Sunday, January 23, 2011

Learning outside of class: Mugler, Power Dressing, Richard Phillips, and Napoleon

Yesterday was a full day.  I had to go to a Saturday class on Teaching, but it was really the stuff I learned in between my six hour seminar where I got the best information.

Over my morning coffee I perused the NY Times and came across several awesome posts.  Formerly Thierry Mugler, Mugler has reemerged on the Fall 2011 Men's fashion circuit, with Nicola Formichetti as creative director, a man behind many other creative enterprises such as stylist for Lady Gaga and Dazed and Confused magazine.  See his super awesome blog for more.  While the new campaign features a Mugler video with song by Gaga, (and therein lies the publicity stunt of the season), I still was excited by these gaunt, real-tattooed creep-fest male models.  The feel is so goth I can't possibly write it off as simply shock value.  It fascinates me that this is another new way to sell dress pants.

Mugler at NY Times T Magazine

I also learned about this book, Power Dressing, by Robb Young about the politics of fashion within the lives of political female figures.  It sounds totally perfect for my thesis, which is all about power and fashion.

Power Dressing by Robb Young at NY Times T magazine

Also in the NY Times T magazine was an article about my one of my favorite pop figurative artists, Richard Phillips and his upcoming show at White Cube Gallery, which is made up of several paparazzi-style portraits of young celebrities with corporate-sponsored backgrounds.  You might have seen his painting as a cameo in Gossip Girl, which the article makes reference to, and the simulacrum of fame, media, and advertising.  I love how plastic they are, referencing poses specifically made to pander to fans, but also how sort of unflattering they become.  His show at White Cube opens January 28 in London.

Richard Phillips at NY Times T Magazine

When I returned home I popped in a DVD I got from Netflix on Napoleon Bonaparte from PBS.  Maybe this is not your idea of a wild Saturday night, but I was entranced by this four-hour documentary about the rise and fall of the most powerful man in Europe.  What is most fascinating about him is that he was born to a nothing-special family in Corsica, and it was his unbridled ambition that blew him to the greatest heights the Western world had ever seen.  What I found really interesting was that he often commissioned portraits after successful battles to serve as propaganda to his own greatness, and conquered Egypt merely as a promotional tactic for the eyes of the Revolution.  While he was exploitative, egotistical, and slightly mad, he serves as some sort of hero to me.  "He took the empirical crown and placed it upon his own head".  That's balls.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques Louis David 

Napoleon on PBS

Thursday, January 13, 2011

YAAAAAAYYYYYY! Studio Visit with KQED!

Recently I was interviewed by Kristin Farr and Photographed by Emmanuel Hapsis of KQed.  It was a big Compliment!  



Large Image
The walls of Serena Cole's CCA studio are populated by faces from fashion magazines. The models' ferocious beauty is re-imagined with watercolor, and a certain murky darkness in their expressions and angular poses is revealed. We recently stopped by Cole's studio and got to chatting about the evolution of beauty, her historical inspirations, and her almost Pretty Women-esque high-end shopping spree.

EKG: How would you describe your work to someone who hasn't seen it?
Serena Cole: "I would say I make drawings and paintings that investigate aspects of fashion imagery that critique something about our society, and also points the finger at myself. I'm not criticizing it necessarily; I know I'm involved in the machine. I'm going at it like an anthropologist."

How has your work changed since you started your MFA program?
"One breakthrough is that I started categorizing the fashion ads I work with. I knew there were a lot of things in fashion that I was drawn to because they're so weird, opulent, and fantastical. But once I started pulling them all out, I realized there were genres to these ads. And they encapsulated different fantasies we have. It's not just an artsy photo, it's made to grab your attention and capitalize on some kind of inner fantasy. I have tons of images of women that look dead. Maybe you're flipping through a magazine, and you see it as a fashion ad. But then you start seeing them all together and you realize it's a trope. I have categories like dead women with snakes, or ambivalent mothers, or models that look like creatures."

Your work is very beautiful, but are you mostly talking about situations that aren't so beautiful?
"I'm interested in how our idea of beauty has changed. It went from glamorous, voluptuous movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, to the all American girl like Farrah Fawcett, and then the 90s heroin chic of Kate Moss, and now we've gone into an androgynous alien world. We're trying to find people that are so beyond us. That's what I think is so interesting about it: the escapism."

What's something specific that draws you to an image in a magazine?
"Now that I'm capturing the idea of categories and tropes, I'm looking for faces that embody the trope itself. I have a category of violent images like this one [see below]. Even though she's just wearing make-up, it looks like she was shot."

"They have to have an expression that's interesting. They can't just be pretty; they have to communicate something. I think it's fascinating that magazines show us eye shadow using somebody who looks like she's crying. It's really about the complication of these artistic images where they constantly have to outdo each other in order to get our attention."

"There was an editorial in Italian Vogue showing a woman in the oil fields in the South. When the oil disaster happened, Steven Meisel photographed the model kind of like a dead bird lying in pools of oil. People were really pissed off about it, but it's so fantastical and dark all the time in magazines, so it makes perfect sense for them to use something that actually happened to make this dark art."

Are the clothes and shoes in your paintings direct references to specific designers?
"Yes. Before I wasn't acknowledging it as much, but now I'm making it the most important part by naming the series after the clothes the figures are modeling, like "ecstasy in Prada." By opening that door, you can see I'm commenting on what's in front of me instead of trying to claim it as my own imagery. I didn't make up most of what I'm painting. It was already there. I'm scavenging it and hopefully trying to get you to see it in a different way."

Which historical figures inspire you, especially in regards to fashion?
"My thesis is about fashion and power, and investigating Queen Elizabeth I and how she made herself kind of inhuman in the way she dressed. The way Napolean always projected himself is similar. Image plays a huge part in power. In my thesis, I talk about the Nazis and how they designed all their outfits and propaganda in a systematized way. They thought it was positive that they were futuristic, and terrifying, and cold. It was all on purpose, and it wasn't just military stuff that's utilitarian. People like Michael Jackson have appropriated it, and I found out that Hugo Boss made the Nazi uniforms. The guys that started Adidas were in the Nazi party. Louis Vuitton only made trunks and luxury goods, but they had to work with the Vichy French, who were Nazi sympathizers, in order to stay afloat. I think most fashion houses had to cooperate with the Germans if they were European."

Do you ever go to luxury stores and handle the items you're painting?
"That's a good question. This is all fantasy for me, it's not part of my reality, and I used to just look at the images. But my advisor wanted me to really investigate. I had never been in any of those fancy stores like Prada, or Barney's, or Dior. He went with me and took pictures and made me try on the clothes. Part of me thought I'd be sullying the clothes, but I realized the part I was intimidated about was worrying that the sales people would sniff out the fact that I don't have any money, and they'd be mean to me like in Pretty Woman. But then I took control of the situation and made up a story in my head that my advisor was my sugar daddy, and even if I looked like I didn't have money, they wouldn't know if he did or not. That was how I took the power from the situation."

If your art had a soundtrack, what would it be?
"I'm a closet Goth, so I would probably say Sisters of Mercy because it's glamorous, dark, indulgent, and kind of mean."
Serena Cole's work can be seen in "Fabrications," a group exhibition at Marx & Zavatterothrough February 5, 2011.

More Good Stuff: CCA webpage and review from the Bay Area Reporter

My painting is representing part of the Painting/Drawing webpage for CCA's undergraduate study.  Yeah!  Does this mean I don't owe them loan money anymore?

Design credit Max Batt

In other exciting news, I just saw a new review of our show at Marx and Zavattero by Sura Wood at the Bay Area Reporter "Coming soon to a gallery near you".  It's so nice to get some press action!

Marx & Zavattero: Fabrications. Women rule in this intriguing group exhibition of works on paper by five female provocateurs. Critiquing society, fashion, women's roles and media images, Melissa Manfull, Taravat Talepasand, Serena Cole, and gay artists Jennifer Celio and Libby Black traffic in fantasy rooted in sober reality. Iranian-American Talepasand goes for the jugular with "Death to Bitches," a graphic depiction of a male executioner wielding a sword in one hand, and clutching the heads of two decapitated women by their hair in another.
Black and Cole satirize the tyranny of fashion, albeit in their ow
"Prince Charming" (2010), by Libby Black. Photo: Marx & Zavattero, San Francisco

n subversive ways, while questioning the allure of pricey objects of desire and the models they adorn. A chance for women, trapped by the ways others insist on seeing them, to inhabit alternate lives, perhaps? Black's "Life as a Tale" is a disquieting pencil drawing of a masked female superheroine pausing for a moment of reflection. If we are indeed what we wear, Supergirl here has it made. In the artist's "Untitled (Balenciaga)," a chic woman with mussed, dirty-blond hair, wearing green gaucho pants, a cropped purple jacket and shoes with dazzling yellow accents, stands in an elegantly appointed drawing room worthy of a Ralph Lauren campaign. Forget the pants. I wanted the shoes and jacket. Black may not have intended to inspire retail lust, but there you go. This piece and others challenge the incongruity of a prevalent message in fashion advertising – snazzy pumps, designer glasses and blase attitude equal old money, or just money, period.
In Cole's "Burning Down the World I," a fetching willowy model in fashionable military garb, the tails of her jacket blowing in the breeze, poses triumphantly next to a flaming bush. Cole's coltish girl with giraffe-patterned tights and reddened eyes standing at the edge of a forest clearing in "I'm an Animal I," and what looks like the same model unmasked, sullen and skinny in a tank top and lank hair in "I'm an Animal II," are simultaneously seductive and troubling, which is, after all, the point.

See more from Libby in a post I made about her show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Last Days


I think it's about Dress As Power,  I don't know.  Ask me later.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review in the SF Weekly!

Yeah!  I finally got a really nice review- Keith Bowers at the SF Weekly wrote a small piece about our upcoming show at Marx and Zavattero:

The Horror, the Humor

Serena Cole embraces laughter and terror in equal parts. On one hand, the characters she creates from ink, watercolor, colored pencil, and gouache look (intentionally) ridiculous. The subject of I'm an Animal I, for example, wears a modified tutu, stylized nylons, and a stiffened doily that's neither mask nor tiara but sort of each. Yet she also wears a look so dark and menacing as to resemble one of the flesh-ripping, shape-shifting demons you'd see on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or (the new BBC version of)Doctor Who. If you were to encounter thisAnimalin person, you'd run before you thought of laughing. Cole is one of five California women artists who keep viewers off balance in“Fabrications.” Each depicts a reality that is counterweighted with imagined states of being. Cole's work pits the fantasy created by the modern-day fashion industry against its reality.Libby Black tackles the same dichotomy with gouache and graphite. In Prince Charming, her subject elicits more pity than fear, although the internal dispute is clear: An over-the-top outfit (including crown, brand-name shirt, and mimelike makeup) is contradicted by wide eyes and a tentative stance that say nothing as much as “please like me.” Melissa Manfull uses watercolor and ink to create architectural paradoxes, Jennifer Celio renders environmental degradation in graphite, and Taravat Talepasand uses the same medium to address the contradictory elements of her Iranian and American heritage. Her Death to Bitches! is as disturbing a piece as we've ever seen. The opening reception starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8.
Tuesdays-Saturdays. Starts: Jan. 8. Continues through Feb. 5, 2011