Hard Bodies – Statement
According to Susan Jeffords, American image politics has, since Theodore Roosevelt, been defined by the “hard body.” “Hard bodies” project a hyperbolic image of strength stirring a sympathy and identification with national myths and themes. Focusing on world leaders and using official, candid, and campaign images, my recent paintings analyze the projection of masculinity in political imaging.
When painting these theatrical scenes of masculinity, my interest is in embracing effects largely considered “kitsch”1 with the intent of studying its effects or efficacy. The effectiveness of kitsch in political imaging is an appeal to archetypes and a collective reception.2 For example, a common figure of sentiment frequently used in Presidential imaging and American culture is the cowboy. The emotional appeal of the cowboy is one dependent on the “Myth of the Frontier,” a romanticized appeal to American exceptionalism, individualism, and self-reliance. Hence, the picture of masculinity presented by the cowboy (and its allegorical allusions to the Frontier Myth) is communicated through sentiment and is moving (and hence kitsch) precisely because of its sense of shared ubiquity.3 However, political aesthetics can never be understood in a vacuum and, as such, are dependent on an “antagonist.” In a global sense, the theatre of American image politics (and hence representations of masculinity) must be thought as wholly relational and historically dependent on an “other.”4 For this reason, I pair American leaders with their political counterparts.
With a focus on scenes of leisure, or, more specifically, “bathers,” a genre that historically depicted an eroticized female nude and addressed modern notions of privacy or cleanliness, my work strives to de-schematize these highly coded scenes. Stylistically, my paintings continue a tradition of realism rooted in materialism or anti-idealism.5 In doing so, I avoid re-tooling depictions of heroic laborers or eroticized nudes by emphasizing the generic, and hence, common. By focusing on photographs of world leaders in domestic or familiar settings, exhibiting their tastes, physique, or connection to cultural archetypes, my recent figurative works investigate the role representation plays in contemporary politics.
1 Kitsch has been defined as art which presents a prepackaged or formulaic sentiment.
2Milan Kundera states, “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”
3The “Myth of the Frontier” is especially prevalent in American culture when “American identity is physically and ideologically threatened.” Gioia Woods, “Cowboys, Indians, and Iraq: Jessica Lynchm Lori Piestewa, and the Great American Makeover,” Studies in Popular Culture, Vol. 29, No. 1 (October 2006), 18.
4In WWII, for example, Roosevelt’s smile as a brand communicated the fraternal optimism of capitalism to solve the Depression, yet can only be understood in contrast to Hitler’s more Gothic, brooding countenance and wild “feminine” oratory gesticulations, which stood as a brand for the irrational autonomy of National Socialism.
5Peter Brooks has written that realism is “about creating the illusion of the real – and about the process of disillusioning … to understand that the real is not there where you thought it was …” Peter Brooks, Realist Vision [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005], 176.