**Warning Female Nudity in Artwork**
I continued with large figures on paper in my studio into Spring semester 1996. My work culminated with what I call my three MFA Women.
I also experimented with some Goddess imagery which everyone hated. I did some 'installation' work for our Open Studio show - I bought a 2-drawer white nightstand at Good Will and the top drawer was the happy stuff drawer with chocolates and other stuff I don't remember, and the bottom drawer was secret stuff with sexy lingerie and a bottle of Brandy. I often made Brandied Pumpkin Cheesecake, so I always seemed to have a bottle of Brandy on hand. I bought some fashion magazines and smeared glue along the edges so you picked them up and then couldn't open them. The faculty were not impressed - they thought it was a 'one-note' joke.
Also Spring semester I took a Nona class called Imaging the Other (Nona taught the philosophy and art history courses). The syllabus had a list of broad topics: “The recurrence of these themes pervade art, literature and philosophy.” They were: The Flesh/The Body/Sexuality; The Self; The Ultimate/God/…; Time; Utopia/Paradise; Woman; Nature; Death; Technology. Guess which one I was immediately drawn to?
Everyone chose their topic and we were put into groups by topic. We worked on our topic the entire semester. We had to do an individual research paper, a group presentation, including extra readings on reserve for fellow students, and we each had to work on each of the topics individually in some way, keeping notebooks or folders for each one, with the other groups’ readings and any of our own research as well. Our final was an individual presentation of art and its relation to our topic. Our class chose: Woman, The Ultimate, The Self, Nature and Time. I kept my notes from class for a long time, but they were just jumbled comments. We had a lot of class discussion. Nona kept trying to get us to talk about ‘The Other’ even though it was a very difficult concept to talk about.
The Time presentation was like performance art. The audience was given individual instructions to do certain things at certain times. My instruction was to sing loudly and badly to someone, and the only song I could think of was ‘Like a Virgin’ so I sang that loudly (I sing badly anyway) to a fellow male grad student, which everyone thought was hysterical. For my own Time project I took a whole roll of film on self-timer of me naked doing a charcoal/gesso drawing in my studio.
For Nature, the two students did separate presentations (they didn’t get along). The young woman’s presentation seemed like an undergraduate project. The young man from England did a presentation about the notion of Nature and the American vacation. He talked about driving for days and days to get to a state park. For my own Nature project I took a series of Polaroids while walking through my neighborhood, looking up at trees with electric wires, and the following words were written across the series of pictures: I am out [attempting to] enjoy Nature. But Progress interferes. Damn it. I didn't keep these polaroids.
I have no memory of the Self or Ultimate presentations. I didn’t put much in those folders.
SPRING BREAK - The Cruise:
Spring Break I went on a cruise with J. Since I had a large amount of money with the Teacher’s Retirement payout, she wanted us to take a cruise. At the time I thought this was a good idea. I have never been very good with money. Anyway, we took a Caribbean cruise. It stopped at Cozumel, Mexico, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Before each port stop, the cruise gave a presentation on what to expect and what to see and do. They gave us so many warnings about Jamaica that we decided to spring for their sponsored tour. The Caymans were really funny – we went into stores and nobody would help us, like they already have so much money they don’t need customers. J. brought along clothes for me to wear because we were expected to dress up for dinner. She even brought a swimsuit to loan me.
As usual, I won’t publish any photos of J. since she has a thing about that. But here is a photo of me:
There were three of us who chose Woman - me, Linn and Laura. When we gathered to talk, Linn noticed right away that we were all from different generations. We represented the Three Stages of Woman: Maiden, Mother and Crone. That was how we structured our performance. Linn dressed in long robes, the Sage. I found a turquoise blue shift in the second-hand shop – I went in and said I needed a dress to make me look like a Mom from the 60s. It was perfect. Laura dressed in a flouncy little-girl dress. Linn had an extensive library of feminist literature, including a book of women’s rituals. She wrote our performance outline:
Casting the Circle
The Maiden: Girlhood
The Teenage Years
The Mother: Mother Cares for You
Mother Makes Her Art
Mother Cares for Mother
The Crone: The Crone’s Tale
Blessing of Our Mothers
Opening the Circle
Linn taped all of the music, including birdsong and quiet music, as well as our individual music. She was a weaver and spun her own thread, so she brought her spinner and was spinning thread in a corner throughout the entire ceremony (when not performing other duties).
We led our classmates and professor into the room. Linn started the music. We led everyone into a circle around the altar. Linn cast the circle – she told everyone to let the stress of the day flow out of them. She stirred salt into a chalice of water to cast out impurities, then handed it to me, handed a candle to Laura – who lit it – and she picked up a knife. We purified and honored all four directions: East, South, West, North. The Circle was sealed and all were to be seated on the floor.
There was a three-paragraph chant for the audience to join in, about “She” creating a work of art called The Universe. Then Laura’s ceremony began. She had her own music and was to create her own art. She drew on the floor, she put on makeup. She improvised and threw these defiant looks at me. I paced around, nervous Mother watching her daughter. I went to help her, but she pushed me away and ran to Grandmother. Then her Healing Ceremony. We had blessings to recite – Laura’s were about strength and looking forward.
Then it was my turn. I passed out cookies (Mother Cares for You). I do not remember what I did to make my art, but I had a basket of clay Goddess figures and the audience could choose one to keep. For the Mother Cares for Mother segment I had a basket full of presents to open. First I removed the blue dress (I had leggings and a t-shirt on underneath). One of the gifts was Linn’s big massaging vibrator – I used it on my upper back, writhing in ecstasy, moaning and pretending to have an orgasm. Everyone was either laughing hysterically or embarrassed. I gained a little notoriety for that. Then I had an Empowerment Ceremony. “I am the Powerful One. I do what must be done.” (This was from the Ritual book – I kept my copy of that book for a long time, but while in Seattle I got rid of all my feminist books.) I used the song: "I've Got the Power."
Then came The Crone’s Tale. Linn sat at her spinner and Laura and I sat at her feet. She told the story of her grandson’s birth. It made her cry.
Then came The Blessing of Our Mothers – honoring all the women who went before us, family and otherwise. We ended the chant with:
Crone: You are the Seed, you are the Flower, I am the Fruit.
Maiden: I am the Seed, you are the Flower.
Mother: I am the Flower, you are the Fruit.
Crone: I am the Fruit, you are my Flower, you are my Seed.
All Three: We are family. We are ALL family.
Then we put on The Pointer Sisters’ “We Are Family” and pulled people onto their feet – all were dancing (well, probably most – a few didn’t get it or like it).
Then we put on quiet music again. Linn thanked all the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North, West, South and East. We opened the Circle.
And that was our presentation.
My paper was titled: Subjugated Women Make the Best Consumers. I based my research paper on Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, plus Jean Baker Miller’s Toward A New Psychology of Women, and Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia. My paper talked about how women who feel badly about their bodies make great consumers for Corporate America because we have to buy more stuff. I got an A on the paper. Nona wrote: “Á good solid paper. Great analysis, interesting sources, etc. The writing is superb! Well done!” It took me a whole year to learn how to write at the graduate level. During Fall Semester Nona sent us to write a review of an art show, and she handed my paper back to me and asked me to just think about it some more and rewrite - I ended up seeing things in the artwork that I had over looked before.
For my final Nona project, I displayed my three MFA Women on one wall and some of my cropped gesso/charcoal figure drawings on the other wall, with pages from fashion magazines tacked up among them. I compared the two groups of drawings as women who lack confidence about their bodies vs. women with a positive self-image. As I talked about how societal pressures affect how women feel about their bodies I tore down the magazine pages and crumpled them up and dropped them on the floor. I had some photos of this, but they were bad quality so I didn't keep them.
Now, my three MFA Women:
My three MFA Women measured 4’x6’ (that’s 4 feet x 6 feet). On milk carton paper. Charcoal and gesso, with some washes of watered-down paint. My advisor Mz kept telling me to put more and more washes over the drawings, layering them (although, after Suzi Blu, these professors didn’t know anything about ‘layering’). My final critique went well and the semester ended on a high note.
However, during the semester I had a lot of crap thrown at me because people just did not get it with the women's self-image issues. I don’t think any of the faculty had ever been overweight in their lives, so they didn’t get any of the body image or societal pressure concepts. They REALLY didn't get any of the Feminist concepts. They tried to say I was wrong. They tried to say this had all been done before, in the 60s and 70s, it's old hat, don't reinvent the wheel. My advisor Mz didn’t get it at all. She told me that she was so skinny when she was young she thought nobody would love her; then she met her husband and got married. Laura said to me, “Ohh, I have a friend and she’s so skinny, it’s not her fault.” As if my talking about being overweight in society was somehow criticizing anyone who wasn’t?
Mz asked me, “Why only women? What about men? What about the human condition?” Are you kidding me? So, my being a woman and talking about being a woman was wrong because it excluded men? Linn kept saying to me, “They just don’t get it.” In critique I made the mistake of bringing up my research and paper for Nona’s class. They didn’t want to hear it. “That’s Nona’s class.” The faculty had this strong bias against Nona. Of course, we never heard any of them back up anything they did with research or explanation.
They tried to tell me women’s body issues were irrelevant. When I wrote about all this for The Journaling Project in 2002 I wrote that I could cite numerous books, magazine and newspaper articles that were published since 1996 to show the issue was not irrelevant. Cameron Manheim was doing her one-woman show in 1995, but I didn’t know that. And, just check out Tumblr these days for tons and tons of posts about body issues and societal pressure and standards. This young generation are starting to speak out in a way that previous generations never did.
When Feminist issues of Sexism are addressed on The Daily Show THIS WEEK - in 2014 - I really don't think these issues have gone away and are far from solved, 'old hat' or any other means of expression meant to get women to sit down and shut up. I am trying to forget the ignorant and out of touch faculty at a small unknown art college in the Mid South, back in the 90s.
My three MFA Women weren’t just naked, they were sensual, sexual. They weren’t just standing there anymore. This was how I applied ‘sensual’ to my art. I took it literally. And it was a big step for me. It was the only way I could think of to apply it to my art at the time. And with all my research for Nona’s class, it became important that they were large women and sexual. My message was: It’s okay to be large and sexy, not ashamed because I am large. Although look at the photos with the self-timer - yes, I thought I was fat because I was not skinny. *Sigh*
My drawings may not have been totally anatomically proportionate. And my tendency to cut them off at the knees stemmed from running out of room. Their faces are nice, and nicely done, I thought. I liked the drips and splashes and the color washes.
I could have taken these women into the next semester. But I didn’t know what else I would have done with them. More of the same? I wasn’t satisfied with that. Or, rather, I told myself I wasn’t satisfied with that. I was constantly questioning myself and doubting myself.
They were a definite artistic high point.
In 2002 when I got out all of my artwork, I discovered that my three MFA Women smelled. I will do a separate Art Purge post - while in Laurel I destroyed them all. I didn't know why I was hanging onto them.
We had a Studio Open House and Linn took this Polaroid of me with my camera. I bought that dress at the resale shop. First she took one that Nona said looked like a Prom picture - Nona said, "Come on! Show us some cleavage!" So I leaned over and gave a big Cheesecake smile. I call this my Cheesecake photo.
I had a rubber stamp made of the face of Orgasm Woman and printed it on cards for a project one of the staff was doing called One in a Hundred - he had 100 artists produce many small pieces and sent the boxes to museums (plus each artist got a box). I still have my box, but one person used a wrapped slice of American cheese and I threw that out after it turned brown. This staff person graduated from the College but went elsewhere for grad school, returning that year. He worked as staff and also taught a few courses, but they wouldn’t hire him on as faculty so sometime after I graduated he went elsewhere to become an art professor. He was represented by a local gallery and did ‘encaustic’ paintings (with wax – I don’t really understand encaustic painting).
Also Spring semester I took Life Drawing for the second time. I took the Teaching Seminar, which was the only Teaching Assistant (“TA”) experience I received. And I got a part-time job at a natural foods grocery store called Squash Blossom.
At some point during the semester I came across Courbet’s The Origin of the World. Maybe there was a magazine article about it? Anyway, I began sketching that image. I did a print in printmaking.
And I spray-painted this graffiti behind the Circle K one early morning:
An interesting scene outside the Toxic studio. I call this 'The Piano.' Doesn't it look like one?
Also Spring semester I got a red dragon tattoo on my stomach. I wanted a second tattoo ever since I got my first one, but I didn't know what I wanted or where I wanted it. I finally decided on a red dragon. And the stomach is a very sensitive spot to get a tattoo!