I made two new Mecca Normal videos today using my paintings. They’ll be linked to upcoming Normal History columns for Magnet Magazine.
Early in 2016, while writing a YA novel about a rock band, I left a part time retail job when I began selling enough paintings (11 x 14″) on FaceBook to pay my bills. Since then I’ve painted around five hundred faces – the vast majority of women. I began painting self-portraits at thirteen to express an intensity I possessed that I didn’t see in advertising and magazine images of women at that time (1973). I’ve continued to explore strong female expression in my art practice, which includes writing, music and painting.
literary fiction, 1993
A self-portrait photo on the cover of Mecca Normal’s 12th album (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) – songs from my yet-to-be published novel “Love Wants You.”
As the lyricist and singer in the band Mecca Normal, I have been writing about women and social justice since 1984. Most people who see my paintings know my background – or they are exposed to it online because of its proximity to where my paintings are posted. Viewers would understand that, at the very least, I’m not objectifying women, but beyond that I haven’t written an artist statement, other than to offer that I paint attitudes more than beauty or other superficial qualities, and that the vast amount of time involved in creating, honing and moving characters around in fiction informs my painting process as I keep working on pieces until I achieve a sort of complete personhood that exudes emotional depth rather than a concentration on physical attributes, which is the essence of how women are typically valued. In our society, what we look like is always the most important thing about us.
The long history of women as subjects in art made by men is intertwined with women not making art themselves. At this point in my artistic practice, I am painting without an overt political agenda, allowing my contemporary portrait paintings to speak for themselves.
My FaceBook page memories says I painted “No Hat #90” on this day’s date last year. It’s one of many I’ve done from a photo of transgender model Andreja Pejic, who I first painted in May of 2016 with “No Hat #21”.
“No Hat #90” (acrylic on canvas board 11 x 14”) September 6, 2016.
$100 USD plus shipping.
“No Hat #21″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) May 12, 2016. SOLD
“No Hat #94″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) SOLD
“No Hat #79″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) SOLD
I return periodically to work from the photo of Andreja for various reasons. It’s soothing and stabilizing to paint the familiar — and it’s a barometer of my technical evolution in the ongoing series. I may consciously apply newly honed skills to it, aware of higher levels of brain-eye-hand activity that doesn’t always mean a better painting in the end. It’s still mostly about knowing when to stop. Each painting has thousands of micro-expressions (in the mouth and eyes in particular) that are in constant motion until I find a point where they hold a pronounced amount of personhood and attitude. It seems to be about inventing a fully fledged character that has obligations to me (and to you) — and possibly beyond that in terms of social philosophies and a history yet to unfurl.
Andreja Pejic is not just a well-lit face with lovely bone structure. Her story of personal and public evolution — and her professional understanding of what her face reveals — inform how I paint. I’m not overly-interested in making paintings that look like her. Obviously, as a very vocal feminist, I’m not using sex to sell art. I’m not subjugating women, but I think about these things. I worry about these things. What if I wasn’t a known feminist? Would my paintings of women be suspect?
Because I’m not beholden to the subject, I am free to change eye and hair color which are often based on other colours in the work, but I admit I am wary of painting too many blue-eyed blondes and what people will think when I paint African Americans. It was a truly strange week in my mind when I painted “The Party” without yet knowing of the uproar surrounding Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” at the Whitney Biennial. Internally, I evaluated my motives and felt uneasy about how my painting might be interpreted, but it also gave me cause to realize nobody actually cares what I’m doing in any big way because I’m not in the “Art World” — I’m just some random painter who perhaps thinks her work is more important than it actually is. Having a history of being regarded as important in music has not translated to importance in writing and painting (yet).
People who see my work more or less know (and hopefully trust) my intentions, but is that good? I don’t essentially want to rely on that understanding. Anyway, it was a weird week.
“The Party” (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14″) March 20, 2017.
$100 USD plus shipping.
While I’m painting, I’m physically advocating for a strong personality to evolve in spite of — and because of — how things are (in my life, in your life, in the world at large). Yet, there are paintings with unmasked vulnerability, sadness, pain too. And paintings that are all mask — whether its paint, make-up, a lack figurative clarity or part of a traditional costume (the Kabuki series… which are men wearing white make-up portraying women).
“Kabuki #1″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) March 1, 2016.
$100 USD at John Doe Records Hudson, NY.
In many ways painting is like playing music or writing for me. I allow myself to be influenced by excellence, to connect my work to history without being thwarted by all that can be known, I infuse work with idiosyncratic stances — some of which have been in place from the beginning, other facets of which are just turning up now.
That Mecca Normal and my great creative partnership with David Lester are running concurrently makes this a nearly collaborative endeavour. Dave’s encouragement and understanding of me as both an artist and a human fuel my resolve to work, building my confidence and tenacity. I admire his discipline (work on a graphic novel about Emma Goldman), motivation and generosity. When his book is published, we’ll likely do some Mecca Normal-based events that will also include what I’m doing with the painting project. As with much of or work, there will be over-lapping themes and exciting ways to collaborate.
Drawing by David Lester – Graphic Novelist for his graphic novel about Emma Goldman.
I must admit, it suits my personality to be able to show people my paintings as soon as their finished. It’s integral, of course, the overall project. Books and records, tours and events all take so much time to complete and set in motion. It’s a great luxury to have an audience for my work here on FaceBook.
Thank-you for paying attention and for buying my paintings. This is the most exciting time of my life, but it would not be so without all the other incredibly exciting things that have happened (that I thought were the most exciting times).
It’s typical for me to switch things up near the end of the month when sales slow due to rent and bills. During this time I break away from painting faces and gravitate towards animals, land or seascapes, and now city streets.
This post is linked to Vol. 443 of Normal History (September 16, 2017) in Magnet Magazine.
“Amidst the Waves″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) July 30, 2017. SOLD
“Sandhill Cranes″ (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) July 31, 2017. SOLD
“Amidst the Waves #2″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 2, 2017. SOLD
“Amidst the Waves #3″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 2, 2017. SOLD
“Amidst the Waves #4″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 2, 2017. SOLD
“Amidst the Waves #5″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 6, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
“Amidst the Waves #6″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 6, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
“Amidst the Waves #7″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 6, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
“Amidst the Waves #8″ (after Ivan Aivazovsky) (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 6, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
“Rain” (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) August 7, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
My paintings featured at Nick and Gayle’s place in Brooklyn! These four represent the members of their family. What a thrill to see them featured in their living room. I love the way the light on “Nick’s” nose works with the light in the room! And with the light in the photo (?) above! Nick says, “They are like tattoos: now I want more.”
NOTE: Gayle as in New York Times-bestselling novelist Gayle Forman (straight up name drop).
The Hat #30
No Hat #126
The Hat #2
No Hat #119
From my recent email to David Lester about my new series “Bodies”
“The women seem empowered. The source material (an illustration by a woman — Jacqui Morgan) is from burlesque, which seems to me more powerful than stripping. The two images might be the same person – one is acting (performing in costume), the other is less defined, in motion, nebulous. Two very different roles and degrees of vulnerability.
The performer in stripes could easily be holding a microphone – giving a semi-naked woman, a burlesque dancer, a voice. My voice, really. Plus, those striped stockings and long, fingerless gloves give it a sense of old-timey classic circus. Or, to me, a very Picasso sense. Growing up, we had a book in which he was wearing a lot of striped clothing. It also harks back to Lautrec’s paintings of women and night life.
Interesting too that the stockings and gloves cover parts of the body that are actually acceptable to show in public, so there’s a kind of reversal going on. The stripes – yes//no – good//bad – light//dark – lines that bend around the arms and legs, giving them their shape.
And, of course, when I titled the series it also refers to the Sex Pistols’ song “Bodies” – and our version of it in Atlanta which isn’t as much about the lyrics as it is about being on stage with a voice (being alive with choices).”
“Bodies” (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14″) May 28, 2017. SOLD
“Bodies #2″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) May 28, 2017. SOLD
“Bodies #3″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) May 29, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
“Bodies #4″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) May 29, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.
“Horse in Field” by Jean Smith (11 x 14″ acrylic on paper) SOLD
A fairly in depth summary of my work on Women in Art History (Instagram) by art history instructor and creative writing professor Lucretia Tye Jasmine who recently bought my painting “Horse in Field”. Women in Art History is also on FaceBook
“Jean Smith, a Canadian, is an artist as well as a musician and writer. She was born on August 1, 1959, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her portraits are smooth and rich, with a velvety brush that emphasizes subjectivity through inward, contemplative, or direct gazes. Critters, musicians, women in front of the word “hotel,” men in white underwear, and women washing their hair are intriguing subjects with serious attentions. Singers whose lipsticked mouths open at a microphone are affirmed by painting titles that identify them as angry women in rock.
She paints, makes films and music, writes, and lectures. YouTube videos showcase her art and music along with her process. She also orchestrates tours: musical, literary, and educational. Smith’s longtime collaboration with bandmate David Lester, whom she met in 1981 while they were working at a newspaper, encompasses visual art, and art as activism. Anti-authoritarianism is announced in D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) productivity.
She and Lester formed The Black Wedge in 1986, an international music and poetry tour comprised of anti-authoritarian musicians. Feminism is practiced in a life’s work that promotes self-generated creativity and collaboration. The art and lecture series, How Art & Music Can Change The World, is their 2002 presentation which continues to tour classrooms (high schools and universities), art galleries, and book stores. Smith and Lester’s band, Mecca Normal, is considered a pioneering riot grrrl band. riot grrrl is a Third Wave feminist arts and music revolution.
Smith’s film about her online dating experiences examine female independence and a recent series of paintings concern 9/11. Some of Smith’s art is about Pussy Riot, the Fourth Wave feminist punk rock group from Russia jailed for musical protest in a church.
A two-time recipient of Canada Council for the Arts awards recognizing Smith’s work as a writer, Smith’s paintings are sought after by a variety of luminaries and scholars, spanning the established and the underground, indicating Smith’s subversive success and influence.” – Lucretia Tye Jasmine