Dresscapes & Hatscapes

The first dresscapes “arrived” while I was looking at my postcard collection, and flipping through dress books from the Victorian Age. Ultimately this became a way to express what was metaphorically on my back, on my mind, close to my skin, or I was keeping otherwise hidden.

I had nothing in mind, just looking, which is usually where the good stuff comes from. However, I’d been noticing the echoes of women’s shapes in the postcard landscapes. The history of art is filled with images of women surrounded by the landscape, but I was seeing the possibility of landscape within a woman’s form.  I began exploring this theme, where multiple images I’d been looking at–dress forms (the body) and landscape sources, could merge with one another, bringing multiple references to the final image. A visual mash-up. The first look should click as the familiar image, the second bring another meaning, sometimes in conflict with the first, or revealing what may be going on secretly.

I worked with environmental themes at first, creating dresses, then large paintings of people in Victorian hats, that referenced Audubon prints as living ecosystems.

As this new genre opened up I began to work smaller, faster, in order to get ideas out. And I worked funnier as well. Red Grooms and Claus Oldenburg, Roz Chast , are artists I love, and their work encouraged me to use humor as an artistic tool. Besides, I couldn’t help myself!

During the economic downturn I needed to laugh, and began to create work that diverted me, gave me a place to go mentally and emotionally, and a place to push back. The 50’s and 40’s dresses I chose to work from were close to my own era -my mother’s clothes, my clothes.  The constraint, severity or formal codes of behavior played out by models in old Sears’s dress books were enough to stir up a response. Clothes were the wall, the canvas; those perfect clothes provided a place in which to express my rebellious point of view. I worked to achieve a contrast between content worked into the body of the dress- often political, about gender roles, the environment, or art history- that  would undercut the fresh, pristine appearance of the clothing and the artificial expressions of models who had been dressed and posed to be consumed.

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