRUCTOSE Vol.3 – Mark Ryden – Rosie’s Tea Party (2005)

“I photographed my daughter Rosie for the Tea Party painting several years ago. It was the first time she ever modeled for me. She took to it with unbelievable skill even at the age of three. Now she is almost eight and she still loves to pose for me. I usually have a sketch that she imitates. She instinctively understands the expression and gesture needed for a pose. I use her as a model even when the figure is not going to be a likeness of her. The little girl in Rosie’s Tea Party is an actual portrait of her. It is fun to have her face in the painting but it is more difficult and very different creatively than the faces I invent. Rosie enjoys being in my art. She and Jasper (my son) seem to understand my art better than many adults. They respond to it instinctively and they don’t over-intellectualize it. Unlike adults they don’t get stuck, they just experience it. Children in general respond well to my art. I feel I have been successful when a child is captivated by one of my paintings” (Annie Owens, HI-FRUCTOSE, 2006).

Mark Ryden - Instagram; Meat Dancer (2011)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; Meat Dancer (2011)

Mark sees a special relationship between children and art and has often mused on the topic:

“One of my favorite quotes is by Picasso: ‘All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ I think this is very true. When making art, children can be so much more imaginative than adults. I think a quality that defines many successful artists is that they never lose a sense of wonder of the amazing world around us. I think it comes rather automatically when one is young” (Nate Pollard, Verbiside Magazine, 2013).

“It is only in childhood that contemporary society truly allows for imagination. Children can see a world ensouled, where bunnies weep and bees have secrets, where ‘inanimate’ objects are alive. Many people think that childhood’s world of imagination is silly, unworthy of serious consideration, something to be outgrown” (Artist Statement – “Wondertoonel”, 2004).

“Children have no inhibitions when making their art. I’ve never seen my 4 year old son have a creative block; and his art is much more interesting than most adult’s art. Children are miraculous” (Artist Statement – “The Meat Show”, 1998).

Mark Ryden - Instagram; The Creatix (2005)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; The Creatix (2005)

Children appear often in Mark Ryden’s artwork, but it is especially female children–little girls–who haunt his canvases and sketch pads.

Mark Ryden - Saint Barbie (1994)

Mark Ryden – Saint Barbie (1994)

Mark talks plainly and directly about the value he puts on the feminine and of the danger of ignoring it:

“As you look back into what has gone on in western civilization, you can see that patriarchy has been the cause of much strife and suffering in our world. It is the masculine dynamic that has caused our society to place money and corporate profit above human beings. It has allowed the earth to be viewed only as a commodity to be exploited. The feminine perspective sees things differently. She sees the earth and all its inhabitants as entities to be revered and cared for. She sees individual human beings as more important than the relentless advance of capitalism and competition. It is my hope, perhaps indirectly expressed in my work, that the divine feminine is reawakening”(Gachman, Interview Magazine).

One critic, Elliott David, has suggested likewise of the little girl in Mark Ryden, “Hidden in these girls’ oversized eyes is the imperialism and the blood of heritage aristocracy, a sort of false innocence that might imply evil but is really coy subversiveness lurking within.”

Mark Ryden - sketch for Pine Tree Nymph (2006)

Mark Ryden – Sketch for ‘Pine Tree Nymph’ (2006)

Mark is himself mostly elusive about the meaning of the little girl in his work:

“There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of.  The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery.”  (Joseph R. Givens, LOWBROW ART).

Or,

“I like for viewers of my paintings to feel presence of meaning and story but I like for them to come up with their own interpretations. I think if I explain too much of a painting away the painting loses a sense of mystery and curiosity” (Kitty Mead, Art Beat Street).

Mark Ryden - Sophia's Bubbles (2008)

Mark Ryden – Sophia’s Bubbles (2008)

While Amanda Erlanson observed that, “Languid girls who exude both a doll-like innocence and a knowing sensuality appear in nearly every painting.” None-the-less, when asked by Maxwell Williams: “[a]nother leitmotif of your paintings are young girls. Why do you feel your world is populated by these waifish little girls, and how did this evolve?” Mark replied, “A lot of people can’t get past the sexual part of a girl. For me, there’s truly nothing sexual at all” (Juxtapoz; Hollywood Reporter).
Mark Ryden - from "Pinxit" (2011); The Long Yak (2008)

Mark Ryden – From ‘Pinxit’ (2011); The Long Yak (2008)

Mark is so coy about the meaning of the little girl in his work because she is mysterious to him too.  He says, “I’ve had to think about that myself and work backwards.  My wife actually said something really funny, and I think she’s right, in that they’re sort of self-portraits. They’re anima figures; they’re soul figures… They’re sort of everybody. They’re you when you’re looking at the painting.”

Marion Peck expands on the little girl as self-portrait idea: “each of the girls Mark paints is in one sense a self-portrait. In his paintings, the anima manifests as Sophia—the muse, the fount of creativity, and the goddess of wisdom” (Amanda Erlanson, Juxtapoz, 2011).

Mark Ryden - Allegory of the Four Elements (2006)

Mark Ryden – Allegory of the Four Elements (2006)

But not everyone loves the little girls in Mark Ryden. Robert Williams satirized them in a drawing in which the cartoon girl’s head is so big she can’t hold it up; Joseph R. Givens explains, “Mocking Ryden’s sentimental themes, Williams drew a banner above the melancholy figure with the words ‘caring, nurturing, fawning.’ As a slight to Ryden’s childlike persona, Williams signed his drawing ‘Bobbie Wms.'”

Robert Williams - Pop Surrealism (2011)

Robert Williams – Pop Surrealism (2011)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine what is actually anti-establishment as opposed to conformist about Robert Williams’ pornographic ultra-violence. Sexualization of women, callousness and blood are almost the most monotonous things someone could paint, perfectly in step with the patriarchy.  Elliott David’s perception that the girl in Mark Ryden “is really coy subversiveness [of] imperialism” is a keen one.  Mark’s work and his portrayal of the little girl is personally vulnerable, sensitive, and touching—precious qualities to be sure.

Mark Ryden - Yak Dream (2008)

Mark Ryden – Yak Dream (2008)

Pip Starr did a post on Mark Ryden a couple years back as well so visit here to see more. It includes a closeup of the girl in the Dangerous poster and a couple of interesting comments. -Ron

Mark Ryden’s personal site